Speech by Norwegian State Secretary Espen Barth Eide
At the Oslo Military Society Combat Aircraft Seminar,
Oslo, 25 January 2006
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to open this important and timely seminar on the process leading up to the purchase of new Combat Aircraft for the Norwegian armed forces. I warmly welcome you all. The high turnout underlines the great public interest in this issue.
No wonder – given the cost and time perspectives involved. Whatever outcome, the decisions we make now will affect CHODS, ministers, state secretaries, Air Force Generals and ministries of finance and a whole lot of other people for decades to come. If manned aircraft are at all relevant at that time, the next similar round can hardly be expected before somewhere around the middle of the century.
Hence, we want to place our sights on the future, not the past. Although it is important to learn from history, we want to place ourselves firmly in the 21st Century when we make decisions. We must make our decision based on what we will be doing, not on what we used to do.
This has an impact on our defence procurement policy, our foreign and security policy, and our industrial policy. A combat aircraft purchase is – due to its nature and size – a major lever for a conglomerate of other issues. Hence, it is all the more important that we strive for a systematic, balanced process, based on transparency and competition between the three candidates.
Why a combat aircraft?
Our part of the world is characterized by peace and stability, our region is s perceived as safe and free from military threats. Norway remains committed to an UN-led world order, based on a solid foundation of international law. Why then do we need a modern combat aircraft capability? Is this a contradiction, a paradox? Not at all!
The security situation on the globe is changing. One could say that we are in a more fluid security situation. In the 1990’s we found ourselves in the post Cold War era, and after 2001 in the post 9/11 era. Today, other international dynamics are emerging – or becoming more visible - than just a few years ago. We are entering the “post-post 9/11” era. This affects not only far-away theatres – but also our economic and security environment at home.
Predicting the future is difficult, and therefore flexibility is paramount. Another question is where in the spectre from “low end” to “high end” should we aim for?
We see the future development of our armed forces in a international context, and there has been considerable consideration not the least within NATO about the future armed forces. In general, they are becoming more specialized, and not all can have - or want to have - combat aircraft.
Whenever we participate in international operations, we do so in a UN or NATO context, cooperating with other allies and partners. So – international operations alone is not an argument for maintaining our own modern combat aircraft capability. For example, within the framework of international cooperation Norway could focus much stronger on providing ground troops for international operations.
It may be that countries of comparable size on the Continent - within the division of labour in NATO - want to solely focus on such capabilities – which are essential in order to get the job done.
As a result, if the primary task for the Norwegian Armed Forces were to contribute to Allied operations in foreign theatres, we might have considered another line of defence investments than the high-tech air and naval platforms that we are currently pursuing.
However, one must keep in mind that Norway faces a unique set of challenges close to home, very different from the ones facing almost any other European country. These challenges are in particular connected to the High North, Norway’s number one strategic priority. This region is in a league of its own when it comes to securing Norwegian long-term interests and following up on our international responsibilities.
Since the end of the cold war, the threat of an invasion from the East has evaporated, and at this time there is no military threat to our territory. Nevertheless, the High North remains strategically important, not only to Norway, but in an international context as well.
One of these reasons is the regions considerable energy resources. The global demand for oil and gas is increasing. Large actors like the USA and the EU are looking to spread their energy supply on more producing countries.
At the same time, new strong actors are emerging on the global economic and security arena, with economies that are growing at a very fast rate, contributing to an increase in the global demand for energy resources.
Norway is perceived as a stable and reliable supplier of energy, and compared to a number of other oil- and gas regions, the High North is characterized by cooperation and political stability. This increases international attention towards the High North, - as an important region for the production and transportation of vital energy resources.
However, the environment and the natural resources in the region must be seen as a whole. For example, the region is home to large and important fish stock, and these must be managed in a careful and sustainable manner.
Although most of the challenges and possibilities in the High North are connected to environmental, economic and civilian issues, this does not mean that a military presence is irrelevant. On the contrary! It is the need to safeguard Norwegian interests in a long-term perspective that dictates a strong military presence in the northern parts of our territory. This is an important political signal – both inside and outside our borders. It is a signal to other countries, to companies, and to our own population. The message is that we are serious about our strategic priorities regarding the High North, and that we accept the consequences of the region’s strategic location and resources.
This is why Norway maintains a focus on high-end naval and air capabilities such as modern frigates, and it is also why the Government just before Christmas decided that a high-end, modern combat aircraft capability must be a part of our future military inventory.
Even though we have our primary strategic attention directed towards the High North, we will - of course - continue to contribute to international operations, but our contribution will be a function of the capabilities we need at home.
