* Norway about to order another six F-35 jets
* Plans to buy 52 jets in total by end 2024
By Henrik Stolen and Nerijus Adomaitis
GARDERMOEN, Norway, April 26 Oil-rich Norway is
stretching out its purchase of 52 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters
from Lockheed Martin, the Defence Ministry said on
Friday, in a move that will nudge up the cost but reduce the
burden on the annual defence budget.
The country is about to place firm orders for six of the
fighter planes and will extend the timeframe for the purchase of
all 52 from four years to eight years, the ministry said.
"We have looked into how we should acquire these aircraft
through the most favourable time frame, so that we are able to
phase out the F-16s and phase in the F-35 with pilots, equipment
and everything else needed", Minister of Defence Anne-Grete
Stroem-Erichsen told Reuters.
The F-35 is designed to be the next-generation,
radar-evading fighter for U.S. forces and their allies, but
costs have risen sharply and production has been delayed,
leading some countries to scale down or rethink their orders.
The ministry said it had asked parliament to approve the
purchase of six planes to be delivered in 2017, one year earlier
than previously planned, but it would also take longer to
complete the remaining purchases.
That means that Norway, which formally ordered the first
four aircraft last June, will complete the purchases during the
period 2017-2024, instead of the original plan of 2018-2021.
As a result of extending the period, the total cost of the
programme, the biggest weapons procurement ever for the Nordic
country, will amount to 62.6 billion crowns ($10.65 billion) in
2013 crowns rather than 60 billion crowns in 2012 terms.
But stretching out the period will lessen a burden on the
annual defence budget as Norway will buy six planes each year
for eight years, instead of 12 planes each year for four years.
The first four F-35s ordered last year are expected to stay
in the United States for training purposes, and the first new
fighter planes out of the latest order are due to arrive in
Norway in 2017.
In total, the U.S. military and its allies plan to buy over
3,100 F-35 aircraft.