Norway To Begin F-35 Negotiations

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By Graham Warwick

Norway’s defense ministry is to begin negotiations on the purchase of up to 56 Lockheed Martin F-35As after parliament voted to accept its recommendation of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) over the Saab Gripen NG.

Negotiations are expected to take two years, and the government is required to return to parliament in the spring for authorization to begin negotiating the final contract. Norway is already a partner in the JSF program.

Despite an effort by the right-wing Progress Party to send the fighter decision back to the government for further analysis, a majority in parliament voted to endorse the government’s November selection of the F-35.

The defense ministry does not know when a contract will be signed, or how many aircraft will be ordered, but beginning negotiations this year keeps the program on track to allow first deliveries in 2016 and full operational capability in 2020.

Lockheed Martin is planning for Norway to begin buying aircraft in 2014 as part of the eighth low-rate initial production batch. Canada and Denmark also could order their first JSFs at the same time, says Tom Burbage, Lockheed executive vice-president and general manager, F-35 program integration.

Denmark is going though a three-step process, first to decide whether it needs a new fighter, then which one, and finally how many and when. The first two decisions were planned before its parliament recesses at the end of this month, but are expected to slip.

With a requirement for 48 aircraft, JSF program partner Denmark still is hoping to decide between the F-35A, Gripen NG, and Boeing F/A-18E/F before year-end, Burbage says.

Although also a partner in the JSF program, Canada has held its requirement for up to 80 next-generation fighters open to evaluate other candidates, but could now move to a downselect decision this year, Burbage believes.

Among the other international JSF partners, the U.K. has ordered its first two test F-35Bs as part of the 17-aircraft third production lot just awarded. A single test F-35A for the Netherlands also is included, but the Dutch will not make a final decision until 2010.

A third test aircraft for the U.K. and a second for the Netherlands are planned as part of the 32-aircraft LRIP 4 contract to be awarded next year.

Australia has confirmed plans to buy 100 F-35As, beginning with an initial tranche of 75, but has slipped its first purchases by a year to 2012, as part of LRIP 6. Italy, with a requirement for 131 F-35As and Bs, and Turkey, with 100 F-35As, also expected are to begin their purchases in LRIP 6, Burbage says.

Lockheed Martin is conducting a study for Spain, which like Italy operates the AV-8B Harrier +, that will look at the F-35 as a replacement for its F-18s. A similar study is planned for Finland.

Negotiations continue with Israel on the sale of an initial 25 F-35As. Meeting Tel Aviv’s demand for deliveries by 2014 will require agreement by the end of this year, or early in 2010, he says.

Photo: DoD

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