Norway in F-35 ‘Price is Right’ squeeze / News / The Foreigner

Norway in F-35 ‘Price is Right’ squeeze. Lockheed Martin’s finished F-35 Lightning IIs have not even left the production chocks yet, but could already give the Norwegian government a financial headache. Pentagon prices recently released by Aviation Week show the Conventional-Takeoff-and-Landing (CTOL) version of the Lightning II (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter/JSF), which Norway is planning to buy, costs 116 million USD, approximately 660 million kroner. The Pratt and Whitney F135 engines are not included, which come roaring in at cost of 19 million dollars on average, an estimated 115 million kroner.

lockheed, martin, jsf, f-35, lightning-ii, wikileaks, us, embassy, espen, barth, eide, government, jens, stoltenberg, benson, whitney, oslo



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Norway in F-35 ‘Price is Right’ squeeze

Published on Tuesday, 28th December, 2010 at 14:32 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last Updated on 28th December 2010 at 23:23.

Lockheed Martin’s finished F-35 Lightning IIs have not even left the production chocks yet, but could already give the Norwegian government a financial headache.

F-35A Prototype AA1 (JSF)
F-35A Prototype AA1 (JSF)
Photo: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/USAF


Pentagon prices recently released by Aviation Week show the Conventional-Takeoff-and-Landing (CTOL) version of the Lightning II (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter/JSF), which Norway is planning to buy, costs 116 million USD, approximately 660 million kroner.

The Pratt and Whitney F135 engines are not included, which come roaring in at cost of 19 million dollars on average, an estimated 115 million kroner.

Negotiations between Lockheed Martin and the Norwegian government are still ongoing, according to Aftenposten. However, its WikiLeaks collection of documents  from the US embassy in Oslo show the entire project could end up costing the country a total of 30 billion kroner (USD 5 billion), 12 billion kroner more than originally projected.

Shoot to kill?

In 2008, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s government announced it was to replace the country’s ageing fleet of F-16s. 48 planes  were mentioned, whilst the government now says it is looking to buy 52, plus 4 training aircraft.

The JSF’s two other competitors, SAAB and Eurofighter, either pulled out or were ‘outcompeted’. The ‘Wikileaked’ documents show the US Government (USG) exerted pressure on Norway to buy the aircraft at the time.

Former US Ambassador to Oslo Benson K Whitney’s memorandums, reproduced by US paper The Star Telegram, show that “after an extensive, coordinated USG effort, the Norwegian Government decided to buy F-35s...instead of the Saab Gripen,” he claims.

There was talk of why “in Norway the capabilities of the JSF vs. the Gripen were the strongest suit, and Embassy and Lockheed Martin efforts focused on discussions of why the JSF’s capabilities were the best match for Norway’s needs, especially in the High North,” part of NATO’s Northern Flank.

However, behind it lay a Theodore Roosevelt-inspired US policy of “speak softly but carry a big stick”.

"In the fall of 08, we invited a number of USG officials to visit Oslo to make the public case on why the F-35 is an excellent choice, and the private case on why the choice of aircraft will have an impact on the bilateral relationship,” alleges Ambassador Whitney.

“Deciding our line on this was critical, given Norwegian sensitivities. We needed to avoid any appearance of undue pressuring (which was construed as “threatening” Norway in its sovereign decision-making process), but we couldn’t let stand the view that the choice didn’t matter for the relationship. We opted for “choosing the JSF will maximize the relationship” as our main public line. In private, we were much more forceful,” he continues.

Ministerial compliance

The deal with Lockheed Martin, announced by the government on 20th November 2008 “using unusually strong language (for domestic and political reasons),” Ambassador Whitney alleges, secured contracts for Norwegian businesses worth hundreds of millions of kroner. It was agreed, despite initial opposition from the Socialist Left Party (SV).

“The Socialist Left Party had been the most critical of the F-35 and the fighter competition but apparently has been brought to heel by the Labour Party (Ap) on this issue. Parliament will vote to approve or reject the proposal made by the Government of Norway (it cannot choose another plane),” writes the Ambassador in an earlier memorandum.

The memos also raise questions as to the role of State Secretary (Deputy Minister) Espen Barth Eide, who was attached to the Ministry of Defence at the time.

He has admitted giving the Americans positive signals at the time, but told VG “what [the Americans] have written are subjective assessments and are not my problem.”

Ambassador Whitney alleges, “in a call on November 21, Deputy Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide...praised USG efforts for being nuanced, calm, and non-controversial (although persistent) in promoting the F-35. Barth Eide said that this was key to avoiding a backlash...Commenting on the press coverage of the JSF, Barth Eide said that Aftenposten (the paper of record) had “gone off the deep end” with its open anti-JSF campaign of disinformation.

"Looking ahead, Barth Eide said we were now on the same side and it would be very helpful if the USG were to publicly stress the strength of the F-35 and the viability of the JSF program... [and] ...confirm there was no USG political pressure to buy the plane.”

‘Powerless’

Meanwhile, the Norwegian government will be footing the bill, and there is no price guarantee on the F-35s. Lockheed Martin says discounts may apply, but only based on the number of planes ordered by all countries in total, blaming development costs.

3,200 aircraft are due to be produced for the USA and seven partner nations. Israel has said it now needs 40 in total, reports Bloomberg, but the UK has drastically cut its defence spending. The final bill will have to divided.

Pål Bjørseth, Director of the Ministry of Defence’s War Plane Project, tells Aftenposten he believes the prices in Aviation Week will not be those Norway ends up paying. However, he does warn that “we are at the mercy of the planned order rate.”




Published on Tuesday, 28th December, 2010 at 14:32 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last updated on 28th December 2010 at 23:23.

This post has the following tags: lockheed, martin, jsf, f-35, lightning-ii, wikileaks, us, embassy, espen, barth, eide, government, jens, stoltenberg, benson, whitney, oslo.





  
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