The need to maintain a strong and flexible military capability and the need to focus on our responsibility in the High North were core considerations when the government at the end of last year approved the conceptual solution for the combat aircraft acquisition. The continued process includes choosing not only the aircraft, but also determining the number of aircraft.
This will be the largest Norwegian investment ever, and it is not, like some have claimed, a choice between a Lada and a Jaguar. All three candidates are modern and future-oriented platforms. We are in fact choosing among three top-shelf candidates.
There are also no security policy obstacles for any of the candidates. On the contrary, there are strong strategic arguments for all of them.
Moreover, they are all NATO compatible and will be in use by other Allies, something which is an absolute requirement for us.
When combat aircraft are in action, things happen very fast, and it is vital that our future combat aircraft have the ability to operate integrated with our allies and partners, also in high-intensity operations, both in Norway and in international operations.
Operational versus industrial factors
The most important criterion for the selection of our future combat aircraft is the ability to solve the tasks of the Norwegian Armed Forces, and our main focus must be is to secure the best capability for our armed forces.
The aircraft we select must be a useful tool for contributing to secure Norwegian interests. The decision we make will have a substantial impact on the ability of the Norwegian Armed Forces to solve their tasks – in a long term perspective.
However, all three candidates are good candidates, and they are all under development, and will all meet our operative requirements. If we decide to make this massive investment, we will therefore also actively use the combat aircraft purchase as a means to promote and develop the Norwegian defence industry.
Therefore, the industrial package will also be a very important criterion when we select our future combat aircraft. The Government pursues an active industrial policy, and we see a substantial industrial package as an important strategic tool: It will serve to strengthen Norwegian defence industry’s competence and competitiveness, especially in technologically advanced areas. This will create a platform for industrial spin-off effects in a 40-50 year perspective.
Norway’s economy is currently very sound and unemployment is almost non-existent. It is important that we use the advantageous financial position that we are in now, to prepare Norwegian industry for a future beyond the oil and gas era – before we wake up to the shock of not having prepared for different economic times. A vital, high-tech defence industry can play a constructive role in such an effort.
This is even more so because the defence sector is one of the few areas where we are exempted from WTO and EEA regulation, and where the state therefore can play a more active role. We want to promote the access of a competitive Norwegian defence industry in an increasingly international defence industry.
Another reason why the industrial package is important to us is that in a ten year perspective, the acquisition of new combat aircraft will place a heavy burden on our defence investment budget. Within this timeframe, it will be very difficult to find room for other major investments in the defence sector.
It is thus necessary that Norwegian defence industry must benefit from this investment. We cannot accept a development where the Norwegian defence industry sits on the “back-burner” for the next ten years – or more. This would be the equivalent of erasing a technologically advanced sector in Norwegian industry, resulting in the loss of many jobs and weakening our national industrial base.
Presented industrial plans
Last fall we conducted a thorough analysis of the industrial plans presented by the three candidates. Their industrial packages should be designed to strengthen their competitiveness in this decision making process. The competitive edge will be gained by placing emphasis on contributing to the creation of the future industry platform in Norway.
The team evaluating the industrial plans of the three candidates has concluded that that all three satisfy our basic industrial expectations, but there are still unresolved issues. However, over the last year there has been positive development; all three candidates now offer industrial packages that are considerably improved compared to what they were a year ago, but there is still room for improvement. It is not the volume, as much as the technological value of the industrial package, which will be the pivotal point.
It is important to remember that this continues to be a competitive process. We feel, however, that we have achieved the goal we set out for the last year: to establish a genuine and fair competition with three candidates, and we will maintain a close dialogue with all three, the Eurofighter, JAS Gripen and Joint Strike Fighter.
Because the acquisition of new combat aircraft is an issue with wide-ranging implications, we are working closely with representatives from the Ministry of Trade and industry, our armed forces, our military research establishment, and Norwegian industry among others, in order to make the best possible decision - taking all factors into consideration.
Conclusion – the road ahead
Earlier this week we decided to sign the Production MoU for the JSF. Simultaneously, we aim at signing development agreements with the two other candidates in the very near future. By doing so, we are taking the fighter project into a new phase, but with all three competitors firmly on board.
In the next year, we will continue and intensify the close dialogue with all three candidates. This will form the basis for the recommendation that we hope to present to parliament in 2008.
Let it be clear - we see the acquisition of new combat aircraft not only in a long-term capability and strategic perspective, but also in a long term industrial perspective.
Thank you very much for your attention. I wish you a very fruitful and stimulating seminar.