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.
Faulty wiring has caused 15 Lockheed Martin F-35A’s to be grounded in the US, while 42 aircraft currently in production in Fort Worth are affected by the same problem. The news was made public solely by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, which saw two of its four F-35s stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, affected by the problem.
The state-of-the-art and highly expensive F-35 uses its fuel tanks as part of its on-board cooling system. Several cooling lines have been installed inside the tanks to allow cooling liquid for the aircraft’s avionics and other systems to pass through. The lines are covered in insulating materials that in some cases have been found to decompose, leaving residue in the fuel.
The issue first came to light during inspection of a US aircraft at Luke, following which 14 more F-35s were found to be affected by the same problem. Among those are two jets that Norway received from Lockheed Martin earlier in 2016, leading to a decision by Norwegian authorities to temporarily suspend flight operations with these aircraft pending corrective measures.
According to the Norwegians the problem is not a design flaw, but instead is caused by a supplier using improper materials and improper sealing techniques for these specific parts. “I expect Lockheed Martin to identify the appropriate measures to correct this issue, and that they implement these as quickly as possible, says Major General Morten Klever, the director of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office.”
Lockheed Martin appears to have no choice, since an additional 42 jets currently on the production line have received parts from the same provider, including three Norwegian aircraft scheduled for delivery early next year.
Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A, and has so far received four aircraft. Beginning in 2017, Norway plans to receive six aircraft annually, and the F-35 will begin taking over missions from the current F-16-fleet in 2019. As of September 2016 more than 200 F-35s have been delivered, including test aircraft, which have completed more than 68 000 flight hours, including roughly four hundred hours with Norwegian F-35s.
It is a kingdom known by its beautiful fjords, shock-and-awe inland scenery and very friendly, maybe slightly reserved people. Once a domain of Norman the Scandinavian country stretched on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean is prepping to be have some new toughness to show: the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. Airheadsfly.com dug into the Norwegian view of what is coming. This is what we got back from our sources inside the Norwegian Armed Forces.
As announced by the Royal Norwegian Air Force in July, a total of ten F-35s will be on strength by late Summer 2017. Three of these will be flown to Norway before the end of next year. Initially they will form part of the Operational Training and Evaluation (OT&E) effort, before becoming part of the first Norwegian F-35 squadron. As of 2019, the F-35 will take over roles and missions of the current F-16 fighter jet. In that year Norway expects to declare Initial Operational Capability with the F-35. But which roles will be taken first, has not officially been confirmed yet.
Evenes to become “combat base”
The future Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in the north will be at Evenes, near Narvik. It is a big move north from Bødo, Airheadsfly.com feels. Evenes was initially chosen as a Forward Operating Base that would mainly utilize existing infrastructure to support the F-35. But, under a more recently presented long-term plan, Evenes will be a “combat base” for the RNoAF, “including operations with new maritime patrol aircraft” that Norway will choose to replace the aging Lockheed P-3 Orions at Andenes.
“Evenes will also gain dedicated ground defence and ground based air defence systems.” However, no details on when the “significant investments in infrastructure will be made that go above and beyond what is required for the previously planned QRA functions of Evenes” a Norwegian Armed Forces spokesperson writes to Airheadsfly.com. The F-35s are to commence operations from Evenes in 2021 or 2022, with the new plans for Evenes first having to go through the Norwegian parliament for approval.
Current Norwegian Air Force bases of Andenes and Bardufoss were deemed not feasible for F-35 operations after the closure of Bødo. “The primary reason was noise concerns, along with other technical considerations related to the ability to conduct fighter operations in line with the stated requirements.” Bodø Air Station’s air strip has already been formally transferred to civilian aviation authorities, ahead of its future closure, after the last passenger aircraft landed there on 1 August 2016.
Joint Strike Missile
Oslo is confident that the F-35 will perform and will be better than than the F-16, also when it comes to operations in the Arctics. “The F-35 will provide a marked improvement over the F-16 in all aspects of High North operations. It offers superior range and situational awareness, and will allow Norway to operate freely throughout our air space under all conditions thanks to its survivability.
The addition of long-range precision guided weapons such as the Joint Strike Missile will also add considerably to the capabilities of the Norwegian Armed Forces.” The Joint Strike Missile (JSM) is developed by Norway’s own Kongsberg Defence Systems as a Anti Surface Warfare and Naval Fire Support weapon that even includes a Link 16 connection.
When it comes to operations a long way from base – like in the Arctics, over the Atlantic Ocean or down a long the many many miles of coast line – aerial refuelling might seem like a logic addition to the capabilities of the Air Force. But Norway is not considering any air tankers of its own, nor is it planning modification to the current fleet of four C-130J Hercules transport aircraft to be able to provide in-flight refueling. “However, Norway continues to explore the possibility of contributing to a multinational effort to strengthen the availability of air refueling tankers in Europe.”
Oslo is confident it can defend any of its territories, including Svalbard. Airheadsfly.com stands corrected that Svalbard – of which parts are allowed to be run by Russia – is in fact not a demilitarized zone. “Norway has full and absolute sovereignty over Svalbard. Svalbard is not demilitarized as such, however the Svalbard Treaty puts certain limitations on the use of military force against other states from or on Svalbard.
