Oct 7, 2014
Norway Paves The Way For F-35 Acquisition
Basing their figures on the U.S. Presidential Budget and those from the F-35 Joint Program Office, the Norwegian government currently expects their future F-35 fleet to cost up to 20% more to operate than its current F-16 fleet, but that issue does not seem to generate concern here in Oslo.
The program might be Norway’s largest and most expensive defense project to date, but officials say the new capabilities the F-35 will bring, such as enabling the country’s air arm to carry out long-range strikes, make it a price worth paying.
Norway selected the aircraft in late 2008 to replace its fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons. With plans to acquire 52 F-35As, Oslo has already approved the purchase of 16 aircraft, and this is likely to increase when the government budget is cleared in spring 2015. The country has accelerated its F-35 purchase as its 56 remaining F‑16s show their age. Norway’s initial aircraft are on the production line in Fort Worth; the first is scheduled to be delivered in late 2015. Two more are due to arrive in 2016, followed by six every year until 2024.
Initial operating capability (IOC) is expected in 2019 and full operational capability by around 2024. For several years, the country’s remaining F-16s will operate alongside the F-35, but will be rapidly downsized in 2019‑20. The government wants to ensure against capability gaps.
The Norwegian government has opted to position its F-35 fleet at a single location—Orland air base—near the coastal city Trondheim. Oslo is spending $96 million on new facilities for the aircraft, construction of which is due to begin during 2015. The F-35 force will comprise two front-line squadrons, compared to three currently flying the F-16, split between the Orland and Bodo air bases.
Four of Norway’s aircraft will remain in the U.S. to support pilot training; three more will be stationed at Evenes, near Narvik in the far north. There they will serve as NATO’s quick-reaction alert to intercept unidentified, often Russian, aircraft flying close to Norwegian airspace.
Further investments may also be needed in terms of weaponry. A large portion of the program will be devoted to the introduction of the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile (JSM) , which will give Norway its first taste of a strategic stand-off capability. The country had hoped it could repurpose many of the weapons it uses on the F-16, but the IRIS-T—Norway’s primary short-range air-to-air weapon—is not slated for integration onto the F-35, prompting Oslo to look at the AIM-9X Sidewinder. Officials are also considering the MBDA Meteor.
Search for potential partnerships with other JSF operators in Europe has already begun. Discussions have taken place with the U.K.
The most significant change required by the Norwegians is the addition of a brake parachute to handle the enhanced braking capability needed during their harsh winters.