Netherlands asks Denmark, Norway to join F-35 buy

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The Netherlands has asked Denmark and Norway to join it in acquiring and maintaining future F-35 fighter jets, Dutch Minister Hans Hillen said Thursday after meetings at the Pentagon.

The move was an example "of how far the Netherlands is prepared to go in cooperating with other countries in order to keep up NATO military capabilities," Hillens said at an address to the Atlantic Council during a brief US visit.

"Our F-16 fighter planes are coming to the end of their life cycle and their costly replacement is an issue of hot debate in Holland," he said.

Austerity measures squeezing defense projects in cash-strapped Europe is a major factor in prompting nations to join forces to acquire the new fighter.

"I have asked Denmark and Norway to think about cooperation regarding the fighter plan that will replace our F-16. By doing so, we can build existing cooperation between F-16 nations that are also considering the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 as a successor," Hillens said.

The three countries are contributers to an international consortium backing the development of the the F-35.

Dutch defense minister also met Thursday with his US counterpart Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, to discuss US force strategy in Europe, the upcoming NATO defense ministerial meetings to be held in early February in Brussels, and the NATO 2012 Summit scheduled for May in Chicago.

In discussing NATO issues, Panetta praised the Netherlands' "traditionally strong voice and leadership in the NATO alliance," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby.

Lockheed Martin and the US government view global partners, including eight nations sharing program costs, as crucial to bringing down the overall price of the Joint Strike Fighter.

US defense officials have faced an uphill battle to contain the cost of the program, which has swelled to $385 billion -- technical problems have forced retrofitting efforts and a slower pace of production, driving up the price of each aircraft to roughly $113 million.

© 2012 AFP

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