The Dutch are in the market for new fighter jets to replace their aging Lockheed Martin F16s. There are only two candidates: the Swedish Gripen, and the Joint Strike Fighter from the US. And under Dutch law, residents warn, the JSF may be too loud.
On February 23, a Dutch parliamentary committee travels to Lockheed Martin company in Texas, United States, to discuss two issues with their JSF-bids.
The Dutch found two big problems with the Joint Strike Fighter, It is a full 21 Dba louder than the F16 during takeoffs and landings. The JSF can actually break through the sound-barrier while still accelerating from airports - thus supersonic booms would be much closer to residents. And because it has such short take-off and landing-abilities, it's also much noisier than the F16.
Under the current laws to protect this densely-populated European country's residents from night-flights - banned for seven-hour stretches at all but two airports -- NATO pilots thus would only be able to carry out 168 flights a year at each of the three Dutch NATO airports with JSFs. They now carry out 4,200 practice flights a year with the F16s at each airport.The Gripen does not appear to have this problem.
And Dutch residents already find the F16s difficult to live with. It's a problem: the Dutch housing shortage often prevents residents from simply moving elsewhere. Waiting for new housing can take as long as ten to 15 years.
I have sent a copy of this article to Lockheed Martin's media officer who deals with the Joint Strike Fighter, asking for formal comments on these issues raised in The Netherlands. As soon as a reply is received, their comment will be added to this report.
The second problem had to do with the bids on offer: when comparing bids with the Danes, who are also looking to buy 24 replacement fighters, the Dutch found that Sweden 's Gripens were on firm offer, guaranteed by the Swedish government for €123-million per fighter; but that the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter had far less favourable conditions; instead offering non-binding, unguaranteed bids for €165-million for each plane.
If the Dutch were to lock themselves into a 30-year Lockheed Martin contract to buy JSFs, it would not be guaranteed, and the price also would be non-binding - thus they could well end up forking over a lot more over the next 30 years than budgeted for. This is not an unfounded fear: the US Air Force recently warned Lockheed Martin that its rising costs on military planes were causing growing concern:see
However, the Dutch also have to consider the purchase in their relationship to their NATO partners -- Lockheed Martin has many European customers who bought its F16s and NATO wants to keep a well-coordinated fighter-force in the air. See map of Lockheed Martin 's European customers.here .
And the latest European country to back the purchase of the JSF was Norway, with its prime minister Jens Stoltenberg formally recommending to his country's Parliament that Lockheed Martin's JSE F-35 Lightning II be selected to fulfill Norway's future air-combat capability requirements; in November.see
Lockheed Martin insists on conducting all its price negotiations in secret. So the Dutch had to go to Denmark to compare their bids: that country has a policy of negotiating all its military contracts in public, to prevent fraud scandals.
JSF is one very loud machine!
However, there's also another much more important problem with the Joint Strike Fighter for the Dutch - and which can't be resolved with some tougher new contract negotiations to get their bids down.
There is growing political opposition in the Netherlands over the much louder JSF. There already was much political anger over the US military's AWAC flights across The Netherlands too, which is creating a negative atmosphere towards buying any US-manufactured military aircraft.
Noise pollution: a growing political issue:
And now, engineers and residents around the Leeuwarden airbase in Friesland have determined from scientific testing reports in the USA that the Joint Strike Fighter is a whopping 21 Dba decibels louder than the current F16 jet blasts during takeoffs and landings.
If the JSF were to fly at Leeuwarden, it would only be able to carry out 168 flights a year under the present laws which guide acceptable noise levels around Dutch airports. These guidelines were reached after years of experience and negotiations with residents and airports. It has however also been noted that the small number residents near the other Dutch NATO airport are raising no objections at all to the JSF: most are employed at the base.
Noise is important to the Dutch
Together with the UK, the Netherlands is the most overcrowded country in Europe. The UK has 395 people per square kilometre, and The Netherlands, 396. It's also a very loud place.see stats here
In The Netherlands, there is in fact no place anywhere in the country where one does not hear a constant mechanical sound from somewhere; ranging from traffic, windmills, farming- and shipping machinery, aircraft, musical equipment, road repairs etc. Many Dutch tourists often chose the very quietest places they can find - deserts, long stretches of beach, African nature reserves and ski-slopes are hugely popular -- just to get away from mechanical sounds for a few weeks. And noise from neighbours is the single most important cause of fighting and malcontent, often leading to violent confrontations amongs normally well-behaved citizens, the Dutch police say. see
For instance, here in Dokkum, we are located just a few kilometres south of the northerly merchant sealanes to Russia, the Balkans and northern European harbours . Hundreds of huge freighters and tankers travel this busy sealane night and day. One can often hear this constant low-frequency droning and pinging from these massive ships when lying in bed at night, because the water-logged Dutch soil transmits sounds very well.
