Netherlands makes final trim to F-16 fleet size

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The Netherlands is to reduce its operational fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16s from 87 to 68 aircraft and defer a decision on buying the company's replacement F-35 until after elections planned to be held in 2015.

Three options are being considered for the surplus F-16s. These range from selling 18 and dismantling the other for spare parts, to selling 15 and retaining four for use as spares and training assets, or using all 19 airframes in this way.

With the Royal Netherlands Air Force having already reduced its number of active F-16 pilots to 68, annual savings of €41 million ($53 million) should be made from 2014. However, the defence ministry says a decision to extend operations of the type by three years until 2026 will cost an additional €300 million.

Dutch planning expectations still call for an active inventory of 85 conventional take-off and landing F-35As, but the defence ministry is reserving only €4.5 billion for the purchase. This is just 60% of the required budget cited in 2010.

The Netherlands' first F-35 was rolled out at Lockheed's Fort Worth site in Texas on 1 April. Along with a second example, AN-1 will support the nation's participation in initial operational test and evaluation of the aircraft.