AFP, OSLO: Norway threatened on Wednesday to withdraw its collaboration in a new US combat plane, the Joint Strike Fighter, in favour of Sweden's JAS Gripen, arguing that its companies were not involved enough in the US-led project.
“The Swedish alternative is a reality. There are good alternatives to the Joint Strike Fighter,” Marit Nybakk, the head of parliament's defense committee, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.
Norway, which is due to replace its fleet of F-16s within the next 10 to 15 years, plans to acquire up to 48 new fighters at a cost of between 30 and 50 billion kroner (between 3.6 and 6.0 billion euros, or 4.35 and 7.3 billion dollars).
The two frontrunners for the contract are the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by a consortium consisting of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and Britain's BAE Systems, and Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter, which has until now been seen as a favourite.
The Gripen, constructed by a Saab and BAE Systems consortium, had not been mentioned until now.
Norway has agreed to contribute about 1.0 billion kroner toward the development of the Joint Strike Fighter between 2002 and 2012. Other countries involved in the project include Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands.
But the Scandinavian country, which is unhappy that its companies are not involved enough in the development of the fighter, sent a delegation to the United States earlier this year to raise the issue with officials there.
“Nobody should think they can reach the goal for free,” Nybakk said.
“For an investment of this size, all alternatives should be examined,” she said.
Nybaak was not available for comment to AFP, but a defense ministry spokesman confirmed that all options were still being considered.
“Our decision will not be made before 2008 at the earliest, maybe even in 2009 or 2010. Until then, anything can happen,” Martin Lohne said.
Norway, a NATO member, has always equipped its air force with US fighter jets.
According to experts, a Norwegian withdrawal from the Joint Strike Fighter project would cause problems for Lockheed Martin, not just because of the financial loss but more importantly because it could lead to a chain reaction.
Several other countries, including The Netherlands, have also reportedly complained about their industry's lack of involvement in the programme.