Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has landed in hot water for supposedly playing down the purchase cost of pricey US-made F-35 fighter jets. Meanwhile, unforeseen and skyrocketing expenses are feared to leave even larger dents in the country's defense.
Previously, the Norwegian parliament had green-lighted spending [fully] 81.6 billion NOK (roughly $9.9 billion) on the fighter jets. This sum was determined with a [probability] grade of P85, meaning that there was an 85 percent chance that the final price would fall within the estimated bracket.
When questioned by parliament, Søreide indicated the price was 80.2 billion NOK (roughly $9.7 billion), but provided a [probability] grade of P50, thus tacitly acknowledging [a 50% risk] of a possible price hike, Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported.
According to Olav Torp, professor of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), there is a huge difference between the two figures, which possibly implies extra defense expenditure. The Norwegian defense was therefore left with a 50 percent probability that the overall price tag for the much-debated fighter jets will exceed the frame, set by parliament.
During the dispute over the expensive fighter jets, Liberal deputy Ola Elvestuen asked the Defense Minister to "calm down" on her shopping trips to the United States. So far, [22 aircraft have already been ordered. According to him, the purchase of the next 18 jets must be postponed until the Defense Ministry sets things straight.
"First we have to get costs under control. Søreide's comparison of P50 and P85 is no trifling matter, as the two figures are not comparable. When P50 seems almost on par with P85, in reality it means a significant cost increase," Elvestuen told Dagbladet, citing risks of the situation spinning out of control amid a strong dollar.
In 2008, Norway chose the F-35 as a successor to replace its outdated fleet of F-16s. In total, Oslo expects to buy 52 F-35 aircraft, of which the first was commissioned in 2012. The first Norwegian F-35s will be stationed in the US, where Norwegian crews will be trained. The first aircraft delivery to Norway is expected to happen in 2017.
In June, the Norwegian government presented its long-term plan for the military update. The biggest priorities were stated as combat aircraft and submarines, at the expense of the army and the national guard, which triggered many angry reactions among high-ranking military officials and security experts for weakening Norway's overall defense potential. Earlier, Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen revealed that Søreide had lost an internal party struggle and was forced to make do with 41 billion NOK (roughly $5 billion) less than she had asked for the fighter jet purchase.
Curiously, Søreide defended her choice with fears of an increased dependence on NATO. "When things get more expensive than expected, you end up in a jam, and cuts will occur where possible. After all, it's our army power," Elvestuen said, stressing the need for new artillery and upgraded combat vehicles, as well as preserving both the coastal guard and the national guard.
This is not the first time Ine Eriksen Søreide hasfound herself in trouble. When Norway's Defense Minister proudly presented her defense plan for the next 20 years, it was lauded as a "historic commitment to defense." However, a later survey the by Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet revealed that Søreide's plan in fact entailed less money for defense in comparison with the previous long-term plan the Stoltenberg government had adopted in 2012.
The overall price tag for Søreide's defense plan for 2015-2035 is 12 billion NOK (roughly 1.5 billion) cheaper than Stoltenberg's. Additionally, there is a marked difference in priorities, as Søreide's clearly prioritizes navy and air force above the rest of the military branches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite official statements that prices are fixed and will not change, the prices quoted for Norway’s F-35 procurement have always been ambiguous.
When it announced it would buy 48 F-35s in December 2006, the Minister of Defence said the cost would be 18 billion Norwegian kroner, then quoted as $2.57 billion, but soon corrected to $3.27 billion, as we reported at the time.
Now, the cost has risen to NOK 69.7 billion (at 2016 prices) for 52 F-35As, along with weapons and support equipment – nearly four times as much – with no guarantee that it will not increase further.
The official Norwegian defense ministry position is as follows:
The F-35 procurement is estimated to cost NOK 64 billion in real 2014 kroner.
The overall Norwegian cost estimates have been stable since 2008.
The decision to purchase the first four F-35s, which are to be used for training of Norwegian crews, was taken in 2011. The first two of these are to be delivered in the United States in 2015, and the second two in 2016.
As of January 2014, the Storting has authorised the purchase of 16 aircraft in total as well as additional equipment, including weapons, simulators and maintenance equipment but these have not yet been ordered. The first six should be ordered in 2017.)