Secret criticism flies around new F35s

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Something seems to be wrong with the operating capabilities of Norway’s growing fleet of new F35 fighter jets, but no one will specify what the problem is. Norway’s State Auditor General is criticizing the government in a report to Parliament on the new jets, but the report is classified and therefore being handled as top secret.

Two of Norway’s new F35s flying on a training mission over the mountains of Rondane. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Morten Hanche

“The audit of the fighter jets’ operating capabilities covers possible vulnerabilities in maintenance, logistics and refueling functions, the fighter jet bases and protection of our air space,” Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told newspaper Klasse-kampen on Monday. He explained that such information is of “high value” for foreign intelligence-gathering operations, and that’s why the Auditor General’s report is classified and won’t be publicly shared.

Bakke-Jensen claimed that both Defense Chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen and the auditor general’s office agreed with him on the need to keep the report’s results secret. No one will even release the degree of confidentiality, or how serious the criticism is.

Recommendations due after Christmas holidays
Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss told Klassekampen he could understand that questions were flying around the report, which was delivered in May but only now is being discussed behind closed doors by the Parliament’s disciplinary committee. Both the foreign minister and the defense minister will deliver a secret statement on the report before the committee makes a confidential recommendation to the Parliament after Christmas.

Even then the debate will be held confidential. The newspaper reported that all Members of Parliament have a right to join the meeting and have their say but the minutes of the meetng will stamped as confidential also.

“The main rule is that we deliver reports publicly to the Parliament,” Foss told Klassekampen. “Because of the defense department’s evaluation, however, our examination of the fighter jets’ operative ability is classified and withdrawn from public review. It’s standard practice that we follow the owner of the information’s evaluation.”

‘I wish I could say more…’
MPs from the Socialist Left party (SV) are still trying to find out whether any measures taken regarding the auditor general’s criticism will also be withheld from the public. “I wish I could say more about this case,” SV’s representative on the disciplinary committee, Freddy André Øvstegård, told Klassekampen.

The auditor general office’s goal has been to evaluate whether the fighter jets’ infrastructure and support functions have adequate capacity to secure operative capacity during the transition from Norway’s old F16 jets to the new F35s. That involves examination of maintenance procedures, logistics and supply functions, the bases where the jets are kept, the defense of those bases, command and control systems for the jets and the Defense Ministry’s own political management.

Bakke-Jensen reportedly requested the secrecy. The auditor general’s office reportedly asked whether it could publicly issue a non-classified version of the report, but that was rejected by Bakke-Jensen on the grounds that no excerpts be taken out of the report.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund