Norway’s three new F35 fighters jets took off for the first time from their new home at the Ørland air base on the West Coast on Friday, with Norwegian pilots in the cockpits, and King Harald was there to mark the occasion. So were a cast of other top officials who made speeches and hailed Norway’s biggest single investment ever.
They were met with wind, rain but also a bit of sunshine on the blustery November day. Two of the F35s zoomed through the skies above to greet the guests when ceremonies began at 2pm.
“This is an important day for Ørland, for Norway and for NATO,” said NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, who was Norway’s prime minister during much of the political debate over ordering the fleet of new fighter jets. He was among the guests of honour on Friday, and claimed that Ørland will be “the new navel of a new Norwegian Air Force.” Norway, meanwhile, was getting the world’s most modern fighter jets “and NATO gets an ally in the work to strengthen the (NATO) alliance.”
The new fighter jets arrived in Norway last Friday, but it wasn’t until today that all the officials gathered to celebrate them. In addition to the king and NATO boss, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, Trade Minister Monica Mæland, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, Defense Chief Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, Air Force Chief and General Major Tonje Skinnarland and the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy, Jim DeHart, were on hand as well. The jets were ordered from US defense contractor Lockheed Martin in Texas.
They were all treated to music and there were several speeches, with Solberg claiming the new jets “will add defense department capacity they’ve never had earlier. They will strengthen … the entire country’s defense capability.” Plans call for Norway to buy at least 40 and as many as 52 of the new F35s, with the jets due to replace the country’s current fleet of F16s between now and 2025.
Bakke-Jensen, Norway’s new defense minister who has served in the military himself, borrowed the much-used description of the new F35s “an important milestone” but couldn’t resist adding a not completely politically correct comment when talking to state broadcaster NRK: “They’ll be dealing with serious business, but by God, this is quite a day for the boys.”