[fighter aircraft] In recent weeks, there has been hectic activity between Norway and the US to ensure that Norwegian companies receive delivery agreements for the prestigious new fighter aircraft project F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Ministry of Defense Secretary of State Espen Barth Eide has been in talks with the world's largest weapons company, Lockheed Martin in the US, who is responsible for the development of the aircraft.
Now the new government has launched a lobbying campaign against US players to secure a Norwegian industrial package in the Joint Strike Fighter as well. Industry and trade unions are cheering, and the government has been lauded for leadership in VG for its efforts.
But there is a catch in these agreements. In November last year, Israel was again included in the JSF project. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Secretary Shaul Mofaz, and promised Israel to buy 100 advanced new fighter aircraft.
However, Norway is not allowed to sell weapons to Israel.
By April 2, the government must terminate the agreements if Norway fails to pay this year's contribution to the fighter aircraft project of NOK 100 million.
This story is about the largest procurement project in Norwegian military history. It also concerns Norwegian workplaces and Norwegian arms export legislation. And it touches Israel, a country that so far has not been able to buy Norwegian weapons because of the conflict with the Palestinians.
The question is whether the supply agreements the government is now helping Norwegian industry to get into port will mean that Norway will not only supply Norwegian and American, but also Israeli fighter aircraft with vital parts.
- If Israel benefits from our weapons technology and buys fighter jets with Norwegian products in them, the most basic principle in Norwegian arms export legislation is violated, SV's foreign policy spokesman Bjørn Jacobsen states. He is supported by Nic Marsh, a researcher at the Department of Peace Research (see study page 21).
Norwegian policy in this area has so far been that the companies from which we purchase defense equipment will buy services and weapons for a similar amount from Norwegian companies. There has been a cross-political agreement in Norway on this policy, to secure jobs and a national arms industry of a certain size. Norwegian companies, on the other hand, have not been satisfied with contracts in the vicinity of this repurchase requirement.
The previous government, led by Minister of Defense Kristin Krohn Devold (H), was heavily criticized by both SV, the Labor Party, Sp and Frp for not securing Norwegian industry supply agreements with Lockheed Martin and the fighter aircraft project JSF, when they signed to pay a billion Norwegian kroner for the development phase of the aircraft. The opposition believed that the Norwegian contributions were a waste of money on a project that showed little interest in Norwegian industry, while Norwegian companies would have much better opportunities for deliveries if Norway in the future chooses Swedish JAS Gripen or the pan-European Eurofighter Typhoon to replace the old F-16 planes when they have to be discarded in a few years.
A controversial customer
When Israel first joined the fighter jet project in 2002, there was controversy. Several European countries were uncomfortable with Israel's role in the project, and dissatisfaction was also visible in the United States. Israel has played a role in Venezuela's program to upgrade its F-16 aircraft. The United States has tried to prevent this. Together with Israeli plans for arms cooperation with China, this contributed to Israel being temporarily banned from the entire Joint Strike Fighter project.
But now Donald Rumsfeld has taken the country into the heat again, and Israel, which paid as much as 200 million US dollars in development aid to the JSF, expects to have its first JSF fighter jets delivered as early as 2012. Globes, an Israeli business news service, reported about this immediately after the meeting with Rumsfeld on 5 November last year. This has later been confirmed by Israeli export authorities.
- That Israel plays such a role, I did not know. This makes the purchase of aircraft even more problematic than it was in the beginning, says Bjørn Jacobsen (SV).
The decisive factor for Israel to rejoin was that the Joint Strike Fighter program struggles with high development costs per aircraft. The Financial Times has written a number of articles stating that the difficult economy of the project is mainly due to reduced orders from the United States itself. In addition, development costs have become somewhat higher because it is difficult to achieve the special flight characteristics that one version of the JSF should have.
Like Norway, Israeli companies will also receive deliveries. The large Israeli arms company Elbit Systems has already become a subcontractor in the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Cheers in Kongsberg
Seen from Kongsberg, it is not these aspects of the Joint Strike Fighter that are in focus. This is mostly about jobs. One Norwegian company has more than anyone else gotten involved in this aircraft project, and that is Volvo Aero Norway (VAN). Now the Norwegian authorities also hope that the Americans will take in Norwegian aircraft cannon ammunition from Nammo Raufoss, Naval Strike Missile (NSM), from Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace. In addition, a not yet known Norwegian manufacturer is relevant as a supplier of composite materials for the fuselage itself.
Such a package of contracts could have a value of about five billion kroner. But the fighter engines are a bit "Norwegian" already.
- If I am to dare to guess, this is first and foremost about ourselves and not so much about the Norwegian authorities' efforts. Our company is one of the foremost in the world in this type of production, says marketing manager Odd Tore Kurverud in Volvo Aero Norway to Ny Tid.
Good connections with General Electric and the engine giant Pratt & Whitney will probably help as well. Both companies are among the most important contractors Lockheed Martin has selected in the technology collaboration that will make up the finished fighter jets in a few years.
VAN was historically part of Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk, but was demerged in the wake of the Toshiba scandal, when Kongsberg was sanctioned by the United States for selling advanced submarine equipment to the Soviet Union. Today, Volvo Aero Norway is owned by Swedish Volvo Aero Corporation (78 percent) and a smaller share also by Pratt & Whitney, which is the engine division of the American weapons giant United Technologies. The company is still based in Kongsberg.
VAN was the first Norwegian company to receive contracts of a certain size in the fighter aircraft project JSF. The company will supply vital components for the jet engines on the fighter jets. "Low pressure shaft" is called the one part, which can best be translated with the shaft that drives the engine around. "Intermediate case" is a low-pressure turbine housing and forms a large part of the engine box.
The contracts are worth USD 100 million in the development phase alone, with the potential for at least double if the talks to also participate in the production phase now lead to progress. Thus, the jobs in Kongsberg are secured for a few more years, and the company has received an important reference for future contracts.
- We have a good hope of joining the production phase. As of today, there are two manufacturers involved in the development of this low-pressure turbine housing, and only us who produce the shaft, says Odd Tore Kurverud.
The development phase for the engines will end in 2008, while talks on contracts for the actual production phase of the aircraft are already underway.
Pressure on the United States
When the red-green government took office last year, the procurement of fighter jets for the Armed Forces was one of the first issues it addressed. Signals were quickly sent to the United States that Norway does not feel bound by the Norwegian contribution to it. technological development of the aircraft. If Norway is to buy fighter jets for between NOK 40 and 50 billion, much more is expected for Norwegian industry than has been seen so far, it was said.
In the second week of March this year, State Secretary Espen Barth Eide from the Ministry of Defense participated in a joint European meeting for supplier countries.
As is well known, the government is considering whether to continue or end its participation in the development program for JSF. As of today, we are involved in the development of JSF, and want to contribute to a common European vision of the best possible cooperation if we choose to acquire the aircraft, says State Secretary Barth Eide.
A collaboration can relate to operational collaboration, education and training, but also to more direct industrial opportunities, he said in a press release after the meeting.
Norway has since the summer of 2002 participated in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter. Norway is happy to mention the nine nations that participate as partners in the Joint Strike Fighter project, a group which in addition to our own country consists of the USA, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark, Canada and Australia.
What is not mentioned is that two other countries have been allowed to participate as so-called Security Cooperation Participant: Israel and Singapore. Both countries have signaled that they will buy the planes.