Dutch undersecretary of defence Jack de Vries has ruled out postponing the nation's planned first order for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, saying the step would lead to unacceptable delays in the project's initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase.
The Dutch parliament is awaiting a final evaluation report on the remaining three possible successors to the Royal Netherlands Air Force's Lockheed F-16s: the JSF, an advanced F-16 design and Saab's proposed Gripen NG.
Full details of the evaluation process will be released to parliamentarians by 15 December, just over two months before the deadline for the Netherlands to order F-35s for IOT&E purposes. But as Saab was only invited to re-enter the competition in mid-2008, the Swedish manufacturer will not be able to demonstrate the capabilities of its Gripen NG system until a simulator has been prepared by March 2009.
A parliamentary majority had asked de Vries to consider postponing the JSF order until May to first allow a Gripen simulator demonstration, noting that the start of IOT&E activities have slipped from November 2012 until February 2013.
But de Vries says delaying the F-35 purchase order would make it impossible for the air force to have five fully qualified test pilots ready by 2013, with training to start in 2011 and an airframe order required next February.