Cost of withdrawing from the Joint Strike Force programme
At the request of the Minister of Defence, the Netherlands Court of Audit has investigated three policy options concerning the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). We investigated the costs and consequences of the government: 1) continuing the current policy of partnership in the JSF programme; 2) continuing the current policy but no longer participating in the test phase of the JSF programme; 3) completely ending the Netherlands' involvement in the JSF programme and buying an aircraft 'off the shelf'. We investigated these policy options as to their functionality, timing and cost.
The government initially decided to participate in the JSF programme in order to achieve the deployability objectives set at the time for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. We found that two of the three options (option 1 and option 3) would force the Ministry of Defence to take fundamental decisions on the composition and capability of the air force and possibly of other parts of the armed forces. Such decisions would probably affect the functionality of the Dutch defence organisation. To resolve the conflicts between budget, capability and ambition, the minister needs to reconsider the current operational deployability objectives of the air force and possibly of other defence units, also in the context of NATO, for example in the form of closer operational collaboration with other countries, or reconsider the budgetary implications.
If the current policy is continued without alteration, the air force will have an aircraft that the Ministry of Defence believes has highly desirable functionality. This option also harbours inherent risks, though, regarding timing and cost.
Unaltered continuation of the current policy also runs into the problem of lack of financial resources to replace the F-16. The resources, currently €4.05 billion, are inadequate to procure either 85 or 68 aircraft. If fewer fighter aircraft were procured, the air force would have to reconsider its operational deployability objectives.
We do not consider withdrawal from the test phase (IOT&E) to be an appropriate option. It would produce only disadvantages for the state, both functionally and regarding timing and cost.
In view of the functionality, timing and cost consequences, withdrawing from the JSF programme and procuring another aircraft 'off the shelf' would be rational only if the air force's current operational deployability objectives were reconsidered.
We recommend that our findings and conclusions on the three policy options be taken into consideration in the decision-making on the JSF. If the minister can procure far fewer JSFs with the available resources, we believe he should reconsider the ambitions set for the air force. This might lead to new expectations of the capabilities the Netherlands requires of the aircraft that will replace the F-16, the number of aircraft needed and the air force's participation in international operations.
In his response to the audit, the Minister of Defence favoured the procurement of the JSF and recognised that the armed forces' ambitions would need to be reconsidered. He thought 56 JSF aircraft could be deployed responsibly on fewer and shorter missions. The minister did not refer to the option of withdrawing from the JSF programme.
Court of Audit's afterword
The minister chiefly confirmed our conclusion that the Ministry of Defence needs to take fundamental decisions on the composition and capability of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. If 56 JSFs were procured, the operational objectives of the armed forces, and thus the Netherlands' contribution to NATO, would have to be reconsidered.