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Norway favours F-16/EF2000

Lockheed Martin's F-16 Block 60 and the Eurofighter EF2000 are understood to have been shortlisted by Norway to meet its KFA-96 fighter requirement. The decision is expected to be revealed shortly, following final ratification in Oslo.

The Norwegian defence ministry maintains that it has yet to make the final choice on selection of two fighters for the next phase of its competition to replace the air force's ageing Northrop F-5s. Alongside the F-16 and EF2000, McDonnell Douglas is offering the F-18, Dassault is proposing the Rafale and Saab has put forward the JAS39 Gripen.

The air force intends to buy up to 40 aircraft, and industry sources confirm that Lockheed Martin and Eurofighter are the preferred choices. Norway aims to make a final selection by 1998, with contract award no later than 1999. First deliveries of the selected fighter would begin in 2004.

Norway also intends to take an "informed-customer" position on the US tri-service Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project. There have been suggestions that elements of the Norwegian defence ministry are advocating pulling together its F-5 and F-16A/B replacement projects and wait for the JSF. Industry sources point out, however, that the F-5 replacement is a pressing need and that the JSF will not be available before around 2010.

The Eurofighter campaign in Norway is being led by Daimler-Benz Aerospace, with emphasis being placed on potential industrial offset. The Norwegian defence ministry is also paying close attention to the continuing fighter competition taking place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Lockheed Martin is also offering the Block 60 advanced derivative of the F-16 to the Gulf state. Norway is understood to be reluctant to be the launch customer for this variant, although the UAE could announce its decision to procure the aircraft as soon as March.

A UAE purchase divided between the Block 60 F-16 and another aircraft is expected, with a fly-off between the Dassault Rafale and the EF2000 a likely option.