Monitoring the Replacement of the F-16
Situation in December 2011; deployability of the F-16 and developments concerning the Joint Strike Fighter
The Netherlands Court of Audit has investigated the deployability of the F-16 and developments concerning the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). We investigated whether the House of Representatives had an insight into the costs of the F-16 and the JSF.
Provision of information on the F-16 and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
The Ministry of Defence will continue to invest in two fighter aircraft – the F-16 and the JSF – in the years ahead. These two aircraft are related to each other both financially and operationally. Despite this relationship, comprehensive information on the F-16 and its replacement is still not provided. Owing to the different rules in place for the provision of information on the F-16 and the F-16 Replacement Programme, the information is currently spread across a variety of documents. In our opinion, the financial and operational relationship between the two fighter aircraft requires the minister to provide the House of Representatives with a comprehensive overview in addition to the separate documents.
Current deployability of the F-16
We concluded that there was an imbalance between the government's ambitions, the budget for flying hours, the number of pilots and the number of aircraft. The Rutte/Verhagen government wants to have and maintain multi-role armed forces. Between 2011-2015, however, the Ministry of Defence must cut expenditure by €2.3 billion and make structural savings of €635 million in subsequent years. To reduce expenditure, it will sell 19 of its 87 F-16s. The number of pilots has already been reduced to 68 and the F-16s may fly fewer hours per annum.
The government wants the armed forces to protect Dutch air space permanently with the F-16s and be able to participate once a year in an international intervention operation or make a long-term contribution to a stabilisation operation. Training sufficient pilots, however, requires so many flying hours that participation in a mission, such as that above Libya, is no longer compatible with the budget available for F-16 flying hours. We also concluded that the Minister of Defence's ability to provide an overview of the current F-16 operational costs was limited.
The 19 F-16s earmarked for disposal have not been immediately grounded. In consequence, fewer hours need to be flown per aircraft.
Deployability of the F-16: consequences of longer deployment
We concluded that a fixed plan to phase out the F-16 is missing an important ingredient to make a relevant calculation of the operational and financial consequences of the longer deployment of the F-16. The minister has informed the House of Representatives that he must invest an additional €300 million in the current F-16s. This figure does not include all additional expenditure, such as the increase in materiel operating costs, the replacement of wings, the cost of air safety, airworthiness and maintenance and operational self-protection as from 2021.
We also concluded that it is currently uncertain how the minister will allocate his materiel budget to the necessary number of new fighter aircraft and additional investments in the current aircraft. The operational deployability of the F-16 will decline further as the aircraft age in the years ahead. This will place additional pressure on the balance between ambitions, budget, materiel and personnel.
Replacement of the F-16: developments concerning the JSF
We concluded that the minister has not reviewed the programme to replace the F-16. The government has reserved €4.5 billion to replace the F-16. The minister will spend €0.5 billion of this amount before the end of 2015. We concluded that the involvement in and the possible cost of withdrawing from the JSF programme to replace the F-16 will increase further. The American Department of Defense's failure to take a decision in 2011 has created extra uncertainty about the planning and the costs of the Dutch JSF programme and the consequences for Dutch industry.
We recommend that the ministers concerned and the House of Representatives together consider how they can provide comprehensive information on the F-16 and the JSF. The aim should be to provide more insight into the relationship within and between:
- the decisions to invest in the F-16 and its proposed successor;
- the operation of the F-16 and its proposed successor;
- the operational effectiveness of the air force and the ambitions for the armed forces.
In our opinion, the annual report prepared for the House of Representatives' Large Projects Programme would be suitable to present such comprehensive information
Response and Court of Audit's afterword
In response to our report, the minister undertook to study how he could provide comprehensive information of the investments in and deployment of the F-16 in relation to the F-16 Replacement Programme. He thought our approach to determine the balance between ambitions on the one hand and resources, people and budget on the other was in principle correct. Setting priorities for the deployment of the F-16, according to the minister, may temporarily be at the cost of pilot education and training.
The minister recognises that an accurate calculation of the operational and financial consequences of the longer deployment of the F-16 cannot be made until it is known when the aircraft will be taken out of operation. The lack of plans to phase out the F-16, he observes, is a political given. The minister would budget €300 million to ensure the technical deployability of the F-16 until 2026. He would improve the operational deployability of the F-16 by this amount until 2021.
The minister will inform the House in the near future about the relationship between the F-16s to be disposed of and those to be retained. The ministry was working hard on improving the information provided on the operating costs of weapons systems.
Court of Audit's afterword
We appreciate the minister's undertaking to investigate how he can prepare comprehensive information on the investments in and operation of the F-16 in relation to the F-16 Replacement Programme and the Ministry of Defence's operational ambitions. Comprehensive information will reveal the relationship between the programmes to lengthen the life of the F-16 and to replace the F-16. We suggest that the minister consider which ambitions are realistic within the given budgetary frameworks.