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Norway to buy four F-35 training jets

April 7, 2011 (by Bjørnar Bolsøy) - The Norwegian government wants to go forward with its plans to aquire an initial batch of four F-35 jets in 2016. Based on new U.S. cost data the overall cost picture has changed little.

F-35A AF-3 takes off on its seventh flight on December 2nd, 2010 with Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti at the controls. The aircraft is the first fully low-observable compliant F-35. [Photo by Carl Richards]

The government's proposal, which needs to be approved by Parliament, is in line with the earlier decisions to procure the F-35 for its F-16 replacement. The RNoAF's F-16 fleet has served for three decades and is set for retirement in 2023 at the latest.

- Acquisition of the four planes is an important step to maintain a satisfactory operational combat aircraft capacity in the transition phase between the F-16 and F-35, says Defense Minister Grete Faremo.

The jets will be based in the U.S. and used initially to train instructor pilots and later operational pilots. These are the first of up to 56 planned jets with main deliveries in the 2018-2021 timeframe.

The four jets are expected to cost NOK 4.8 billion or USD 744 million with a projected exchange rate of NOK 6.45. This includes NOK 1.2 billion in logistics and operations in the first few years, as well as contingencies of NOK 0.4 billion NOK.

These jets will be delivered early and are thus more expensive than the later main batches.

Overall the acquisition of 56 jets, weapons, logistics and support, training, infrastructure and equipment is estimated at NOK 52 billion or USD 8 billion in 2011-value. This is based on new information from the manufactorer and the U.S. government, and is in line with the projected estimates from 2008.

The cost picture has changed little - an increase of about 2.5 percent or NOK one billion according to the Defence Department - despite recent delays and restructuring of the F-35 program.

This is due in part to the decision to deferr main deliveries from 2017 to 2018. In addition the 2008 project did take into account possible changes and delays in the F-35 program. The Defence Department states that challenges in the development program were already identified and accounted for in the previous estimates.

Compared to the 2008 estimate of NOK 42 billion the new figures are also ajusted for updated inflation and currency rates, at NOK 5 billion and NOK 4 billion respectively.

Norway's confidence in the F-35 program was emphasized at a recent press briefing in Oslo. As part of his first official European tour as chief of the F-35 program Vice Admiral David Venlet provided the Norwegians with a status of the program.

Deputy Minister of Defence Roger Ingebrigtsen expressed reassurance that, based on Venlet's briefing of the recent replan, the program is on a sound footing and that there are no surprises on cost.

- The new cost figures are within our budget limits, said Ingebrigtsen.
- Based on the new information there is nothing that causes myself or the Defence Department to loose any sleep.

Venlet headed last year's Technical Baseline Review (TBR) - the most extensive review of the F-35 program to date - assessing the cost, schedule and technical risk of the development program (SDD). Based on the TBR a number of changes were made, such as diverting funds from production and procurement to boost the development and testing of the F-35.

Venlet told that the replan is "realistic" and expressed confidence in the new less straneous development and production schedule.

- The new plan gives the program good flexibility to absorb technical issues", Venlet said.

Part of that is the addition of considerably more test jets to facilitate an increase in planned test flights from 5,800 to 7,700 thorugh 2016.
- There are now 18 jets planned for testing instead of 12, Venlet said. Having a 50 percent larger test fleet will add significantly to the test program's ability to identify and sort out problems.

Overall, the Norwegian government is a considerable step further in their plans to acquire the F-35.

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