Several European nations, which had previously committed to renew their fleets of fighter planes by purchasing new US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF), may no longer have the necessary funding, with some already cutting back.
In Belgium, for example, “The purchase of F-35s is stumbling over strong resistance from the Socialists,” says a front page article in daily De Standaard. Flemish-speaking Socialists from the SP.A and French-speakers from the Socialist Party (PS) are opposed to a proposal by Defence Minister Pieter De Crem (a Flemish Christian Democrat) to purchase the F-35s. They argue that, in times of crisis, the purchase of planes costing €62m each, “is crazy”, the paper reports. Critics also point out that the aircraft’s technological capacities will be outdated within 10 years.
The feeling is the same in the Netherlands. The government’s early July decision to buy 37 F-35s (down from 85 initially) and confirmed on September 17, is now at the centre of a battle between Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the parliamentary base of his labour coalition partner the PvdA. Backbenchers from the PvdA are accusing the government and the PvdA leadership of putting them before a “fait accompli”, writes Dutch daily De Volkskrant, which adds that the row is “still not over yet”.
The Dutch decision may be “good news for Lockheed Martin, but it is a lot less good for Italy and its ambition to play a lead European role in history’s costliest weapons programme,” writes Il Sole 24 Ore. F35s destined for Italy and Netherlands will be assembled in a 700m purpose-built factory in Cameri, but the initial order of 216 planes for the two countries has now shrunk to 125 (Italy has scaled back its order from 131 to 90). The cutbacks have shaken the future of Alenia Aermacchi and other Italian firms involved, notes the economic daily, adding that in order to justify Italy’s unswerving commitment to the programme, despite its delays, rising cost and growing hostility from the public —
… the Ministry of Defence promised 10,000 jobs would be created, before reducing this pledge to a more prudent 6,000, which many still consider absolutely unattainable.
Another blow to the programme has come from Norway, which is considering switching its F35 training and maintenance partnership from Italy to the United Kingdom. “Short of an improbable deal with Turkey or Israel, who have previously bought F35s, Cameri risks becoming a cathedral in the desert,” warns Il Sole.