The Netherlands is to place its Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft into temporary storage, pending a final decision on how to replace its air force's Lockheed F-16 fighters.

Newly appointed defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert announced the decision to park the test assets in a letter to the Dutch parliament on 4 April. A first example - delivered in late 2012 - and a second, expected to be handed over in mid-2013, will be stored at Edwards AFB, California, where they will be kept in airworthy condition and flown occasionally by US Air Force pilots. The effects of the decision will be discussed with the F-35 Joint Program Office.

 F-35A Dutch - Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin

The first Dutch test aircraft was delivered in late 2012

On 25 April, a meeting of the Dutch parliament regarding the F-16 replacement will be held, and with the current coalition it is uncertain which way the decision will go. The coalition partners say a decision on the F-35 will be taken before the end of this year.

In an interview, Hennis-Plasschaert said that her office was open for all interested manufacturers. This would enable Boeing to promote the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Saab the Gripen E, although neither Dassault nor the Eurofighter consortium have confirmed whether they will offer their respective Rafale and Typhoon products in advance of a formal competitive process being launched.

The Netherlands ordered two F-35As to participate in US-led initial operational test and evaluation of the Joint Strike Fighter. The Hague says its operational phase of this activity is due to commence during 2015.

Source: Flight International