Even at a military-style ceremony, the Dutch know how to have fun.
With electronic dance music forming a throbbing audio backdrop, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics on Wednesday delivered its first operational F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Netherlands, during one of the most sprightly ceremonies ever held at the company’s Fort Worth factory.
About 500 guests, including dozens who flew in from the Netherlands as well as high-ranking military and civilian officials from both countries, donned orange cowboy hats accented by the red, white and blue stripes of the Dutch flag. Well known Amsterdam electro/house music disc jockeys Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano provided the beats as the curtain dropped to reveal the new aircraft, which is the F-35A Lightning II version built for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
The Fort Worth-built aircraft will be taken to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for several months of training before it is permanently stationed at Leeuwarden Air Base, just off the Netherlands’ North Sea coast, later this year. The jet will be the Netherlands’ first operational F-35, although the United States NATO ally has two other F-35s stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California since 2013 for testing purposes.
In all, the Netherlands has committed to buying 37 F-35s and several Dutch companies provide parts for the aircraft.
The delivery of the aircraft to the Dutch Royal Air Force is the latest example Lockheed Martin’s effort to expand the sales and lower the average price of its F-35s. The F-35A model now costs $89.2 million, but Lockheed Martin is on course to lower that cost to $80 million per plane by 2020, said Michele Evans, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
The company plans to deliver 131 F-35s this year, up from 91 sold last year.
Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin chairman, president and chief executive officer, spoke of the importance of having the Netherlands government as well as many Dutch defense contractors as allies in northern Europe.
“As we look to the future, the Netherlands will serve as a sustainment hub in the European region for maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade projects,” she told the crowd of about 500 people, who also enjoyed a performance by the Royal Netherlands Air Force Orchestra.
President Trump in 2016 and 2017 criticized the F-35 program as too costly, although officials from his administration have since said they are satisfied that Lockheed Martin is doing what it can to lower costs through efficiencies, as the Fort Worth aeronautics plant gets closer to full production capability.
“Our collective efforts in development, production, testing and fielding of the F-35 has allowed both our nations to deliver an incredible, efficient, suitable, survivable and I believe affordable air power for our war fighters,” Kevin Fahey, assistant U.S. secretary of defense for acquisition, told the crowd Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Dennis Luyt, commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, said his country aims to become a more prominent military force in Europe, and development of a Dutch F-35 program is a key step.
“It’s always been our steadfast ambition to be part of what we call the Champions League of air forces,” Luyt told the Fort Worth crowd. “We can only achieve this if we allow our airmen to make a difference in what they bring to the coalition, and the F-35 will be a force multiplier that will allow us to deliver just that.”
“Receiving this F-35 at Leeuwarden Air Base later this year is going to be a huge driver for change for our air force and will have tremendous impact on the relevance of our Air Force as part of the coalition,” Luyt said. “We want to be among the best air forces of the world, and the platform of F-35 allows us to do that.”
Since the F-35 program began, more than 360 aircraft have been delivered and are now working in 16 bases worldwide.
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