With 52 F-35 fighter jets as a replacement for its ageing F-16 fleet, Norway hopes to build one of the world's most modern air forces. However, there are fears it will be hamstrung by a dramatic lack of pilots and technicians.
Despite Norway's massive investment and ambitions of building up a formidable air force, it may end up largely grounded due to lack of experienced pilots and ballooning associated costs, the daily newspaper Aftenposten reported.
"In 2025, we will have one of the world's most modern air defences. My big concern is whether we have enough money to actually use it", Major General Tonje Skinnarland, the Chief of Norway's Air Force, told Aftenposten.
According to Skinnarland, there is a large gap between the recommended number of pilots and the actual number of trainees schooled annually. In addition to the lack of pilots, Skinnarland also highlighted the lack of aviation technicians. This is exacerbated by the fact that very many of today's pilots and technicians are approaching retirement age.
Brigadier Øyvind Strandman, who was previously responsible for education programmes in the Norwegian Air Force, shared Skinnarland's concern.
"The situation is that we acquire an expensive weapon system, but do not have the economy to be able to operate it fully due to lack of expertise", Strandman said.
Additionally, sky-high flight prices and costly education were also named as risk factors possibly resulting in the expensive aircraft being grounded indefinitely.
The operating costs for the F-35 is about NOK 110,000 ($13,000) per hour. Complete education for a pilot costs about NOK 60 million ($7 million). Combined, these factors may result in a serious financial burden even for Norway's oil-rich economy.
Norway's air defence has recently reduced the number of bases, but made huge investments in new aircraft. So far, Norway has received nine F-35 fighter aircraft with an average price tag of NOK 1.375 billion apiece (roughly $160 million), with another seven still in US for tests.
With 52 such aircraft in total, Norway will become one of Europe's foremost users of F-35, a long-running fighter jet project marred by well-documented flaws and skyrocketing costs.