F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
After about 40 years of service to the Armed Forces F-16 fighter planes reach their lifetime limit around 2020. In late 2008 the government has chosen the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-16 successor, and plans to buy at leat 48. In June 2009 negotiations started on the purchase of up to 56 Lockheed Martin F-35As [3 squadrons of 16 aircraft, plus 8 attrition spares], a process that was expected to take two years. The purchase of new fighter aircraft for the period 2020-2050 is probably the largest single project in the history of the Armed Forces, with a budget of around 40 billion.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program added a new international partner when Norway officially joined the JSF's System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase. Norwegian officials signed a memorandum of understanding on 20 June 2002, initiating Norway 's participation in the development phase of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Becoming a part of the SDD phase qualified Norwegian industry to bid for work on the program, and enabled Norway to influence the F-35's design and mission.
Unlike typical European projects, therefore, work share is not guaranteed and each country's industries must compete for subcontracts. In 2005 representatives from Lockheed Martin visited the Norwegian parliamentary defense committee, and promised improvement and more contracts. After this meeting, the leader of the committee at the time announced that the JAS-39 Gripen was back on the table. This was scorned by most as an attempt to play hardball with Lockheed Martin. Whatever it was, it did not work, and wihin a year discontent from politicians was blooming again. By mid-2006 industrial concessions made by Lockheed Martin last week appear to have persuaded two European partners to remain in the Joint Strike Fighter program for the time being. Norway, which had complained of insufficient JSF work for its industry, said May 8 that it had decided to continue its participation in the program after Lockheed Martin offered an improved package with potential contracts of up to 20 billion Norwegian kroner (NOK) for Norwegian industry.
In 2007, the Norway announced criteria for Future Combat Aircraft competition to include aircraft capability, life cycle costs and industrial participation. Eurofighter was an original candidate but dropped out in late 2007. In April 2008, the two remaining competitors (US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Swedish Saab JAS-39NG Gripen) delivered responses to MOD's Request for Binding Information (RBI). Saab immediately claimed that the Gripen would be half the price of the JSF. Over the spring and summer, Saab's promotion of its industrial package was intensive and covered every province of Norway. Norwegian Labor Party leaders admitted to Embassy that they received frequent calls from local mayors in favor of the Gripen.
The Government of Norway [GON] decision on fighter aircraft was a frequent theme of media debate during 2008. Numerous commentators expressed largely ill-informed opinions on the F-35 and Gripen and opined on what the GON should do. The GON tasked the Ministry of Defense to conduct a technical study on the merits of the competitors, including the capabilities of the aircraft, price, and the industrial participation plan . The GON will announce its decision on December 18 on which plane they will purchase. The conclusions of the MOD technical studies recommendation will not be made public and the GON could decide against the expert recommendation. Public debate over the decision has focused on the political aspects of the decision as well as the announced criteria. The GON governing coalition includes the Socialist Left party which is strongly against purchasing aircraft from the U.S. Forces within the coalition's largest member, the Labor Party, are also in favor of furthering Nordic Cooperation and prefer to buy from Sweden. The U.S. vs. Sweden angle, combined with misinformation on the capabilities, price and industrial package offered by Lockheed Martin have created a very confused and conflicted picture.
In an unusual political move, in late 2008 the PM of Sweden told the press that if Norway does not buy the Gripen then industrial cooperation with Sweden will suffer, to the detriment of Norway. Shortly thereafter, Haakon Lie, the grand old man of the Labor Party, spoke out saying that if the party did not buy the Gripen, they would lose the 2009 national elections. Although 103 years old, Lie still has great moral influence over the Labor Party and his statements were taken seriously. These statements were followed by a seemingly well-orchestrated public campaign against the F-35's abilities and attacks on U.S. interventionist foreign policy which an F-35 purchase by implication supports.
