OSLO, (BM) – The Norwegian Air Force has activated its first squadron of F-35A fifth generation single engine stealth fighters, one of the very first services worldwide to do so since the jet first entered service in the U.S. Air Force in 2015, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
While the fighter is far from combat ready, and a number of issues with the design remain, new technologies continue to be researched from laser weapons to artificial intelligence for later integration onto the airframe.
Norway previously faced difficulties with the F-35 over revelations that the jets were passing on sensitive information about the country’s armed forces to the United States – which the advanced fighters are expected to be doing when in service with export clients across the world.
Nevertheless, the induction of a squadron into active service has been praised by the United States and by the manufacturer Lockheed Martin for its contribution to the defences of the Western Bloc.
Brandi Schiff, spokesperson for the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin, stated regarding the development: “The declaration of initial operating capability of Norway’s F-35 fleet marks a major milestone that will increase their ability to work with the United States and other F-35 partner nations in support of regional defence.”
Deployments by the northern European country would provide “invaluable expertise in the North Atlantic and the Arctic” which could assist the United States and other potential operators of stealth fighters in extreme climates.
An initial operational capability means F-35s are capable of basic interdiction and close air support missions, and very limited suppression of or attacks on enemy air defences, but beyond this the aircraft lack capabilities for more advanced operations including penetration of highly defended airspace or combat against enemy aircraft.
The fighters are nevertheless highly valued in particular for their powerful sensor suites, which will provide excellent situational awareness and allow Norwegian forces to survey the vast Arctic regions. These regions have become increasingly contested as Russia and the Western Bloc both seek to exploit the considerable resource deposits there, with Russian forces deploying state of the art weapons systems of their own to protect their claims to the Arctic.
The Norwegian Air Force plans to deploy its F-35s to Iceland to conduct air policing efforts on behalf of NATO, and by 2022 the aircraft will take over the quick reaction alert mission in Evenes north of the Arctic Circle.
This mission is currently carried out by the service’s F-16 Fighting Falcons, which while faster are considerably shorter ranged and have a far inferior sensor suite leaving them less well suited to a patrol mission.
15 F-35As are currently in service in the Norwegian Air Force, with a total fleet size of 52 aircraft planned. The jets are intended to entirely replace the fourth generation F-16 Fighting Falcons currently in service.
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Source: Military Watch Magazine