The Dutch are committed to the F-35 program. So much so that political parties backing the effort are attempting to keep a confidential plan quiet until after the September 2012 elections which will see F-16 numbers cut from 68 to 42 and the closing of Airbase Leeuwarden, according to JSF News.
The justification for this plan is to address predicted (and known) high F-35 procurement and operating costs. The time-frame for the plan is between 2014-2016.
The original memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Dutch government and the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter project office projected a procurement of 85 F-35s. With the significant rise in F-35 costs, delay, technical problems and high operating costs, it is possible that 42 will be seen as the number of aircraft needed to replace the F-16s.
A 2007 Lockheed Martin briefing to Israel stated that the F-35 procurement price would be the same as an F-16 and that operating costs would be 20 percent less than an F-16. A variety of recent studies inside and outside of the U.S. Department of Defence do not back up that claim and show much higher procurement and operating costs.
It is expected that Dutch government officials will respond to this as being only a plan or a study and that the ministry of defence will state that it will let the decision rest with the next cabinet period. However, charges that Dutch F-35 advocates have something to hide with the F-16 replacement plan which is a hot-button election issue will be hard to avoid.
Risks for JSF Partner Nations are rising. TR2 hardware--needed to drive Block III software--does not arrive on production aircraft until sometime around 2016 if not later. Software challenges are large. There is no credible production learning curve for the F-35 because there are still so many unknowns. Significant technical problems remain to be solved.
No fully tested and sound go-to-war example of the F-35 is expected until the 2018-2020 time-frame at the earliest.
The long delayed flying training for student pilots has not started at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida because the F-35 is not certified as safe to fly for such an effort. Currently, high-hour test pilots--flying an extremely limited training envelop--are attempting to come up with a process which will allow new F-35 pilots to fly the aircraft safely.
Independent analysts predict that, by design, the F-35 will not be able to take on emerging air power threats and that, as delivered, it will be obsolete.