May 12, 2000 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Norway scrapped a plan to buy 20 fighters in a contest pitting the Eurofighter Typhoon against a new version of the U.S. -made Lockheed Martin F-16.
The loss of the 10.7 billion crown ($1.2 billion) order deprives Lockheed and the Eurofighter partners of one of the few current opportunities to export combat aircraft.
Defense Minister Bjoern Tore Godal said Norway
could not afford to buy the fighters while it was also struggling to pay for five frigates worth at least 10 billion crowns. Eurofighter and Lockheed Martin will however get future opportunities. Norway is going to buy new jets in 12 to 15 years, so the process has to start in six to seven years.
Norway, a NATO
member, now planned to put its existing fleet of 58 F-16s through Lockheed's Mid-Life Upgrade program to improve their ability for precision ground attack. The 1999 Kosovo conflict, in which Norway provided jets for Nato operations, showed the Norwegian air force needed to make its fighters more versatile and more adaptable to future international operations, the ministry said.
While the F-16 is the world's best-selling fighter, Eurofighter is trying hard to establish its plane in the market. Greece
, the only Typhoon export customer so far, says it will buy 60 planes from Eurofighter, a consortium of Daimler Chrysler's Dasa unit, Finmeccanica of Italy
and Spain's state-owned Casa -- which are merging their fighter businesses -- plus Britain's BAE
Ominously for Eurofighter, Norway's six or seven year deferral looks timed for the country to instead buy the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter, which is likely to become the main competitor to the Typhoon and its French rival, the Dassault Aviation Rafale.
The Joint Strike Fighter, a highly cost-effective jet that Lockheed and Boeing Co are competing to build, should be in the market by the time Norway again calls for new bids.
Another recent target of Eurofighter's sales teams, Australia, has also deferred any fighter purchase until the Joint Strike Fighter is expected to be on the market, electing to upgrade its old planes instead.