The update of the Norwegian air force with F-35 fighter jets has been riddled with problems. First, a painful lack of hangars at Ørland airbase was discovered forcing the pricey aircraft to be stored in tents. Now, a perhaps even more dramatic lack of ground protection for the country's largest ever defense investment has been uncovered.
In early November, the first batch of three F-35 arrived in Norway with great pomp. Next year, the aircraft will become fully operational, gradually replacing the current fleet of F-16s by 2022. The planning of the acquisition of long-range, ground-based protection for the 52 F-35s worth close to $10 billion has not even started yet, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported.
"This is absurd, really. It is a tangible expression of how little money is being put into defense. The air defense system should have been in place the day before yesterday," former commodore Jacob Børresen said, stressing the importance of having a ground-based air defense for Norway's protection.
NRK listed the following three options for Norway's future air defense: Lockheed Martin's THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), currently used in South Korea, Lockheed Martin's Aegis, which is already used on Norwegian frigates, and Raytheon's Patriot, which Norway's neighbor Sweden recently agreed to buy.
Ulriksen stressed the paramount importance of having an efficient air defense in place due the mounting tensions between Russia and NATO. Ulriksen also emphasized that Russia's rich arsenal of long-range missiles, including the Iskander, the Kalibr and the KH-101, which could potentially hit strategic targets all across Norway.
Norway's recently appointed Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, however, has repeatedly stressed that Russia is not a military threat. Most recently, he reiterated this claim during his last week's visit to the Sør-Varanger garrison, which will be reinforced with a heavy company of 200 men. Frank Bakke-Jensen ascribed this development to rising international instability, NRK reported.