Lockheed Martin is facing a tense several weeks on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, with the Netherlands' continued involvement in the project in limbo because of political instability.

In the final debate of the current parliament before national elections to be conducted on 9 June, the Dutch Labour party announced its intention to withdraw from the programme's initial operational test and evaluation phase, and to return its one aircraft one order to Lockheed.

Labour party defence specialist Angelien Eijsink says the main reason for the decision is that "the price of the aircraft is still uncertain, and the project keeps on sliding on the agreed timescale".

Secretary of defence Eimert van Middelkoop indicated that in addition to a penalty charge of around €20 million ($24.5 million) for returning the one IOT&E aircraft already on order, the Netherlands would encounter extra costs of around €200 million to run a standalone test phase for the F-35 in the future.

 F-35A JSF pair - Lockheed Martin
© Lockheed Martin
The Netherlands had planned to buy two F-35s during the programme's IOT&E phase

By stepping out of the project, the Dutch state would also be writing off an investment of more than €800 million, and reduce the chances for its industry to participate in series production of the F-35, he cautions.

A majority of parliament voted to stop the project and ordered the defence secretary to do so. He has not executed this request, however, due to an earlier decision that the resigning government would not take any irreversible steps in its last days in power.

Parliament is now considering whether to recall all members from the election recess to force van Middelkoop to act on its orders.

"The way forward for the Netherlands on the specific structure of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme is not expected to crystallise until after the formation of the new government," says Lockheed, which adds that it is "currently monitoring the Dutch election".

Lockheed was due to deliver the Netherlands' first test aircraft during 2011, and had been expecting a decision on whether it would buy a second example later this year.

Source: Flight International