This does not exclude the use of military force pursuant to self-defense as defined in the UN-charter, article 51. The Norwegian government, as the sovereign on Svalbard, has the right and obligation to ensure that other states do not exploit Svalbard for military purposes. As such, Norway has the right to defend Svalbard militarily and Svalbard is an acknowledged part of NATO’s area of responsibility, as defined in the North Atlantic Treaty, article 6. Beyond that, we do not wish to discuss specific plans for responding to any potential future threats against Norwegian territory.”
During his presentation at the Lockheed Martin / RIAT 2016 press conference at RAF Fairford in July by RNoAF’s Lt. Col. Tesli, Norway’s main F-35 pilot and Norwegian F-35 detachment senior officer, the F-35 can expand the range of for example the navy by serving as its airborne recon/targeting gathering platform.
“Providing reconnaissance and targeting is not in itself a new role for the Norwegian Air Force. The F-35 forms part of a wider development where both platforms, sensors and weapons of all services gradually add range and capability, and where the F-35 in particular provides our joint force the ability to find, track, and effectively engage targets at significantly greater distances than we have been able to in the past,” a Norwegian F-35 Program spokesperson writes to Airheadsfly.com.
He can fly any fighter jet from any nation he wants, as long as it is a F-35A. Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Martin Tesli just does that, taking brand-new American, Australian or Italian Lightning II stealthy fighter jets to the sky at Luke AFB in Arizona.
“As long as l have my cartridge, I can get into any aircraft. I cannot fly the B and C versions of course, but for the A version it doesn’t matter from which nation the jet is. Between nations flying the F-35A is completely interchangable.”
Tesli – callsign TinTin – is on the spearhead of NATO’s northernmost first line of defence: being in charge of the Norwegian detachment that is getting acquainted with its future fast jet. At the Lockheed Martin press briefing on 7 July at the RIAT at RAF Fairford he showed full confidence in the F-35 being THE right choice for the Scandinavian nation. Despite the fact that a lot of promised functions still give a system error in the pilot’s office.
“The Norwegian air force needs to be able to operate freely, like the army and navy need to as well. The F-35 will give us that freedom. We no longer need other eyes on the target, we can find them ourselves in really all weather conditions at substantial longer ranges then we currently can with our F-16s.”
The current RNoAF jets go up in the air
in various configurations, not always with the right sensors or weapons load-out for a full multirole tasking. No more in the future, when the RNoAF F-35s always have all sensors on board. Which will come of handy when covering 320,000 km2 of land mass and 2 million square kilometres of sea territory that the Norwegian armed forces need to defend.
“We go up far north, in the Arctic. The
weather can be even worse up there than in England. And especially for landing – which we do in sometimes very bad conditions with fine snow blowing over the strip and an icy runway to touchdown on – we will have the dragchute.”
Having the extra breaking power, saves aircraft and probably pilots lifes, Lt. Col. Tesli says refering to the decades of experience with the dragchute equipped F-16s.
Sharing targeting information
For many operations the F-35
will do exactly what Norway needs, Lt. Col. Tesli feels. “With the new jet I can choose to be seen or not (for enemy aircraft). Targeting information can be much easier shared with for example Royal Norwegian Navy frigates, with the F-35 serving as a much better range expander than shipborne helicopters.”
Currently at Luke AFB, the RNoAF just received its third F-35, with number four arriving later in July. The Norwegians clocked under 300 hours on the F-35. “But we can build on the 16,000 hours of inflight experience from the other nations. That’s why Norway can reach initial operating capability much sooner than we would otherwise can ourselves.”
As soon as the RNoAF operates 24 jets – the size of a wing – they will declare IOC on the type. All F-35s will in principle operate from Ørland near Trondheim in the south of the long-stretched country, with a permanent forward detachment at Everness near Narvik in the far north. The latter – in practise a relocation of the current F-16 base in Bødo, further south, will help Norway to react more swiftly to Russian incursions in the Polar Circle and Norwegian territory there.
Lt. Col. Martin Tesli puts the Norwegian choice for 57 F-35As this way: “We are a long-stretched country of only 5 million people. We don’t have the mass to create military advantage, we need technology. That is what the F-35 will provide. Equipped with the Norwegian-Australian Joint Strike Missile, the new stealthy multirole fighter will provide Norway with its deterence.”
Norway is set to double it’s F-35 fleet over the next few weeks with the delivery of the third and fourth aircraft to the Royal Norwegian Air Force. In fact, the delivery means that Norway suddenly becomes the third largest operator of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
The two aircraft are now being tested by Lockheed Martin prior to delivery. Both jets will then fly to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, joining the two Norwegian aircraft already there for pilot training. With the delivery, Norway becomes the third largest user of the F-35, following the US and the UK. The Nordic country is eventually looking for 55 F-35As, with 23 aircraft already formally ordered.
However, Italy should soon receive its fourth aircraft as well. The aircraft is currently being readied for delivery at the F-35 Final Assembly & Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. Earlier Italian aircraft have also began to arrive at Luke for training purposes.
Meanwhile, one of two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) jets that deployed to Europe in May, is now also at Luke. The aircraft arrived their for modifications and maintenance.