Co-operation Graham Warwick / London
|Defence ministry says remaining in the programme is “in no way a commitment to buy JSF”|
Norway is to retain its involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) development programme, but will keep its combat aircraft options open beyond the end of the year, despite a December deadline for signing a multinational agreement covering production of the Lockheed Martin F-35.
Oslo’s decision came after Lockheed presented an improved package of Norwegian industrial participation in production and sustainment of the JSF, potentially worth up to NKr20 billion ($3.3 billion). “We have decided solely to continue in the SSD [system development and demonstration] phase for another half a year,” says assistant defence minister Espen Barth Eide. “This is in no way a commitment to buy JSF.”
The eight international participants in JSF development make their payments every six months, with the next due on 1 July. Nor-way has contributed NKr429 million to JSF development, and will now pay NKr114 million more.
Earlier this year, Oslo requested a waiver of the requirement to provide 90 days’ notice of withdrawal from the programme, raising fears that the new centre-left government would pull Norway out of the project because of dissatisfaction over industrial participation.
“This is the first time we have actively contributed to the programme as the new government,” says Barth Eide. Both government and industry believe Lockheed’s improved package “is good enough to stay on board for now”, he adds. “NKr20 billion is the maximum potential, but NKr12 billion is quite certain if we stay on board.”
But Olso is also accelerating its evaluation of competing offers from Dassault, Eurofighter and Gripen International, so parliament can have detailed information ahead of a decision on whether to sign the JSF production, sustainment and follow-on development memorandum of understanding (MoU) in December.
If Norway decides to sign the MoU, it will indicate the number of F-35s it plans to acquire, but will not commit to procurement, says Barth Eide. The decision on a new fighter will not be taken until 2008, and two or more options will be maintained until then, he says. “We decided to stay in JSF and accelerate work with the others.”
n Australia expects to sign the JSF MoU in December, but will not make a final decision on buying the aircraft until late 2008. Blueprints for withdrawing its General Dynamics F-111s in 2010-12 and transitioning to the F-35 from 2012 will be put up for government approval in December.
The UK, which like Australia is demanding guarantees on US technology transfer before signing the MoU, says discussions continue, but is “optimistic” they will succeed. The UK has so far paid $812 million of its $2 billion commitment to JSF SDD, plus £41.5 million ($78 million) of a planned £600 million to be spent on “UK supporting studies”.