Norway’s Future Fighter Competition: A Norwegian View
Guest article by Endre Lunde
Mixed signals have been coming from several of the embattled JSF program‘s foreign partners, including Britain and Norway. In an apparent response to the Norwegian announcement that they might be considering withdrawing from the program on account of their industrial share, representatives from Lockheed Martin, the US Government and Eurofighter have been campaigning intensively for their cause in the Norwegian news media. Drawing on Norwegian sources, I have compiled this following survey of the last months’ events, and the war of words that finally led to the announcement on May 8th, 2006 that Norway will continue their participation with JSF – for now.
The lobbying effort did not begin well.
Timeline of a Fighter Duel
On March 28th, 2006, Lockheed Martin Executive President and JSF Manager Tom Burbage did an interview with Jane’s, in which he made statements that were interpreted as direct threats of fines and sanctions against Norway should they go forward with their plans to pull out.
Two days later, on March 30th, Eurofighter Marketing Director David R. Hamilton called a meeting at the Norwegian capitols upscale Grand Hotel. He boasted of the problem-free relationship Norway could expect from their consortium, of which Norway is also a member. According to him, they saw Norway as an important partner, no matter what.
By April 3rd, Lockheed Martin began their damage control. In an unusual move, Tom Burbage made direct contact with one of Norway’s leading newspapers. He claimed to have been “misinterpreted” by Jane’s, and maintained that he had never threatened Norway. Instead, he outlined a massive industrial package with potential final upper limit of 18 to 19 billion Norwegian Kroner, (roughly $3 billion) – vastly more than what has ever previously been on the table. Also, in a more extensive interview the next day with Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, he outlined a total cost for the purchase of 48 JSF for Norway to be at NOK 20 billion (roughly $3.26 billion at current prices). This is dramatically lower than any other estimate that has been made previously, and only about half of the total cost outlined by Eurofighter for 48 fighters.
He also made comments on what he referred to as the wrong focus in the Norwegian debate, that of industrial participation rather than “the future best fighter for Norway,” and on an overall negative attitude towards Lockheed Martin.
This does not seem to have impressed the Norwegian parliament significantly. The comments made by Burbage were rebuffed by parliamentarians as “unrealistic,” and “too good to be true.” The unusually low cost estimate also led to renewed suspicions whether or not the version planned for export was a stripped down non-stealthy version compared to the US version, thus echoing concerns from other JSF partners including the UK.
This past week, representatives of both JSF and Eurofighter participated in online Q&A sessions on their offers for Norway. Colonel Harris of the US embassy in Norway in his session assured participants that the F-35A JSF version offered to Norway was identical to that of the USAF, and that there was no light-version on the market. He also stressed the assumed superiority of the JSF compared to Eurofighter, which he referred to as “built on technology from the 70s.” David R. Hamilton from Eurofighter, on the other hand, stated that he would be willing to “bet his pension” that JSF could not be delivered at half the price of their plane – something he considered “propaganda” from Burbage. He stressed that whatever technological advantage JSF might have in terms of stealth etc. would be made up for by the superior avionics and flexibility of the Eurofighter.
This Monday, this latest battle came to an end, as the Norwegian MoD, apparently content with the promises of Burbage as sufficient signs of progress, decided to pay their upcoming contribution to the JSF project of $18 million and continue their partnership. The Norwegian government insists, however that no final decision has been made re: the fighter that will replace their remaining F-16s. Indeed, the Ministry notes that there are now four potential candidates:
- Lockheed’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighter
- EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon.
- Saab/BAE’s JAS-39 Gripen, which is being cut in Sweden and may result in significantly cheaper but still new aircraft on the market.
- Dassault’s Rafale.
Why is there a problem?
One would think that in a country that is rivaled only by certain middle-eastern sheikdoms in their oil-wealth, a $3-6 billion investment for defense would not pose such a challenge. However, in the 15 years passed since the end of the cold war, political disagreement has prevented the forming of a comprehensive defense policy. This has led to major investments being pushed further and further in time, until now when there is a considerable drag in new acquisitions.
