Fighter jet funding splits government

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Norway’s three-party coalition government reportedly is split over yet another issue, this time over how the state will pay for a new fleet of fighter jets that will be the Defense Ministry’s biggest single investment ever. 

Politicians have already decided that Norway needs to replace its F16 fighter jets, and they chose the new US-built F35s. Now they're arguing once again over how to pay for them. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The Socialist Left party (SV), which has been lukewarm at best over the entire fighter jet project, now wants the jets to be financed within the Defense Ministry’s annual budget of NOK 40 billion, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. That’s out of the question, contends the government’s dominant Labour Party. The expensive fighter jet investment, the actual cost of which remains unknown but is expected to be at least NOK 37.5 billion, must be financed through extra, special allocations on top of what the Defense Ministry normally gets.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg thus reportedly agrees with defense chief Harald Sunde, who wants the costs of the both the jets and the new bases expected to be built for them, to be covered through additional, separate budget allocations. Otherwise, Norway’s military would have to scrimp and save and make cuts elsewhere to make payments on the jets.

SV, however, fears that additional budget allocations for the jets will come at the expense of health care, elder care and the schools.  Bård Vegar Solhjell, SV’s parliamentary leader, told Aftenposten that separate budget allocations for the fighter jets “will really cut into budget negotiations” for important social welfare services.

Uncertainty and ongoing debate
Debate has flown for years over the government’s decision to buy a fleet of F35 fighter jets from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin, to replace Norway’s ageing fleet of F16s. The uncertainty over the actual price-tag hinges on how many jets Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors actually can sell, with the price per jet varying in accordance with economy of scale. If lots of countries, including the US itself, order lots of jets, the price per jet will go down. Given the debt crises and budget cuts facing the governments of the US and other prospective buyers, the price per jet can rise.

Right now, Norwegian defense officials estimate the program will cost around NOK 4.5 billion per year between 2013 and 2022, but as much as NOK 12 billion when the costs of deliveries and ground facilities peak in 2017 and 2018. Solhjell warns that the jets’ costs will peak just as the so-called eldrebølge (a wave of retiring baby-boomers) is expected to crest, with welfare needs rising.

Stoltenberg strongly disagrees with Solhjell, and claims SV’s proposal to finance the jets within the Defense Ministry’s budget would weaken Norway’s defense capability.

It’s the latest in a long string of issues that threaten the coalition Stoltenberg has succeeded in holding together for the past seven years. The prime minister reportedly wants the jet financing issue resolved before the coalition meets for its annual, often tough, budget conference at a hotel north of Oslo called Thorbjørnsrud in early March.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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