Britain and Norway are investigating possible collaboration in the support and training for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The two sides said they are looking at cooperation opportunities in maintenance, sustainment and training of crew and technicians.
The collaboration announcement followed a Sept. 5 meeting in London between British defense procurement minister Philip Dunne and his Norwegian counterpart, Eirik-Owre Thorshaug. A spokesman for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence said exploratory discussions between officials were continuing today in London.
The talks come against a background of wider European efforts to collaborate on F-35 support, but the spokesman said that with similar delivery timelines and their geographical proximity it was natural the British and Norwegians would consider bilateral opportunities.
“This will be the first time in nearly 60 years that Norway and the UK will operate a similar type of fighter aircraft [the last time was the Vampire] and this naturally opens up new possibilities for co-operation,” said Thorshaug.
“The pooling and sharing of resources and maintenance capabilities is already at the heart of the support strategy for operating the F-35 [in Europe], and the UK and Norwegian MoD are looking to see where further national synergies may exist. In this context, both governments are encouraging UK and Norwegian industry to explore collaborative opportunities for cooperation in support and sustainment of our common F-35 fleet,” the two sides said in a statement.
The Norwegians said it would like to see a role in the maintenance of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine for companies like the state-owned AIM Norway.
Aside from support options, the two sides are looking at possible cooperation in training crews and maintenance technicians. The Norwegian spokesman said sharing simulation capabilities was one option. Oslo would also be running its eye over a planned UK training center, he said.
Dunne said that a number of decisions had yet to be made on the “totality of the UK’s JSF program, but it is clear that coordination and cooperation with like-minded allies such as Norway will offer many advantages in terms of shared knowledge, best practice and efficiencies. The UK looks forward to exploring possibilities for collaboration on our approach to through life support and capability development with Norway over the coming years.”
Norway already has parliamentary authorization to purchase the first 10 of what is expected to be a 52-aircraft requirement. Oslo has not actually signed a firm contract yet, but has initiated a deal to allow purchase of long lead items on some of the aircraft.
If the program proceeds, Norway expects the first aircraft, a conventional takeoff and landing F-35A, to arrive at its Orland Main Air Station in 2017 ahead of an expected initial operating capability in 2019.
Four of the Norwegian F-35As will be based in the US for training and conversion purposes.
The British, meanwhile, are in advanced talks with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of a squadrons worth of the F-35B short-take off and landing variant. A deal for between 12 and 18 aircraft is expected in the fourth quarter.
The first production aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2016 for initial operation from a US air base in 2016 with the first UK-based operations planned for 2018.
Three operational evaluation aircraft have already been delivered to the British and an order for a fourth could be announced as early as next week as one of a number of contracts to be rolled out at the DSEi defense exhibition which gets underway in London Sept 9.