Norway strengthens plan to acquire 'best value' F-35

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Norway has reaffirmed its plans to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with its new defence White Paper also outlining a possible acceleration in first deliveries of the type.

Oslo in 2008 selected the conventional take-off and landing F-35A to replace its Lockheed F-16AM/BM fighters, and has already ordered an initial four to support its future training requirements. The first two of these could be delivered a year early, in 2015, according to the 23 March document.

"The ambition remains for a total acquisition of 52 aircraft, including four training aircraft, and despite changes made by other partner nations Norway finds that its previous and robust real-cost estimates remain accurate," says defence minister Espen Barth Eide. "We remain confident that the F-35 represents the best capability for the best value possible."

 

© Lockheed Martin

Norway has reaffirmed its plans to buy an eventual 52 F-35A strike fighters

With the F-35 acquisition to represent a major undertaking, the defence ministry's plan for the 2013 to 2016 period includes a "temporary strengthening" of its budget equating to a 7% increase in spending. Oslo also wants to bring forward and extend its planned expenditure on the combat aircraft to spread its costs.

"A new start date of 2017 is being considered, while the final procurement year may be extended to 2023 or 2024," Eide says. Each annual acquisition will require approval from the Norwegian parliament, as will a decision on whether to acquire the final six planned production examples.

Once fielded, the Royal Norwegian Air Force's F-35s will be operated from Ørland air base, in addition to providing quick reaction alert cover from Evenes in the north of the country. Oslo is planning to retire its last F-16s in 2023, with its JSF acquisition currently expected to total NKr60 billion ($10.5 billion).

Norway's continued confidence in the F-35 will come as welcome news to Lockheed, following widespread reports of concerns over cost and schedule delays among other future operators Australia, Canada and Japan. US Air Force secretary Michael Donley also said on 20 March that future problems with delivering the aircraft would "be paid for by tails" against the service's stated intention to buy 1,763 examples.

Also contained within Oslo's new White Paper is a plan to introduce the maritime version of NH Industries' NH90 utility helicopter to service in the 2013-16 period. Eight of the aircraft are already on order for the Royal Norwegian Navy.