Norway gets first of US’s controversial F-35 jets, citing ‘increased Russian activity’ in region
Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide celebrated the occasion at American weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production line in Fort Worth Texas on Tuesday.
“We all know that the F-35 is not simply another fighter. We know that it is much more,” the minister said at the launch, according to the Local Norway. “The F-35 provides us a capability we’ve never had before. It’s by far the most advanced fighter ever made.”
Speaking to Reuters on the eve, Defense Minister Soereide alluded to an “obvious projection of power” by Russia in the Baltic region, where NATO members have been ringing alarms over a possible Russian incursion.
The first batch of the American jets is set to be delivered some time in 2017, with possible deployments set for 2019.
Russian fighter jets flying in the Baltics have recently demonstrated better capabilities than ever before, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, chief of defense of the Norwegian Armed Forces, told Reuters.
“They are using various types of aircraft together tactically, so they are capable of extending their ranges. They are capable of using their weapons systems in a better way than we have seen previously,” he said. “They are operating their aircraft in a way in which long-range weapons are used in a manner very similar to the tactics we have had in the West.”
The F-35, being a fifth generation fighter, comes with a host of features Norway desires, such as radar-evasion capability, as well as the ability to spot potential threats from further away.
However there is an ongoing debate over the numerous problems that have been experienced by the highly expensive F-35, which sells for $150 million per plane.
The F35’s shortcomings include a series of hardware malfunctions and software glitches. The aircraft reportedly could not outmatch the plane it is supposed to replace, the F 16, in a dogfight, according to a CNN report.
Norway’s plans to acquire the fighter jets come amid deteriorating relations between Russia and its Scandinavian neighbors over the Ukrainian crisis.
In August, Norway issued a decree ordering the deportation of Russian citizens blacklisted by the EU from the country’s Svalbard Archipelago – a territory to which Russia has visa-free access under a special international treaty. Russian officials denounced this move, calling it an overreaction.
Norway’s largest commercial broadcaster, TV2, is about to broadcast an expensive TV series depicting a Russian invasion of Norway. Moscow has called running the shows an ‘unfortunate’ decision.
In the meantime, Norway’s neighbor, Sweden, has repeatedly accused Russian submarines of violating its waters. In January, Sweden’s military claimed that as many as four foreign subs had been operating in the Stockholm Archipelago in mid-October of last year.
Swedish media had reported earlier that a “Russian submarine” had been spotted in the country’s waters in October 2014. Sweden’s military scrambled over 200 troops, helicopters, and ships on a week-long search for the alleged Russian vessel.
Although Sweden has recently undertaken several hunts for Russian submarines, none of them has been successful. One of the ‘subs’ turned out to be a work boat and another, recently found by Swedish divers, is likely a sunken WWI vessel.
Tensions between Russia and its Scandinavian neighbors have only grown since April, after Sweden and Finland made statements expressing a desire for closer cooperation with NATO. Moscow slammed the move, calling it counterproductive.
“Contrary to the past years, Northern European military cooperation is now positioning itself against Russia. This can undermine positive constructive cooperation,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement at that time.