| AMSTERDAM, April 18
AMSTERDAM, April 18 The U.S. Department of
Defense urged the Netherlands on Thursday not to cut its order
for advanced F-35 warplanes, saying it could end up paying more
per plane if it did.
Fearing that major cuts to orders could ultimately doom the
delayed and over-budget $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
project, U.S. officials have been stepping up pressure on buyers
to stick to their initial undertakings.
The Dutch government is expected to scale back its order of
85 planes to between 52 and 68, according to people close to the
discussions. Purchase plans are due to be finalised this year.
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the
head of the Pentagon's F-35 programme, told the Dutch
parliamentary defence commission it was best for the Netherlands
to stick to the original plan.
"If you take airplanes out of the production line today,
that will have a great impact on the price of the airplane," he
told the commission in The Hague.
But he said the timing of any cancellations was also
critical and there would be "very, very little impact" on price
if orders dropped were from 2022 to 2024 rather than earlier.
The F-35 programme, hit by technical faults, is seven years
behind schedule and 70 percent above cost estimates.
U.S. officials fear any cancellations could force up prices
for remaining buyers, meaning they are more likely to cancel
The Dutch coalition government which took office in November
is concerned at the cost of the planes, to replace older F-16
fighters, and is still shaping its defence strategy.
Built by Lockheed Martin Corp, the F-35 is designed
to be the next-generation fighter for decades to come for U.S.
forces and their allies.
Some Dutch politicians question whether to go for an
alternative such as Saab AB's Gripen, Boeing Co's
F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, or the EADS
A Lockheed Martin official addressed the Dutch defence
commission on Wednesday and rivals are also going to make their
In new estimates that will be scrutinized by arms firms
worldwide, Bogdan said the warplane would cost $85 million in
2020 and the F-35A air force version would cost $23,900 per hour
to fly compared with $21,500 for the older F-16s.
Washington itself has delayed 410 of its 2,443 orders for
F-35s beyond 2017.