Andrew Doyle/OSLO

Lockheed Martin's campaign to sell NKr10.5 billion ($1.39 billion) worth of new fighter aircraft to Norway has suffered a setback, following the publication of a highly critical report on the mid-life upgrade (MLU) programme for the country's fleet of F-16s.

The report, compiled by Norway's general audit office (GAO) and sent to the Oslo parliament last week, says the country may have been overcharged for some elements of the NKr 2.4 billion MLU programme. It complains that Washington is refusing to provide contractual and pricing information. The report also says that only 45% of the agreed 100% industrial offset package has been realised by Norway.

The issue has sparked political controversy in Norway, just as the request for proposals (RFP) for a new batch of fighters to replace existing F-16s is about to be released. The competition will pitch the "Block 60" version of the F-16 against the other shortlisted rival, Eurofighter's Typhoon.

The head of Norway's parliamentary defence committee, Hans Rosgjorde, told the Aftenposten newspaper: "This is very important. If we can't get [the USA] to understand that we are interested in seeing our money used in the best way possible, this needs to be taken into consideration when assessing future projects."

Norway signed up for the F-16 MLU in 1990, along with Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, and the last of its 50 aircraft is due to be upgraded by 2001.

The GAO says that because Norway has been denied access to "classified" pricing data by the USA, and plays no part in the administration of the MLU programme, it has no means of controlling its cost.

Norway is expected to issue the RFP for its fighter requirement in the next few weeks, initially covering 20 aircraft plus 10 options. A selection is due to be made by the end of the year, with deliveries taking place between 2003 and 2006.

The procurement will be carried out in two batches - the first to replace its ageing Northrop F-5s and the more than 20 F-16s lost to attrition since 1975, and the second to replace the remaining F-16s.

The competition is Eurofighter's first real opportunity to bid for exports, and the consortium is offering to let Norway join the NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency if it picks the Typhoon. This would give the country a role in the development of future versions of the aircraft.

Lockheed Martin says it plans to respond to the anticipated request for proposals from Norway by the 1 June deadline. It denies that delays in the development of the Block 60 for the lead customer United Arab Emirates will affect its proposed offering to Norway. "It will not impact on what they end up buying. We're discussing a range of options, what they need and can afford," says the company.

The latest Block 50 plus F-16C/D has three new colour displays, a modular mission computer with 2000 times the memory and 250 times the processing power of the original F-16, an internal FLIR/laser targeting, conformal fuel tanks and the option of 2,275 litres (600gal) underwing tanks and a 22,700kg (50,000lb) maximum take-off weight.

Source: Flight International