The Royal Norwegian Air Force on January 6 marked the historic day when F-35s formally took over the Quick Reaction Alert duty.

Norway is expected to be the first European country to rely entirely on super-advanced American fighters for quick reaction missions. Accordingly, the old F-16 fighters will be replaced by the new fifth-generation F-35A fighters. Norway expects to have its fleet of 52 F-35s fully operational by 2025, according to the defense ministry.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force on January 6 marked the historic day when F-35s formally took over the Quick Reaction Alert duty, bringing an end to the F-16 fleet’s 42-year mission supporting its own country and NATO. Today, the F-35 is one of the few 5th generation fighter models that are still actively operating, alongside China’s J-20 and Russia’s Su-57.

Norway F-35
Norway F-35

The 5th generation fighter is very different from its 4th generation “predecessors”, in many respects: supersonic cruise capability, stealth features, and high maneuverability. While the F-22 meets all of the above conditions, the F-35, although cheaper, is not optimized for supercruise and low flexibility. Its other features include next-generation sensors, engines, network data connections, etc., that make the F-35 superior to the F-22 in terms of network warfare capabilities.

However, replacing the F-16 with the F-35 also has its costs, in addition to the higher price but also the significantly higher maintenance costs, spare parts are not as readily available. The cost of operating the F-35 is significantly higher, even higher than that of the 4th generation heavy twin-engine fighter. This will be a particularly serious problem in wartime.

The fact that Norway relies entirely on only one aircraft model poses a great risk, because in fact the F-35 has only achieved initial basic operational capabilities, and is expected until after 2025 to be ready to engage in intense battles. Also due to the lack of combat readiness of the F-35, Norway will be forced to rely on other countries for air defense for a while. This is especially dangerous if the Norwegian F-35s are assigned the Quick Reaction Alert role.

However, when there is a high level of combat readiness, the F-35 will become a much more solid force of the Royal Norwegian Air Force compared to the F-16. In addition, as the F-35 program will continue for many years, the fleet of F-35s will be further upgraded to enhance their operational capabilities.

Norway has always been a preferred customer and partner in both the F-16 and F-35 programs. Norway’s switch to owning an all-F-35 fleet is for a reason, firstly thanks to its relationship with the US, and secondly, it has a rather small fleet, so the number of F-35s needed is small.

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