29 Nov 05. GERARD O’DWYER, HELSINKI, for Defense News, reported that, Norway, which once expected to buy Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to replace its Air Force’s aging F-16s, is now looking at other options, particularly the Eurofighter Typhoon. The country, which is contributing $15 million a year to the U.S.-led effort to develop the JSF, provisionally earmarked $8 billion to buy several dozen aircraft. But the new Labor-led government elected in October is reopening the debate.
“There appears to be a feeling out there that a decision to purchase F-35 aircraft was as good as a done deal,” said Espen Barth Eide, the Defense Ministry’s undersecretary of state.
Not so, he said.
“What fighter type Norway will choose remains open, as does the issue of whether Norway will continue the present agreement with Lockheed Martin about developing new jet fighters,” he said. “As a new government, we will have to make an independent decision.” The Air Force plans to replace its 48 F-16A and 11 F-16B multirole fighters in two phases, with the first replacements expected in 2015. Eide said the final decision on a purchase will be made by 2008, and will be based “on industrial policy rather than factors of foreign policy.”
This comes on the heels of several other things that have shaken the Lockheed-led F-35 program. Turkey decided in early November to invite rival fighter makers to compete for up to $10 billion in new aircraft orders. The Pentagon raised its estimate of the total development cost of the JSF by $7 billion to $40 billion. And rumors are swirling of further cuts to planned U.S. purchases of F-35s. Lockheed officials hope in 2006 to nail down purchase commitments from the eight international partners in the design and development phase of the program. Besides Norway and Turkey, which are contributing $125 million and $175 million, respectively, the partners include Denmark, $125 million; Australia and Canada, both contributing $150 million toward development; the Netherlands, $800 million; Italy, $1 billion; and the United Kingdom, $2 billion. And as doubts about JSF emerge, Lockheed’s rivals are circling, hoping to siphon off orders in Norway and elsewhere. Modern fighters that might fill the bill include the Typhoon, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, Dassault Rafale, and even Lockheed’s own F-16C/D Block 50 and 60.
New Norwegian Policy
The new Norwegian government had telegraphed its intention in a Nov. 11 statement that accompanied the 2006 defense budget. The statement said the Defense Ministry planned to seek “an acquisition policy which is of most benefit in terms of offset deals.
“In this connection, the Government will undertake a thorough review of Norway’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter and the Eurofighter programs, with special emphasis on clarifying and quantifying the relationship between the cost of participation and the resultant benefits to Norwegian industry,” the statement said.
Yet even the outgoing government, which was composed of the Liberal Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Conservatives, had begun to question Norway’s participation in the JSF effort.
In May, ministry officials confirmed that they had formed a working group to reassess F-35 purchase costs in light of the program’s budget overruns.
“What appears clear is that the purchase price on the aircraft will be higher than earlier anticipated,” Carl Hagen, leader of Norway’s Progress Party, told lawmakers at the time. “What we need is more information, and certainly more clarity on costs from Lockheed Martin and the Air Force.”
Another issue is related to the less-than-expected amount of JSF development contracts that have come in Norway’s direction since it joined the program in 2002.
In 2004, lawmakers met with Lockheed and Pentagon officials to complain.