This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
The Netherlands has followed Norway in recommending procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, both defense ministries ranking the aircraft's mission capabilities higher and costs lower than competing multirole fighters.
"The F-35 best meets the requirements drawn up by the Netherlands for the successor to the F-16," says the Dutch defense ministry, citing its better mission capability and operational availability, and lower price and anticipated lifecycle costs.
JSF-maker Lockheed Martin welcomed the report, noting "the Netherlands is already a major industrial partner on the F-35 program, and substantial work opportunities remain."
The Netherlands, like Norway, is participating in JSF development, but the Dutch parliament ordered another comparative analysis of the candidates before the government committed to the purchase of two F-35 test aircraft, expected by April 2009.
Unlike Norway, which last month recommended the F-35 over the Saab Gripen Next Generation, the Netherlands did not conduct a full competition, but instead evaluated the candidates based on non-binding information supplied by the manufacturers.
The Dutch report is "no surprise," says Gripen International general manager Johan Lehander. Although the Dutch were provided information, it never rose to the level of a formal offer, he says, noting the report does not represent a final government decision and that the Dutch military, in particular, has been pro-JSF.
The F-35 was pitted against Lockheed's Advanced F-16 and the Gripen NG, and all three were evaluated on mission effectiveness, operational availability, price and delivery, with the Netherlands aiming for initial operation capability around 2015.
According to the defense ministry, the comparative evaluation was baselined on the initial Block 3 version of the F-35 but also analyzed the improved Block 4 standard, which the Dutch expect to be available around 2015.
The JSF beat the other two candidates on mission effectiveness, the ministry says, scoring higher on five of the six mission profiles evaluated. The Gripen NG was ranked first on non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, but was judged unable to perform four of the missions to the desired operational level. The Gripen NG was also judged to have insufficient growth potential.
The F-35 will perform four of the missions to the desired level in initial Block 3 form, and all six missions successfully when updated to Block 4, the evaluation concluded.