The Dutch Ministry of Defense announced the planned acquisition of nine additional Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets. The contract is valued at €1 billion and should eventually be followed by another order for six more aircraft.

This new acquisition put the total number of F-35As within the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) at 46. The contract includes spare parts, a simulator, and the necessary infrastructure to operate these nine additional aircraft.

The price “is fully in line with the budget made available,” says the Dutch Ministry of Defense in a press release. It adds that “the foundation is laid for a third F-35 squadron”, probably meaning that six more aircraft could be acquired later.

The F-35A was chosen by the Netherlands in September 2013 to replace the sixty F-16AM fighter jets it currently operates. At the time, 37 fighters were bought for €5 billion, enough to equip two squadrons. But according to De Telegraaf, a third squadron was requested by NATO. The RNLAF could then allocate a number of its F-35As to operations of the Alliance while still being able to secure its own airspace.

To this avail, the limit of €4.5 billion of purchase budget was removed in September 2018 by the Dutch government. At the time, the General staff of the RNLAF had expressed intention to eventually acquire 67 F-35As, aiming for a one-on-one replacement of the F-16s for a total of four squadrons.

In 1975, the Netherlands was one of the four initial European customers of the F-16, along with Belgium, Denmark, and Norway. The four countries have all decided to upgrade to the F-35 since then. The Netherlands is a Level 2 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program, having invested $800 million in development costs.

In the future, the Netherlands and Belgium plan to increase the cooperation between their respective air forces which have already been involved together on several operations, the last one being Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria.

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Several Belgian media report on October 22, 2018, that the choice of the Lockheed Martin F-35 to replace the aging fleet of F-16s of the Belgian Air Component (the air branch of the single-structure Belgian Armed Forces) has already been made a week earlier by the government. However, the authorities will now have to justify their choice over the European offers.