Inaccuracies about the F-35 have been repeated in the media so often that they have become part of the accepted wisdom. Despite assurances from the MOD that they understand the truth, these myths matter as the GON will need to convince the public that it has made the right decision. Some of the major myths on the F-35 are: --The F-35 is a bomber, not a fighter and is not suited for the role Norway has in mind, primarily surveillance of Norway's Arctic waters and territory. --Because it is more a bomber, the F-35 is best suited for participation in international operations with the U.S., not for defense of Norway's territory. --The F-35 is a slow plane and does not match the Gripen in speed. --The F-35 will cost twice as much as the Gripen. --The Lockheed Martin industrial participation plan will not adequately compensate Norwegian industry. --The U.S. wants Norway to buy the F-35 because it needs Norway's money. The relevance of the F-35's capabilities to the monitoring and defense of Norway's Arctic region is perhaps the best selling point of the F-35, but it has been consistently attacked by Gripen and the media.
The Air Force began the process to evaluate four options. In the latter part of the process was once again with Swedish JAS Gripen and American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as two full good candidates. The assessment of candidates was carried out from the purely operational criteria and ended with a military professional's recommendation with regard to aircraft type and quantity. The recommendation was part of the Storting's decisions in 2008. Ministry of Defence's evaluation of alternative fighter aircraft occurred on a purely scientific basis, based on the tasks these aircraft are intended to solve in the years from ca. 2020 towards 2050. It was not decided the industrial policy and other non-military aspects of the equipment purchase, which is of wide scope.
According to the Ministry of Defence's analysis the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was the only options that meet the requirements that the government has set for Norway's future combat aircraft. JSF was partly chosen because of its superiority in terms of combat aircraft's main tasks - data collection and monitoring and combating of targets in the air, on the ground and at sea level.
The Air Force believed that the fighter should be included in the defense of Norway after 2020 when the current fleet of F-16 will be ripe for replacement. It is needed in order to quickly assert the national sovereignty over the land and the resource-rich waters around, will probably increase in future. In parallel to the expected continued demand for Norwegian fighter aircraft to international peacemaking operations under the auspices of the UN and NATO.
Precisely because of this great uncertainty, Norway will need the special flexible capacity fighter represents. In addition to advanced capabilities for quick overview and dissemination of information to decision-making authorities, leading fighter with him a man who represents the experience and discernment in all phases of the mission. The pilot's combat aircraft system's strongest paragraph, a security against accidental use of weapons or that a situation escalates because of insufficient information or pure accident.
On 20 November 2008, PM Stoltenberg and Defense Minister Strom-Erichsen announced that the GON recommends the purchase of the F-35 to replace Norway's aging F-16 fleet. The timing of the announcement was a surprise, coming earlier than expected, as was the exceptionally strong endorsement of the F-35 by the GON panel. A concerted effort by Lockheed Martin, Embassy Oslo, EUCOM, and the Departments of State and Defense played a key role in this decision.
The November 20 announcement was not the final step in this process, but it was the most important. Shortly after the announcement the GON reached internal agreement among its three coalition members (including the Socialist Left) to present its conclusions to Parliament for formal approval. The proposition will contain further details on the number of planes to be purchased, the range of costs expected, financing information and expectations for industrial contracts. Passage of the proposition was almost certain as there was no significant opposition to the F-35 in Parliament. The Socialist Left party had been the most critical of the F-35 and the fighter competition but apparently has been brought to heel by the Labor Party on this issue.
On 17 June 2011 the initial buy of 4 F-35s was been approved in Norway. The resolution got unanimous approval. While a decision on the full F-35A buy wasnít expected until 2014, this vote effectively sealed the deal. The current plan was for 4 training & transition aircraft to arrive in 2016, followed by an order for 52 F-35As, which would begin arriving in 2018.
Norways F-16s are to receive modifications in order to enable them to stay in service, with new wings increasing the lifespan of the planes by 10 years. The 57 F-16s are expected to be remain in service until 2023, with the arrival of the new F-35 aircraft expected to begin in 2018. By the end of 2011 the air force had changed the wings on 20-25 of the planes and needed to replace the wings on the rest. This was not the first time that the F-16ís had received upgrades. The engines were replaced in the 1990ís. Most of the instruments have also been modernised.
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