The situation is perhaps most obvious in the air force, which has not received any new aircrafts since 1990. The transport aircrafts are 40 years old, the SAR helicopters and fighters more than 30 years, and the maritime helicopters are closing on 25 years of service. With such a massive need for renewal mounting up, there is a growing fear that one investment will eat up too much of the available funds, especially if it does not include a sufficient industrial package that will keep the Norwegian defense industry going in the meantime.
Also, it has still not been possible to mend the political divisions that created this situation. Traditionalists fight reformers in a battle that spreads much further than party lines. After a compromise was finally hammered out in 2000, the current governmental constellation now complicates the matter.
After a national election last fall, the government now consists of a left-wing coalition, with three parties that differ significantly on foreign affairs and defense. Hence the complication. The JSF was seen as the favorite of the previous government, when the defense ministry was held by the conservative party. The Labor party that now holds the defense ministry, then advocated forcefully for the inclusion of other candidates, such as Eurofighter and Gripen. At the same time, this new coalition for the first time includes the smaller far left-socialistic party, which now holds the finance ministry. They are an outspoken critic of any larger defense contracts, and especially of the fighter purchase. It should be noted that this party remains an opponent of Norwegian NATO membership and hence Norwegian participation in NATO and US led international operations. As such, they are not likely to be impressed by JSF claims of global interoperability.
The industrial participation that Lockheed Martin expresses such frustration over also remains a major issue. Industrial shares and return purchases are being used to help legitimize large-scale foreign defense purchases in Norway, and they are also being forwarded aggressively by an organized lobby of defense related companies. Within parliament, several parties are likely to support their cause, due to close ties with the industry and the workers unions. Thus, whoever can promise or provide the greatest industrial share has a great advantage. So far, the total value of contracts given to Norwegian industry from Eurofighter is about twice what Lockheed Martin has had to offer. Seeing that both competitors are expected to bring to the table industrial packages equaling around 100% of the total sum of the purchase, it becomes ever more obvious that Burbage and his team have some serious catching up to do.
Where will it all end?
Under these conditions, it is hard to predict what Norway will finally fall on when the decision is due to be made in 2008. Tom Burbage and Lockheed Martin may have sensed the change in the wind with a Eurofighter proponent in the defense ministry and the far left sitting on the money bag, and might also be fearful of the overall consequences should a partner such as Norway withdraw from the project.
However, if indeed JSF now are serious on their pricing, if they manage to present an overall cost estimate in their final RFI later this month that is significantly lower than their main opponent Eurofighter, and finally provide credible promises of a larger industrial share, they might have bought themselves a considerable lead. They will then satisfy those who fear the dominance of one project in the budgets, and ease the resistance from the far left.
Tom Burbage’s problem remains, however, that he just raised the stakes for JSF even further. By announcing this latest cost estimate so publicly, and making the Norwegians go for it, he now has to follow up. Even the slightest failure to deliver is likely to fuel the political distrust of the JSF program, and give Eurofighter additional leverage within both parliament and government.
See DID’s article “F-35 Lightning II Faces Continued Dogfights in Norway” for updates.
Some Additional Readings & Sources:
- Dagbladet – Norwegian newspaper
- Norwegian Defense Ministry Online. See esp. Kan fÃ¥ flere industrikontrakter, regarding the need for industrial share compared with the overall size.
- Norwegian Defense and Security Industries Association
- UK Parliament Evidence Re: JSF (October, 2005)
- Godal, BjÃ¸rn Tore, (2003) Utsikter, Store Lille Norge i en Ny Verden. Aschehoug, Oslo – Book by former defense minister BjÃ¸rn Tore Godal outlining the development of Norwegian defense policies during the late 90s and the compromise of year 2000.