Tag Archives: Ørland

USA turns Norway into new stronghold, includes F-22

In the wake of Russia’s higher military activity ever since Moscow took the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Norway is slowly growing into a US stronghold in the defence of Scandinavia. A conclusion drawn by Airheadsfly.com based on recent political and military deals, that include the possible basing of up to four US Air Force F-22 Raptors on the threshold of Oslo.

It seems like reading pages of a Cold War book, but the reinforcement of Norway as a base of US military operations in Scandinavia is slowly progressing for real – on the ground and in the air. Key seems to keep Southern Norway at all times under NATO air, ground, sea and cyberspace control. The area we talk about is roughly 500 square kilometres (320 sq miles) and includes Norway’s primary air force base of Ørland, the nearby reserve air base of Vaernes/Trondheim, NATO’s main tanker and transport reserve base of Sola (Stavanger), the reserve air base of Rygge (Moss) near the capital of Oslo, plus the main civilian airports of Olso-Gardermoen, Sondefjord/Skien and Florø. At the same time, the US is projecting its wings at the Norwegian outpost of Andøya in the Polar Circle.

A bunch of RNoAF marking RNoAF F-16 readiness over Rygge in 2010 (Image © Forsvaret)
A bunch of RNoAF fighters marking RNoAF F-16 readiness over Rygge in 2010 (Image © Forsvaret)

Quite unexpected Washington has asked Norway to make space at the no longer air-active Rygge Airbase/Moss Airport for four of its combat aircraft, and the US is willing to pay for the necessary infrastructure and support. According to Pentagon documents the top military brass wishes to be able to place at least four Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor stealthy air superiority fighters on Rygge. “Yes, the basing of these aircraft is one possibility, but it can be other types of aircraft as well,” Norwegian Minister of Defence Frank Bakke-Jensen confirmed to the Norwegian newspaper of Aftenposten on June 13th.

Rygge Air Base

Rygge was once a proud operating base for Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 jets, before 330 (Fighter) Squadron moved to Bodø in the north. For a long time the three RNoAF DA-20 Falcon reconnaissance and intelligence gathering aircraft of 717 Squadron operated from Rygge, before moving to Oslo-Gardermoen.

RNoAF Bell 412SP with serial 167 coming in low, sporting Gatling guns on both sides of the aircraft (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
RNoAF Bell 412SP coming in low, sporting Gatling guns on both sides of the aircraft. (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Six Bell 412SPs ground support and assault choppers from 720 Squadron and the Westland Sea King SAR detachment of 330 Squadron flew from Rygge until the mother Rygge unit of 137 Air Wing was decommissioned in 2014. With regular air ops gone, the base did not fall asleep. The Air Operations Inspection, the Air Force’s Development and Competence Center, the Armed Forces Logistic Organisation, the Flight School Selection Center, the Oslofjord’s Home Guard (HV-01) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation are still holding their offices on Rygge. Add the US Air Force with combat aircraft in the near future.

Marines Division in Norwegian caves

Further north the US Marines are progressing on their establishment. A new political deal between Washington and Olso allows the sea soldiers to grow from the current level of 330 to 700 troops at Camp Vaernes. From there they are protecting up to a Marines division (23,000 troops) worth of tanks, armoured and soft vehicles, ammunition, food, water and other supplies stored in caves on at least five locations in the area around Norway’s third largest city in population.

A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy just after take-off from Ramstein AB, Germany (Image © Marcel Burger)
A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy just after take-off (Image © Marcel Burger)

C-5 Galaxy at Vaernes

The marines unit is a semi-permanent one, officially rotating its personnel every few months through the adjacent Vaernes/Trondheim International Airport. The airfield is a main reinforcement hub in case of war and can handle up to six giant Lockheed C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifters plus loads of smaller aircraft at any time. Much of the military infrastructure of Cold War times is still intact and the army/marine barracks of the camp can accommodate up to 1,200 troops, both from the US Marines and the Trøndelag Home Guard (HV-12).

In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)
In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)

Ørland Main Operating Base

Vaernes is no longer an active military airbase for many decades, but it is still very well protected even without the USMC on site. It is situated deeply in a fjord, surrounded by mountains and has the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s primary airbase of Ørland just 50 km (43 miles) away. From there the RNoAF not only operates its core F-16 squadron, but also its brand-new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealthy jets.

One of three RNoAF F-35s of the second batch just after landing on Ørland Air Base on 22 May 2018 (Image © Forsvaret)
One of three RNoAF F-35s of the second batch just after landing on Ørland Air Base on 22 May 2018 (Image © Forsvaret)

During the last week of May the F-35s doubled to six aircraft when a new batch of three arrived from the other side of the Atlantic. Another seven RNoAF F-35s are flying training missions from Luke AFB in Arizona, USA, and three more will arrive on Ørland this Autumn. Final plans call for 52 RNoAF Lightning II jets by 2024. Most of them will fly from Ørland, with Evenes near Harstand/Narvik in the north serving as a forward operating base.