A central website has even been set up where Dutch citizens can lodge formal complaints about night-flights.This also helps Dutch authorities track illegal smuggling-flights into The Netherlands, so it's a win-win situation.see
Dokkum harbour might look peaceful, but just like the rest of the Netherlands, there's a constant mechanical noise residents have to live with. With the UK, this is the most overcrowded country in Europe.
And, as has also been found by millions of citizens living near UK airports, night-time noise pollution is becoming an increasingly important political issue in The Netherlands.
The long-suffering residents around Schiphol airport near Amsterdam, one of the few who still do have to put up with night-flights, have been forming strong political action groups ever since December last year, when airport expansion was announced. If the Dutch government also decides on buying the JSF, this would add even more fuel to this growing level of political tension surrounding the noise pollution issue in The Netherlands.
We must be able sleep for 7 hours straight around airports
There are very strict sound-guidelines around most Dutch airports except Schiphol for night flights: surrounding residents inside a specific radius must be able to sleep for a minumum of 7 straight, uninterrupted hours without any aircraft noise. In neighbouring Germany, which is far less crowded, there is no such guideline. Dutch guidelines here
Here in Dokkum, which is located north of Leeuwarden airbase, we receive advance warnings over the local news networks before the Air Force carries out night flights with the F16s.
Last year, there were 4,200 practice flights a year at Leeuwarden, usually for daytime target practice at the Vlieland sandbank. north of Dokkum We in fact, have had very few night-flight warnings last year and just two scrambles.
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force
File photo: A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies with a German MiG 29, NATO code-named Fulcrum, off the coast of Sardinia during a joint training exercise.
The F16s often sweep right across Dokkum during their runs towards the targets, and they are indeed very, very loud. With the Joint Strike Fighters, this would present considerable problems for many people in Friesland, not just those living right around the Leeuwarden air base.
At Leeuwarden military base, a cordial arrangement has also been reached over the years between the residents of neighbouring towns and the Air Force tower staff. One can phone them directly to discuss the latest fly-over for instance, and they will tell you how much longer you'd have to endure it, even in the day.
Within the socalled 'sound-contour envelope', it has been calculated that the Joint Strike Fighter is so loud that it would only be able to carry out 168 flights a year at the two Dutch NATO bases. And that's not nearly enough to keep NATO pilots trained: at the moment, the F16s fly an annual 4,200 practice flights a year.
These do not include the sudden 'scrambles' when they are called up to investigate unidentified overflights, which were at a high peak after September 11, 2001, but have become steadily less each year.
The Dutch negotiations for military contracts remain shrouded in secrecy upon the request of the manufacturers themselves; whereas the Danish government negotiates all their military contract bids in public. See their report on the Danish bids here,in Dutch:
The Dutch parliamentary commission and some residents from Leeuwarden next head to the United States' Lockheed Martin facilities in Texas from 23 to 28 February and also plan to visit other military suppliers there.
Earlier this month, this commission has also gone to Leeuwarden air base to discuss petitions with residents in the towns surrounding this NATO base located in Friesland province. The towns of Marssum, Cornjum and Volkel are amongst only some the (old) villages located right underneath the flight path. Other towns are also greatly affected however. Leeuwarden is one of only two NATO bases where the F16s are flown from in the Netherlands and pilots carry out regular training flights, also sometimes at night.
At the meetings with the parliamentary committee, Leeuwarden province and local municipalities presented scientific reports showing that the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter is so much louder than the current F-16s - a whopping 21 Dba louder -- that they would only be able to fly 168 times a year under the current "sound-contour' guidelines.
Local residents from the towns, represented by Gerard Veldman from Cornjum and Geert Verf from Marssum, and four representatives from the town of Volkel, who all form part of Meneldumadeel municipality. Its mayoress Gerrie van Delft described the concerns from all the residents in great detail - describing findings by engineer F W J van Deventer that the JSF would be 21 Dba decibels louder than the current F-16 when starting and landing.
And the residents already found the old F16s difficult to live with. It's a problem: the Dutch housing shortage prevents residents from simply moving elsewhere. Often, waiting for new housing can take as long as ten to 15 years.
The current guidelines around Dutch airports are that for every extra decibel produced by a plane, flights would have to be reduced by 14,2 % to maintain the currently agreed to sound-contour for their villages underneath the flight path. see