About 15,000 troops, including 2,000 of non-NATO member Sweden, 40 aircraft and helicopters, about a thousand vehicles and several ships and boats are currently kicking a** in Northern and Central Norway. Exercise Cold Response included the taking of the normally peaceful village of Namsos, situated on the shores of beautiful fjords.
The 7th edition of the multinational winter war exercise hosted by Norway brings units from mainly NATO countries together, to show what they can as “bad” and “good” force against each other. To train for a possible real war scenario and to show NATO’s current strange “friend” Russia that the North American-European alliance still can.
A Norwegian F-35 pilot stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, speaks favourable of the F-35’s dogfigthing capabilities in a blog published on Tuesday 1 March. His statements describe how the aircraft performs better than the F-16 at low speeds. His findings are similar to those of a Dutch F-35 pilot written here on Airheadsfly.com and contrast earlier reports.
Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche is a pilot with 2,200 hours on the F-16. Last year, he became the first Norwegian to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, of which Norway seeks 55. Hanche is now an F-35 intructor pilot (IP) at Luke Air Force Base.
In his blog, Hanche writes about his impressions during basic fighter manoeuvring (BFM) in the new jet. “The F-35 provides me as a pilot greater authority to point the nose of the airplane where I desire. This improved ability to point at my opponent enables me to deliver weapons earlier than I am used to with the F-16, it forces my opponent to react even more defensively, and it gives me the ability to reduce the airspeed quicker than in the F-16.”
Slow speed handling is crucial in close range dogfights. “Yet another quality of the F-35 becomes evident in this flight regime”, continues Hanche. “Using the rudder pedals I can command the nose of the airplane from side to side. The F-35 reacts quicker to my pedal inputs than the F-16 would at its maximum angle of attack (AOA). The F-16 would actually be out of control at this AOA.”
Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) pilot Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight earlier this year already described to Airheadsfly.com that slow speeds are where the F-35 performs better than the F-16. “Slow-speed and high AOA performance is much better than many fourth generation fighters like the F-16. High angle of attack testing has been an eye-opener for previous F-16 pilots, who are not used to very good slow speed performance. ”
Acceleration from the Pratt & Whitney’s F-135 engine impressed both Hanche and Knight. “It is evident that the F-35 has a powerful engine”, writes the Norwegian. His complete blog is found here.
The experience of both pilots contrasts with the findings of an anonymous US pilot, who reported the F-35 had hard time fighting an F-16, even though the latter was fitted with two wing tanks. His experience sparked a lot of critical reports and was mentioned in an annual program review by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Delivery rate for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II averaged close to four a month in 2015. In absolute numbers, 45 were delivered compared to 36 in 2014. The figure marks the highest yearly production rate of the 5th generation fighter jet so far.
“Meeting aircraft production goals is a critical stepping stone in demonstrating the program is ready for the expected significant production ramp up,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “It took thousands of people around the world to achieve this milestone and they should all be proud of what they accomplished.”
Lightning II numbers
The 45 F-35 deliveries include 26 F-35A for the US Air Force, eight F-35B and four F-35Cs for the US Marine Corps, another four F-35Cs to the US Navy, two F-35As for the Royal Norwegian Air Force and finally, the Italian F-35A already mentioned.
Most aircraft were sent to Luke Air Force base in Arizona, while others went to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Eglin Air Force Base, Hill Air Force Base and Nellis Air Force Base.
The first two Norwegian F-35s arrived at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, on Tuesday 10 November after a flight from their birthplace in Fort Worth, Texas. Shortly after, a Norwegian pilot flew the F-35 Lightning II for the first time, in conjunction with the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s 71st birthday.
Update 12 December 2015: Norway ordered another six F-35s, bringing the total order to 23 aircraft.
Eight other nations will be training alongside the U.S. on the new airframe. Other partner nations that will be joining the U.S., Norway and Australia in the F-35 training program here will be Turkey and the Netherlands, in addition to Foreign Military Sales countries Japan, South Korea and Israel.
“When it comes to the partnership, we see a very good transfer from our experience with the F-16 to the F-35,” said Royal Norwegian air force Maj. Morten Hanche, 62nd FS training pilot. “Working with the same and some new partners, will allow us the same benefits. Also, it will allow us to easily integrate and operate together as one force. This is because we train together, we know each other and we keep it very similar.”
Luke currently has 32 F-35s and by 2024, Luke is scheduled to have six fighter squadrons and 144 F-35s.