Senior officials from the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and Lockheed Martin have visited the Netherlands in a bid to persuade the nation's government to opt in favour of acquiring the Joint Strike Fighter.

JPO programme executive officer Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan made the visit following an invitation from Dutch defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and the parliamentary defence council to update them on the F-35's development, acquisition and operating costs.

 Dutch F-35A - Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin

The Netherlands has opted to store its first test example of the F-35A

In an interview with Dutch television, Bogdan said he understood the worries of JSF programme partner countries about the type's future purchase price, and that his main interest currently is to drive costs down.

A first contract has been signed with Pratt & Whitney setting a fixed price per F135 engine, and a similar deal should be signed with Lockheed in June to cap the fighter's unit price at $85 million or less, he adds.

The $85 million figure relates to a 2020 price level, says Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice-president F-35 programme integration and business development.

Bodgan also revealed the conventional take-off and landing F-35A should have an operating cost of $24,000 per hour: 10% more than the Royal Netherlands Air Force's fleet of Lockheed F-16s.

With the JSF programme running five years behind the original schedule and operational testing having slipped from 2013 to 2015, the Netherlands government on 4 April announced a decision to place the nation's two test aircraft in storage until a decision is reached later this year on how to replace its F-16s.

Bogdan told Hennis-Plasschaert that an initial decision by the JPO to decline an offer to lease the Dutch airframes to support testing could be changed, with the pair to potentially be used for lightning, rain and noise testing. This could save the Netherlands about €900,000 ($1.2 million) over six months - the current cost of storing the aircraft.

A parliamentary decision in favour of the F-35 would see an undisclosed number of aircraft enter Dutch use from 2019, with its involvement in the programme estimated to have cost €1.9 billion so far. The nation's parliament has also sought information on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen E.

Source: Flight International