It was 9 years since Europe saw its last flying Starfighter. Or was it? Norwegians on Wednesday 28 September once more had the opportunity to see and hear a flying Starfighter, as a two seater CF-104 took off from Bodø airbase after a lengthy restoration proces. Europe has a flying Starfighter again!
The US has Lockheed F-104s participating in the airshow circuit, but Europe was cut off from flying Starfighters after the last Italian F-104s retired in 2007. That has now changed because of a Norwegian project to bring back to life an F-104 that was stuck on the ground for the previous 33 years.
The F-104 took off from Bodø for its first flight in all those years, immediately producing that famous howling sound with its General Electric J79 engine. Hear it in the clip below.
Norway is aiming to have its pilots flying the first two Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs just before Christmas 2015, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence confirmed. The aircraft, called AM-1 and AM-2, are planned to make their delivery flight from the production plant in Forth Worth in Texas to Luke Air Force Base in November 2015.
Together with a third and fourth aircraft to arrive in 2016, the two Royal Norwegian Air Force next-generation multi-role fighters will be part of the so-called “international pool” to train aviators and aircraft technicians.
Current RNoAF combat pilots flying the F-16 will go through conversion training on the new type in 2015 and 2016. From 2018 on forward Norway will have at least 6 trainees – aspirant-pilots that have never flown the F-16 or similar aircraft before – at Luke. At the same time the RNoAF will start decommissioning its facilities at Tuscon in Arizona, where Norwegian fighter jocks-to-be now go after basic training on Sheppard AFB.
Meanwhile Ørland Airbase near Trondheim in Norway is getting ready to accept the first F-35 in 2017, with a new simulator division and maintenance division. The first RNoAF Lightning II is planned to be operational in 2019, with all planned 52 F-35s reaching full operational capability by 2025.
While Ørland will be the F-35s only Main Base, Norway will fly its Quick Reaction Alert on NATO northern flank with F-35s based at Evenes on a rotating basis. Until 2021 F-16s will fly the mission from Bodø – initially on a rotating basis with the F-35s until the QRA task will be fully transfered to the new stealthy jet ahead of full decommissioning of the Fighting Falcon.
One of the largest military exercises of Europe kicked off on 25 May 2015. A third of the airspace of Sweden and giant areas – air, sea and ground – of the north of Finland and Norway serve as a training area for the Arctic Challenge Exercise 2015, or ACE15, lasting until 5 June 2015. Call it the Scandinavian Red Flag if you want.
The line-up of participating aircraft is impressive. Serving mainly from Bodø Airbase in Norway, Luleå-Kallax in Sweden and Rovaniemi in Finland, a total of 120 planes and 4,000 personnel are joining the simulated combat scenarios.
Combat element: 110
16 Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F-18C/D Hornets of the Finnish Air Force
8 Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18C/D Hornets of the Swiss Air Force
12 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16AM/BM of the Royal Norwegian Air Force
18 SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripens of the Swedish Air Force
12 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon of the Royal Danish Air Force
12 Lockheed Martin (General Dynamics) F-16CG from the 510th Fighter Squadron (Aviano AB) of the US Air Force
12 Eurofighter EF2000 of the German Air Force
8 Mirage 2000 of the French Air Force
8 Panavia Tornado GR4 of the Royal Air Force
4 British Aerospace Hawk of the Royal Air Force
Electronic warfare & command element: 6
1 SAAB ASC-890 AEW&C aircraft of the Swedish Air Force
1 Dassault Falcon DA-20 of the Royal Norwegian Air Force
2 Dassault Falcon DA-20 of Cobham, on behalf of the Royal Air Force
1 Pilatus PC-9 of GfD, on behalf of the German Air Force
1 Learjet 35 of GfD, on behalf of the German Air Force
Tanker element: 4
1 Lockheed C-130AAR (KC-130) in-flight refuelling aircraft of the Swedish Air Force
1 Airbus Voyager (A330 MRTT) of the Royal Air Force (AirTanker)
1 Airbus A310 MRTT of the German Air Force
1 McDonnel Douglas KDC-10 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force
Rotary support: 1
1 NHIndustries NH90 or a Aérospatiale Super Puma of the Swedish Air Force
ACE15 plans to fly during two mission periods a day. The line-up and ambitions of ACE15 are larger than the first edition of ACE in 2013, when 90 aircraft and 2,000 personnel participated.
NATO decided on Thursday 4 September 2014 to permanently increase the number of fighters to protect the Baltics to 18 jets and to give the three current bases a more or less permanent status, although the aircraft and units assigned to these bases will still rotate amongst the NATO member states.
