Norway has finally committed to the Lockheed Martin F-35A after securing guarantees from the USA over opportunities for Norwegian industry.
Key to the deal for as many as 52 aircraft - at an estimated NKr60 billion ($10 billion), the largest public procurement project in the country's history - was confirmation from the US authorities of their support for the integration of the Kongsberg-developed Joint Strike Missile (JSM) on to the F-35. The air-launched missile will be suitable for carriage in the F-35's internal weapons bays.
This guarantee was delivered to the Norwegian minister of defence Espen Barth Eide in a letter from his US counterpart Leon Panetta earlier this week.
Eide says: "Securing such support has been an important pre-condition for many of our partner nations before they themselves commit to supporting the JSM.
"With such support finally in place, there is now a significant potential for the missile among future operators of the F-35."
Norway estimates the total market potential for the JSM to be NKr20-25 billion.
Two aircraft have been ordered under today's agreement, with a second pair "expected" to arrive in 2016, says the Norwegian ministry of defence. These will be based in the USA "as part of a joint training centre", it adds.
Up to 48 additional aircraft could follow, with the majority stationed at the Norwegian air force's Ørland base in central Norway. A small forward operating base will be established at Evenes in the north of the country to provide quick-reaction cover.
On 14 June, Norway's parliament approved a "significant increase in defence spending" of about 7% to 2016 to finance the purchase. Money saved through its withdrawal from Afghanistan will also be redistributed to pay for the F-35As.
The F-35A was initially selected by Norway in 2008.