WASHINGTON – Norway has designated its F-35 aircraft for a NATO quick-reaction alert mission in the High North, ending a 42-year run of the country’s F-16s for that job, the government announced Jan. 6.
The Lockheed Martin-made jets are held at Evenes Air Base in northern Norway, with at least three ready to scramble within 15 minutes and examine potential airspace violations of Norway and, by extension, NATO. The fifth-generation aircraft have previously accompanied F-16s on such missions in anticipation of the formal takeover on Thursday.
The change in aircraft types further embeds the F-35 jet into the fabric of alliance patrol missions in Europe, just as Lockheed recently recorded initial wins in its sales campaigns for Finland and Switzerland.
Norway’s F-16 have operated the quick-reaction mission from Bodø Air Base for four decades, according to a defense ministry statement. The new location of Evenes puts the mission’s center of gravity about 100 miles further north.
The Norwegian military is expanding the base to also house P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, putting key aerial and naval surveillance assets into an area that has seen an uptick in Russian military exercises.
Norway expects to have its fleet of 52 F-35s fully operational by 2025, according to the defense ministry. Aside from a handful of scramble-ready planes at Evenes, the fleet’s home base is Ørland, located in the south-central part of the country.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department continues to use F-16 aircraft in the Baltics, another hotspot for NATO air patrols along the border with Russia. American jets arrived in Poland earlier this month, joining Polish and Belgian F-16s to prepare for that mission, according to a Jan. 6 alliance statement.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.