Why Do Norway’s F-35s Cost 34 Percent More Than Finland’s? Explanations for the Controversy

On January 6th it was announced that Norway became the world’s first country to field a fighter fleet comprised entirely of fifth generation fighters, with American F-35A jets replacing the last F-16s in its fleet. The completion of the replacement process, which comes under a month after neighbouring Finland placed its own order for F-35s, has drawn attention to the significant discrepancies in costs per fighter paid by the two countries. Finland purchased 64 F-35s to replace its F-18 Hornet fighters for an average of 1.3 billion Norwegian krone ($147 million) per aircraft, whereas those acquired by Norway cost 1.74 billion krone ($197 million) making them 34% more costly per fighter. A more extreme example of protest was Bjornar Moxnes, who sat on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and argued: “Norway should never have chosen the F-35” with this being one of many issues he claimed the acquisition had. Moxnes argued that Norway’s choice of the F-35 was made under considerable pressure from Washington, stating: “WikiLeaks documents reveal that the USA exposed Norway to massive secret influence in order to force the choice of the American fighter aircraft F-35, the most expensive tax-financed purchase in Norwegian history... That the Americans have also deceived Norway by demanding many billions more for the planes than the other country has to pay, is a slap in the face to Norway and emphasises the need to investigate the entire scandalous purchase.” Criticism of the F-35 program and allegations of corrupt practices have long been common for Western politicians particularly when running for election, a notable prior example being Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign

There are a number of explanations for the significantly lower price paid by Finland for F-35s. The country’s purchase of a larger quantity of fighters reduced costs per unit which could have explained some of the difference. The Finnish tender was also much more competitive with the F-18E Super Hornet from Boeing in particular placing considerable pressure on Lockheed Martin to provide a better offer. Furthermore, Norway received its F-35s much sooner with the first delivered in 2015, almost a decade before the first will be delivered to Finland. This is a significant factor as the fighter’s unit cost has fallen very considerably with time as the scale of production increased. Later production models have also notably seen significant improvements to their performances, with a Norwegian purchase being more urgent than a Finnish one due to the much greater age of its F-16s, first delivered in 1980, compared to Finland’s F-18s delivered from 1995. F-35As delivered in 2015 were the most expensive to produce. Norwegian analysts have also highlighted that as a non-NATO member F-35 sales to Finland were particularly important to increase American competitiveness over the European defence industry. Costs can also be explained by Norway’s different status from Finland as a partner in the F-35 program, which allowed it not only to influence development decisions but also to produce parts for the aircraft domestically. This boost to Norway’s defence industry alone may more than cover the discrepancy in the cost of the fighters themselves. 

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