Dutch to buy fewer F-35 jets than planned - minister

AMSTERDAM Sun Apr 15, 2012 2:20pm BST

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands will buy fewer than the 85 Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets it had planned to acquire because costs have risen and the country needs to replace fewer F-16 fighters, the Dutch defence minister said on Sunday.

The costs of developing and building the F-35, which will replace F-16 fighters, have been rising. Japan and a U.S. Air Force official have warned they may order fewer planes if costs go up further.

Asked on Dutch television programme Buitenhof if the Netherlands still planned to buy 85 F-35 planes despite higher costs, Dutch Defence Minister Hans Hillen said: "The next cabinet will decide. It will certainly be fewer."

The Netherlands had planned to buy a total of 85 F-35 planes over the period 2019 to 2027, the Dutch Defence Ministry said in a letter to parliament last year. The ministry has reserved 4.5 billion euros to replace the existing F-16 fighters.

Hillen declined to say how many F-35s the Netherlands would buy instead but said fewer F-16s needed to be replaced.

"When we signed up (for the F-35) we took the number of F-16s at the time as a basis. When I became minister we had around 90 F-16s. Now we have 68," Hillen said.

The Netherlands has not finally agreed to buy the F-35 planes but is participating in the development programme and has ordered two F-35 test planes, of which the first has been constructed.

A new Dutch cabinet, which will take office in 2015 unless the current government falls early, will make the final decision about replacing its fighters.

Lockheed is developing three variants of the new plane for the U.S. military and eight partner countries: Britain, Australia, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands.

Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N), is building the F-35's engine.

(Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)

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