A USMC CH-53 flew in to Vaernes by USAF C-5 Galaxy in February 2016 (Image © Cpl Dalton Precht / USMC)
A USMC CH-53 flew in to Vaernes by USAF C-5 Galaxy in February 2016 (Image © Cpl Dalton Precht / USMC)

Andøya Naval Air Base

While Evenes will also be home to the Royal Norwegian Air Force maritime patrol aircraft moving from Andøya, the US Navy is just starting operations from this very northern air base with its new Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft. The first of five USN P-8s landed at Andøya on June 8th, from where they will take over the defence and patrol of NATO’s northern flank from the aging six RNoAF P-3 Orion propeller aircraft. Even a USN C-40A Clipper was seen landing there, in support of the operations.

A RNoAF P-3C Orion from 333 squadron during the DV-day under the winter exercise Cold Response 2012 (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A RNoAF P-3C Orion from 333 squadron (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Oslo doesn’t want to say how long the US Navy presence on Andøya will be, but in the near future the RNoAF will fly five similar P-8s from Evenes Airbase further south. Norway ordered the pack to replace its six P-3s and three Dassault DA-20 Falcons in the years 2022 and 2023. The RNoAF 333 Squadron operating the P-3s has huge problems with fulfilling its task, both because the aircraft are not airworthy while repairs and maintenance are being slow, and because there is lack of key and supporting personnel in the unit. According to local newspapers 30 to 50 people quited or will quit working for the unit after the move from Andøya to Evenes was announced.

A USN P-8A Poseidon, a RNoAF P-3C Orion and a RNoAF C-130J Hercules at Andøya Air Station on 24 June 2017, during the 75 years anniversary of the Orion's 333 Squadron (Image © Forsvaret)
A USN P-8A Poseidon, a RNoAF P-3C Orion and a RNoAF C-130J Hercules at Andøya Air Station on 24 June 2017, during the 75 years anniversary of the Orion’s 333 Squadron (Image © Forsvaret)

While Norwegian armed forces readiness is partly failing the US seems eager to step in. Washington is even establishing closer ties with the non-NATO countries of Sweden and Finland, with both the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki signing deals recently for more military cooperation with the USA and more frequent joint military exercises. In case it ever comes to war in Northern Europe, the US seems to be better prepared and better military established than it has been there for 20 years.

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: One of four F-22A Raptors the Pentagon wishes to be able to base on Rygge AB near Olso, Norway (Image © Elmer van Hest)

A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn't have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn’t have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on an American B-52 training over Norway (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on an American B-52 training over Norway (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)

Norway: “No ISIS fight. F-16s are in bad shape”

The Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons are in such bad shape that Oslo is not willing to send them to war.

According to Norwegian media a request by the US government for fighter aircraft to combat ISIS in Syria will be turned down. What Norway will offer is still unknown, but it will likely not involve any aircraft.


RELATED: Overview Royal Norwegian Air Force
Working up to Cold Response 2014 this RNoAF F-16AM with serial 687 breaks in preparation for landing at Ørland Airbase after a counter-air training mission over the Norwegian Sea on 4 March 2014 (Image © Morten Hanche / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
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F-16 wing cracks

Earlier this year Norwegian defence minister Ine Eriksen Søreide already gave a heads-up of the situation to quality newspaper Aftenposten. “There are problems with the F-16s. Cracks in the wings is one of them.”

A Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16AM with tiger tail (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16AM with tiger tail (Image © Elmer van Hest)

According to sources within the Norwegian military there is no money to keep enough F-16s airworthy for an operation abroad. Almost all available funds go to the purchase of the new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II stealthy multi-role fighter.

RNoAF F-35s at Luke

The first RNoAF F-35s have arrived at Luke AFB in Arizona to start training of Norwegian pilots and ground crew. Two more aircraft will follow in 2016. Eventually seven of the 52 projected new jets will be based there. The Norwegian parliament has already cleared the purchase of 22 of them, which covers the orders until FY2019.

The first Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 lands at Luke AFB. (Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)
The first Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 lands at Luke AFB. (Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)

F-35 operating bases in Norway

In 2017 the first F-35 will arrive at main operating base Ørland in Central Norway, while Evenes Air Station in the far north will be upgraded to host a small forward operating detachment of F-35s – mainly to serve as Quick Reaction Alert for the Russian air threat with about 4 to 6 F-35s based there.

Ørland is already an F-16 base. The second, Bodø, will be decommissioned as active fighter base.

