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First operational F-35 for Netherlands rolled out

31 January 2019
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The first operational F-35A for the Netherlands will be temporarily assigned to Luke AFB before being transferred to its operational base at Leeuwarden later this year. Source: Lockheed Martin

The first operational Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was rolled out from the company's Fort Worth production facility in Texas on 30 January.

Aircraft F-003 will be temporarily based at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona, where it will join the US Air Force's 308 Fighter Squadron for international training before transferring to its operational base at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands later this year. Two F-35As previously delivered to the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) in 2013 are located at Edwards AFB in California, where they are used for test and evaluation.

The RNLAF is procuring the F-35A to replace its Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons. With the first of 37 aircraft set to enter operational service at Leeuwarden later in 2019, the type's second operating station at Volkel is expected to open in 2021.

Along with Italy, the Netherlands is a Level 2 partner in the JSF programme (only the US and UK have a greater involvement). That said, the country has drastically reduced its intended order, with an original plan for 114 aircraft being scaled back to 85 and then just 37 due to increased programme costs and shrinking defence budgets. Although there have been reports that the Netherlands might increase its procurement, no budget has yet been allocated.

Those Dutch aircraft still to be built will be assembled at the Italian final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility at Cameri, with deliveries to run through to 2023. Full-operating capability for the RNLAF is scheduled to be declared the following year. The Netherlands will serve as a sustainment hub in the European region for maintenance, repair, overhaul, (MRO) and upgrade projects for the F-35.

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