Norway is looking at the Anglo-Swedish Gripen combat jet to replace its U.S.-built F-16s because of disappointment over a lack of sub-contracts in developing a new U.S. fighter, a senior parliamentarian said on Wednesday.
Faced with a choice between continued loyalty to the United States as a NATO ally or switching to European partners, Norway has taken a stake in development of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) but is also looking at the Eurofighter jet.
"We have paid a lot of money to be part of the Joint Strike Fighter project but so far it has not yielded much," Marit Nybakk, leader of Norway's parliamentary defence committee, told Reuters.
She said the JAS-39 Gripen, which has not been openly discussed, could be another option.
"The Swedish alternative is also a good one," she said, referring to the Gripen built by Sweden's Saab and Britain's BAE Systems.
She denied that the possible entry of the Gripen into the contest was an empty threat to wring concessions from Lockheed.
Norwegian industry was "very dissatisfied" with JSF because companies had not won sub-contracts in its development as promised in a cooperation deal costing Norway 100 million crowns ($14.50 million) a year for 10 years, she said.
Nybakk said Norway had paid 200 million crowns with almost nothing to show in return.
Norway is one of eight countries that agreed to participate in the $245 billion Joint Strike Fighter, the largest military aircraft programme in history.
Nybakk said Britain and the Netherlands were also unhappy with the situation.
BIGGEST MILITARY ORDER
Norway is planning to buy about 48 new jets to replace its fleet of F-16s some time after 2015 in a deal that would be worth an estimated 26 billion to 38 billion crowns, its biggest single military order ever.
"We have put a knife to their throat and told Lockheed Martin that we will pull out of the cooperation unless there are some changes," Nybakk said, but added that no decision had been made.
"We will make a final decision in 2008. Until then, we want to keep as many opportunities as possible open," Nybakk said.
Both the Eurofighter consortium and Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-16, have invested heavily to woo Norway.
Oslo decided to invest one billion crowns in the JSF programme last year, signalling that it favoured the U.S. jet.
The Eurofighter is built by a Germany-based consortium including EADS , BAE and Alenia Aeronautica of Italy. Spain, through EADS's Spanish operations, rounds out the four-nation group building the jet.
Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service