Swedish Gripens in formation with Norwegian F-16s earlier during exercise Cold Response (Image © 338 Skvadron / Forsvaret Norge)
Swedish Gripens in formation with Norwegian F-16s earlier during exercise Cold Response. Both countries are unwilling to send their fighter jets abroad at this moment. (Image © 338 Skvadron / Forsvaret Norge)

Scandinavian “no” to combat ISIS

The Norwegian “no” to fighter aircraft to combat ISIS comes after the Danes already turned down such request for their F-16s as “our pilots are not combat ready” for the task. Sweden – which was asked by France for combat air assets – is bluntly unwilling to field its SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen jets.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)

Norway aiming for X-Mas Lightning

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.

Front view of the first RNoAF F-35A (Image © Forsvaret)
RELATED POST: First Norwegian F-35 handed over

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.

How the flight line of RNoAF F-35s will look. For now these USAF Lightning IIs make a nice bunch (Image © Torgeir Haugaard / Forsvarets mediesenter)
How the flight line of RNoAF F-35s will look. For now these USAF Lightning IIs make a nice bunch (Image © Torgeir Haugaard / Forsvarets mediesenter)
F-35 rolling (Image © Torgeir Haugaard / Forsvarets mediesenter)
F-35 rolling (Image © Torgeir Haugaard / Forsvarets mediesenter)
The future "habitat" of first quartet of RNoAF F-35s: Luke AFB as photographed on 23 September 2014 (Image © Torgeir Haugaard / Forsvarets mediesenter)
The future “habitat” of first quartet of RNoAF F-35s: Luke AFB as photographed on 23 September 2014 (Image © Torgeir Haugaard / Forsvarets mediesenter)

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.

Source: Forsvaret
Featured image: The F-35 is the future RNoAF fighter jet (Image © USAF / Forsvaret)

First Norwegian to hit 4,000 F-16 flight hours

His name is Bjørge “Gaff” Kleppe and he is the boss of Royal Norwegian Air Force’s 338 Squadron based at Ørland. As the first only Norwegian ever, Kleppe has flown 4,000 hours in the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Ministry of Defence in Oslo announced on 13 August 2015.

Kleppe has been flying the F-16 for 22 years. “Even after so many flight hours in the sky, the job is still exciting,” the combat pilot says. He flew missions during several international operations, including over Kosovo in 1999-2000 (the first Norwegian combat deployment in a war zone since the Second World War), in Afghanistan in 2003 (the first time in modern history the RNoAF flew with air-to-ground weapons into combat) and over Libya in 2011.

Kleppe has even flown the Northrop F-5 from Rygge Air Base for then 336 Squadron, the year before he reached full fighter pilot status in 1993.

Source: Forsvaret
Featured image: RNoAF’s 338 Squadron chief Bjørge “Gaff” Kleppe nailed the 4,000 flight hours milestone on the F-16, as the first Norwegian ever (Image © Forsvarets Mediesenter)

Norway: “Russian air activity not more than before”

The number of Russian military aircraft saying “privet” to NATO off the coast of Norway is not higher than in the past eight years, Lt. Gen. Morten Haga Lunde – chief of operations at the Norwegian military headquarters (Forsvarets operative hovedkvarter) – says in a recent news release of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

While the nations at the Baltic Sea do report more Russian air activity, out in the Barents Sea and Northern Atlantic it is business as usual, according to the general Haga Lunde. “The situation in the northern area today is normal, similar to recent years despite the fact that there are more tensions between Russia and NATO.”

A RNoAF F-16BM from 338 Squadron levaing Ørland Main Air Station for a training sortie (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A RNoAF F-16BM from 338 Squadron leving Ørland Main Air Station for a training sortie (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Looking at the numbers. This year the Royal Norwegian Air Force executed 43 scrambles (defensive reaction to intrusions or almost intrusions of NATO airspace) plus 69 identification of Russian airplanes off the Norwegian coast. In 2013 it were 41 scrambles and 58 identifications, in 2012 41 scrambles and 71 identifications. Compared to the statistics of the 1980s today’s situation is quite relaxed, as the RNoAF has 500 to 600 ID-flights on record yearly for that hot period of the so-called Cold War that ended in 1991.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger, based on source information provided by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence

A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn't have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn’t have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)

The lowest recorded identification flights of the RNoAF was in 1998, when only 3 Russian planes were spotted in international airspace near Norwegian territories. Eyes were fully on Norway last week, when the Norwegian Ministry of Defence released a second video of a gutsy Russian pilot creeping up very close to a Norwegian F-16. The move might have been something awkward, but as the Norwegian high commanding officer concludes, the general Russian air activity in the Norwegian area of responsibility is fairly stable ever since 2007.

Coming in to land, a RNoAF F-16BM with a typical simulated Combat Air Patrol load (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
Coming in to land, a RNoAF F-16BM with a typical simulated Combat Air Patrol load (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A hyper-modern Russian Su-34 photographed by a RNoAF F-16 crew on an much published intercept in October 2014 (Image © Forsvaret)
A hyper-modern Russian Su-34 photographed by a RNoAF F-16 crew on an much published intercept in October 2014 (Image © Forsvaret)

See also our Overview: Royal Norwegian Air Force