Norwegian F-35s prepare for strategic deployment to small airfields

Insight into the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s [RNoAF] strategic planning reveals a strategic game plan for its F-35A fleet should conflict arise. The authority’s chosen approach incorporates the utilization of all 32 F-35As from unconventional airfields. 

US company Lockheed Martin is on an accelerated timeline to quickly sign a deal with Germany to acquire the F-35 Lightning II, wrote Gareth Jennings in Twitter
Photo credit: Twitter

Now under review is the stratagem of deploying the F-35A from smaller Norwegian airfields. Such a move carries significant tactical value. By dispersing the fleet across multiple locations, there’s a significant reduction in the chance of an adversary disabling a large portion of the fleet. Currently, the fleet is mostly based in two locations: Ørland and Evenes Air Force Bases.  

In a high-traffic scenario, these smaller airfields could utilize nearby roads as required. While not a novel technique, it is one that neighboring nations like Sweden and Finland have become proficient in, according to Norwegian sources. They assert, “there’s wisdom to be gleaned from our neighbors”. BulgarianMilitary.com highlights the fact that the F-35 has previously demonstrated its capacity for road launches and landings. This ability was impressively showcased by Norway itself when two of its F-35As successfully executed a landing on a highway in Tervo, Finland, last September.

Not only Russian Su-27 can do it - the F-35 landed on a highway
Photo by James Deboer

The lesson from Ukraine

Top-notch experts from Norway confirm the urgency of finding a solution in light of the war between Ukraine and Russia. A pattern has emerged as the Russian Air Force, known as VKS or RuAF, repeatedly targets sites where the Ukrainian Air Force’s MiG-29s, or PS ZSU, are stationed. According to Norwegian specialists, “The MiG-29s of Ukraine appear as easy prey due to their known locations. Russia’s acute awareness of the Ukrainian MiGs and Sukhois’ launch points make them logical targets.” 

The discussions around Norway point towards a report that BulgarianMilitary.com highlighted last year. The report discussed the possibility of sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but the determination of which type of jet had yet to be decided. The Russian satellites constantly monitoring Ukrainian territory give Russia an explicit advantage. Over the years, intelligence has persistently collected critical data on Ukraine’s military assets, making using the same airstrips a tactical disadvantage for the Ukrainian Air Force. 

However, Ukraine’s allies came forward with the proposal of offering F-16 fighters. Despite this generous offer, F-16s come with their own specific set of challenges. They require pristine large runways, specialized maintenance, and unique depot facilities. These infrastructure requirements would be nearly impossible to conceal from satellite observations. On the other hand, the capabilities of the Gripen – smooth operation from roads and highways, effective camouflage within forests, and serviceability in field locations or farm airstrips – overshadow the limitations of the F-16. Following the same rationale, Norway maintains and routinely cycles its F-35 fleet through smaller bases and airstrips across the country.

Hot pit

Here’s an interesting piece of information on small airbase operations – think fast F-35 refueling. Norway, indeed, has some firsthand experience with this. A case in point? A remarkable event last year when a Norwegian F-35 made a pit stop on a Finnish highway. 

In a breathtaking display of efficiency, Norwegian F-35s were “hot pit” refueled right there on the Finnish highways. Still not familiar with the term “hot pit”? It’s a smart refueling strategy in which the aircraft’s engines continue to run. The outcome? Significant reductions in the time these aircraft need to take to the skies again, enhancing overall operational efficiency. 

Now, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. Yes, this method is not the most fuel-efficient one. However, it offers benefits such as fewer takeoffs and a decrease in the aircraft’s vulnerability. By reducing the time these powerful jets stay grounded, we’re essentially creating an additional safety layer. It’s quite the trade-off, wouldn’t you say?

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