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Norway voices support for F-35 in budget proposal

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics got good news recently when the Norwegian government reaffirmed its commitment to continue buying the stealthy F-35 joint strike fighter.

Norway’s defense department — which has always said it planned to buy 52 planes — told its parliament in a 2017 budget proposal that it plans to purchase 12 planes in the 2019 and 2020 “block buys,” making it the first international partner to make such a multiyear purchase, an official said.

“They continue to stay strong in the program and it shows the confidence they have in the F-35,” said Ken Ross, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, where the airplane is built. The F-35 moves at supersonic speeds and has stealth capabilities.

By committing to buying the F-35 in a future block, the economy of scale will help drive down the cost to the desired $80 million to $85 million per plane, from $112 million per copy in 2013. F-35 customers plan on procuring about 450 aircraft from 2018 to 2020.

“Norway and other international partners on the F-35 program have been involved in the concept of a block buy since its inception,” said Joe DellaVedova, a Pentagon spokesman for the F-35 program. “Due to vast economies of scale, all countries will achieve significant reductions on the price of their jets.”

The Norway announcement is welcome news for the F-35 program, which has hit turbulence lately, with an engine fire forcing a pilot to abandon a plane as it was preparing for takeoff. Pentagon officials have also expressed concerns about the F-35’s software.

Norway saw its first copy of the advanced fighter jet roll out in September 2015. Norway is one of eight partner nations in the giant program. The other nations helping develop the F-35 include Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Japan and South Korea, along with Israel, are foreign military customers.

Last month, Japan saw the first of the 42 planes it has ordered to beef up its defenses. In June, Lockheed Martin rolled out its first F-35 for Israel, which will be the first nation to have a fully operational F-35 outside the United States. Israel is scheduled to buy 33 Lightning IIs and has an option to buy 17 more.

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