F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Norway to sell F-16s to private military contractor as it transitions to the F-35

December 7, 2021 (by Lieven Dewitte) - According to the Norwegian government's website, the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency (NDMA) has inked a contract to sell up to 12 F-16 combat aircraft to US military contractor Draken International for training purposes.

RNoAF F-16AM #664 from 331 skv is taking off in full force for a training session sporting the special anniversary scheme to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Norwegian F-16 service. [Photo by Peder Mathisen]

Mette Sorfonden, the director of the NDMA, signed the deal on Monday.

“We are therefore pleased that the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency has agreed to sell up to 12 aircraft to Draken International, a company offering services to the US military. We are also continuing our discussions with NATO allies about the sale of several Norwegian F-16s. I, therefore, look forward to seeing our aircraft remaining in active service for some time,” Norwegian Minister of Defence Odd-Roger Enoksen said.

The contract calls for the sale of up to 12 fighter jets, as well as the necessary maintenance and operational equipment.

F-16s have been "a backbone of the Royal Norwegian Air Force and of Norway's defense, preserving Norwegian sovereignty and participating in various national and international missions and exercises," according to the Materiel Agency.

The Norwegian Defense Ministry was also charged with selling F-16s in 2019, with the aircraft nearing the end of its operational life.

The F-16 aircraft served the Armed Forces and the country admirably for more than 40 years until being replaced by the F-35 Lightning II. I am delighted that Forsvarsmateriell has reached an agreement on the sale of some of our F-16 fighter jets. According to Mette Srfonden, director of Defense Materiel, the fighter aircraft are among the best maintained in the world and have a consistently held high standard, ensuring Draken International receives reliable aircraft for many years to come.

Delivery time will be determined by when the US and Norwegian governments accept the transaction, but it is expected to be completed in 2022. We are now working to sell as many of the remaining aircraft as possible, with the assumption that this will be accomplished in the next months, according to Srfonden.

For the remaining planes that can't be sold, an overall assessment will be done to see if they may be displayed in a museum or used for other reasons. Approval from the American and Norwegian governments will be necessary here as well.

Draken International is an American provider of former fighter aircraft for military and defense industry customers. The corporation provides the US Department of Defense, US contractors, and aerospace companies with services such as flight instruction, threat simulation, electronic warfare assistance, aerial refueling, research, and testing.

Their “red air” fleet is fast-expanding as it adds ex-Norwegian F-16s to the dozen former Dutch examples it acquired earlier this year. Up to 12 F-16s acquired from Norway will form part of an impressive private tactical jet air force, already one of the world’s largest, which also includes a dozen ex-South African Atlas Cheetahs, and 22 ex-Spanish Air Force Mirage F1Ms, plus assorted other subsonic jets, as well as a deep backstock of MiG-21s. One of the latter Mirage F-1Ms was lost earlier this year in a tragic crash near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

In addition to the former Norwegian F-16s and the 12 already acquired from the Netherlands, Draken may be able to extend its fleet even further, as the Dutch government has announced an option for the company to purchase another 28 F-16s that will be decommissioned by the end of 2024.

Although old — the Norwegian Vipers were originally delivered from 1980, initially in block 1 form — the fleet has been notably well looked after and has been successively upgraded. Like the Dutch F-16s that Draken previously acquired, the RNoAF jets underwent the Mid-Life Update (MLU), bringing them from the original F-16A/B standard to what’s unofficially known as F-16AM/BM. This means the aircraft are broadly comparable to the U.S. Air Force’s F-16C/D Block 50/52 fleet. They have been fitted with a new modular mission computer, targeting pods, datalinks, GPS, night-vision goggle compatibility, and new precision-guided weapons. Improvements have continued to be introduced via successive software upgrades.

By adding another batch of F-16s to its adversary fleet, Draken will keep pace with rival red air provider Top Aces, which is now operating the first of the 29 ex-Israeli F-16A/Bs acquired from Israel.

Clearly, there is a market for contractor adversary support, and the Draken fleet will be in high demand, not least because of the US Air Force's $6.4 billion effort to provide red air support at 12 separate airbases across the country. Draken, along with Air USA, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, Tactical Air Support, and Top Aces, is one of the organizations that received a piece of this deal. The contract is planned to last through October 2024, with 40,000 to 50,000 flying hours per year.

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    Additional images:

    RNoAF F-16BM #691 from FLO is taxiing by the camera with a new 75th D-Day anniversary color scheme applied to it in May of 2019. [Photo by Peder Mathisen]

    RNoAF F-16A block 15's #682, #676 and #688 (with strange 3688 marking) from 331 skv fly over a magnificent landscape in the viscinity of Vaerøy in the mid eighties. [Norsk Luftvartmuseum photo]

    Top Aces F-16A block 10 #N860TA (former Israeli #250) is flying by at Mesa AP as a civilian aggressor on May 18th, 2021. [Top Aces photo]