Four Norwegian F-35 fighter jets have been commissioned by NATO to patrol the airspace over Iceland. This is the Norwegian F-35's first mission abroad, national broadcaster NRK reported.
“This means that we are ready for the mission both at home and abroad”, General Major and Chief of the Air Defence, Tonje Skinnarland said.
The first three aircraft arrived in the fall of 2017. In November, the jets were proclaimed “initially operational”. There are now 15 in Norway, and four of them are on their way to Iceland on assignment.
“I believe it's a very important mission, because it's a combat one. Finally, we get to perform a combat task, for which we have been training for a long time”, Lieutenant Colonel Ståle Nymoen and commander of the 332 Squadron at the Ørland aircraft base, said.
Norway's job in Iceland is called air policing. Iceland doesn't have an air defence of its own. Since 2006, when the Americans withdrew from the base they have had on the island for years, NATO members took over on a rotary basis. Now it's Norway's turn.
“We must be on standby with two planes and be able, by order of NATO, scramble and identify incoming planes, be it civilian, military, or other aircraft”, Nymoen said.
The mission will last three weeks, and to be on the safe side, the Air Force is bringing in extra crew this first time. A total of about 150 people will be dispatched to operate the four aircraft.
“We're bringing some extra crew for the first time, should something unexpected happen. More personnel are needed to support the F-35 than the F-16”, Nymoen explained, citing more demanding technology.
Norway has contributed to air policing missions in both Iceland and Lithuania. Last time Norwegian jets flew over Iceland was in 2016. Then it was F-16s carrying out the missions.
“It's a familiar mission, we've done it several times before with the F-16. The new thing is precisely the F-35, and not just the operation of the F-35 in the air, but the deployment of the F-35 force to another country”, Skinnarland said.
Oslo's F-16s are still used for Quick Reaction Alerts (QRA) in Norway. The plan is for the F-35 to take over completely. The new jets are expected to become fully operational by 2025.
A total of 52 F-35s were acquried as a replacement for Norway's ageing fleet of F-16s, which are to be phased out starting in 2019. Despite the official price tag of NOK 85.1 billion (over $9.2 billion), the newspaper Bergens Tidende estimated last year that it could reach as much as NOK 97 billion ($10.4 billion). The acquisition has been hailed as Norway's single most important military investment and dismissed as the nation's largest investment blunder.