Fighter jet deal may be put off

Oslo- Afterposten, 18/04/08 - by  Thomas Spence
Just 10 days before the bidding deadline, Norwegian finance minister Kristin Halvorsen has said maybe the country's old planes can be upgraded, pushing the planned purchase contract into the future. This comes after the competing companies, Lockheed Martin of the US and Saab of Sweden, have used millions of dollars in marketing their respective concepts, and prepared thousands and thousands of pages of documents to support their bids.

Lockheed Martin is vying for the contract with its Joint Strike Fighter proposal, while Saab is putting forth its JAS Gripen, which it claims it can deliver for a far lower price than Lockheed's offer. The bidding process so far has been fraught with controversy. The European consortium offering its Eurofighter withdrew as a result of alleged favouritism towards the Americans. Sweden's bidding is thought to be hindered by the country not being a member of NATO.

"We need to consider the costs to upgrade the fighter jets we have, so that they can be used for some years longer, or if we should go for more investment now. If we go for new investment, we must consider the price, and the quality, of the different choices," said Finance Minister Halvorsen.

When asked if this means a postponement of the new fighter plane project, Halvorsen answered: "It's a real possibility." She added: "It depends on how much it costs to upgrade the F-16s to the standard we need, how long they will hold up in quality, and the costs of this against those of buying new airplanes."