Thereby what more or less started as a French initiative to train with Polish forces and back-up NATOs flank on the shores of the Baltic Sea will officially become more a steady base of operations: Malbork, or 22. Baza Lotnictwa Taktycznego (22.BLT; 22nd Tactical Air Base) of the Polish Armed Forces. The Polish Air Force’s 41. Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (41.elt or 41 Tactical Air Squadron) operating MiG-29A/G/GTs will have permanent guests rotating every three or four months. Currently the Royal Netherlands Air Force has a quartet of its F-16 fighter jets operating from this delta area at the Baltic sea, with the airbase only 42 miles (68 km) southwest of Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
With a new status deal signed with Sweden and Finland, it will become more easier for NATO to operate from these previously officially neutral countries as well. The Finnish Air Force itself provides irregular air cover and combat air patrol with its F-18Cs and the Swedish Air Force flying JAS 39 Gripen planes from the Ronneby Airbase near Karlskrona. Like earlier this week the Swedes put additional air cover on the strategically located island of Gotland, but with current budget restrains the standard alert response force of 6 to 8 aircraft has been downsized to a pair of Gripens only and their deployment to Visby airfield at Gotland has so far only be temporarily at times. But both the Finnish and Swedish air forces are no part of the military structure of NATO but can be if those countries decide to put some of their units at NATOs disposal, the Fins even have a fully NATO-certified fighter unit.
NATO’s slightly tougher stand – many experts believe still not a big match if Russia decides to take control of Estonia and/or Latvia and/or Lithuania and/or Gotland – might even influence Norway’s future air force organisation. Oslo has been keen to reduce the number of main operating bases for its future F-35 Lightning II fleet from two to one: Ørland. But with such a vast country and Russia recently starting to improve its official civilian settlement on the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, upgrading its bases near the Scandinavian borders and re-establishing its military bases in the Arctics, keeping Bodø as the second main air base for the future fighter fleet of Norway doesn’t seem such a bad idea after all. Especially with increasing Norwegian economical interest in offshore oil and gas fields in the North Pole area.
UPDATED 20 MARCH 2014 | Sixteen thousand troops, 16 nations and a sizable sea force supported by numerous airplanes are currently scrambling to defend the northern coasts of Norway. Why? To show that NATO and her partners have teeth and to train to keep those sharp during exercise Cold Response 2014. The first units have moving in place since the end of February, getting ready for the day the war games begin on 11 March 2014 (DV Day) in what can become the biggest joint combined military exercises of Western Europe this year.
The 6th edition of the multinational winter war exercise hosted by Norway brings units from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom together. In an area that is more than 200 km (124 miles) long and between 50 and 100 km (31 and 62 miles) deep, all the way from the southern tip of the beautiful Lofoten islands to the northern Norwegian town of Tromsø. Epicentre is Narvik-Harstad. The air forces involved will use a even bigger chunk of the Norwegian coast, with operations going on all the way from Tromsø to Trondheim in the south of the country.
Cold Response 2014 concluded the operations on 19 March, with the Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s from 331, 332 and 338 squadrons flying 35 missions. For some countries, like Sweden, be the biggest military exercise of the year. The Swedes contribute 1400 troops this year and will lead the multinational brigade for the first time. The brigade includes forces from the UK, the Netherlands, Canada and Norway. The naval manoeuvers that preluded the exercise had been given their own operation’s name, Dynamic Mongoose, that also saw the involvement of three Royal Navy Merlins. Of course more interesting to us are all air assets of Cold Response 2014.
In-theatre airbases will be Tromsø, Bardufoss, Andenes and Narvik-Harstad. Bodø and Ørland will be used as launching or retracting airfields during the simulated war, and possibly even Luleå-Kallax in Sweden. No word about Kiruna this year, which might have been skipped after the sensitive crash of a RNoAF C-130J on 15 March 2012 en route to Kiruna Flygplats.
Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Air Force)
The RNoAF will contributes to CR14:
Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon from Bodø (331/332 skvadron) and Ørland (338 skvadron), incl. machines with tail no. 659, 675, 687, 688
Lockheed P-3 Orion from Andøya/Andenes, 333 skvadron, including P-3C Orion with tail nr. 3298
Lockheed C-130J Hercules from Gardermoen, 335 skvadron
Dassault DA-20 Jet Falcon from Rygge, 717 skvadron
Bell 412SP from Bardufoss (339 skvadron) and possibly Rygge (720 skvadron), including machines with tail no. 139, 142, 143, 157 and 167
NH90 from Bardufoss (operational test & evaluation / 334 skvadron), including machine with tail no. 049
Sikorsky/Westland Sea King Mk 43 from Bardufoss, 330 skvadron
Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force)
The SweAF will contributes to CR14:
8 – 10 SAAB JAS 39 Gripen* from F21 Luleå-Kallax (Norrbottens flygflottilj), 211 & 212 Wing (Stridsflygdivision)
2 SAAB JAS 39 Gripen* from F17 Ronneby (Blekinge flygflottilj), 171 Wing (Stridsflygdivisionen)