The Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency has signed a contract with US company Draken International to sell up to 12 F-16 fighter jets. The aircraft will be used as part of Draken’s training services in the United States. For decades the F-16s have been the backbone of the Royal Norwegian Air Force and of the defence of Norway, protecting Norwegian sovereignty and participating in several national and international operations and exercises. With the F-16 now approaching the end of its service, the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency was tasked by the Ministry of Defence in September 2019 to begin preparations to retire the remaining aircraft by the end of 2021, and potentially selling them to another user.
“I am very pleased that we at the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency have secured a first agreement for the F-16s. These are among the most well-maintained combat aircraft in the world and are overall in excellent technical condition, which will provide years of solid service to Draken International,” said Director General of the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency, Mette Sørfonden.
“The F-16 has served the Norwegian Armed Forces and the nation very well for over 40 years until their replacement by the F-35. The Ministry of Defence has been clear on their wish that Norwegian F-16s should see continued use by others within the NATO alliance. We are therefore pleased that the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency has agreed to sell up to 12 aircraft to Draken International, a company offering services to the US military,” said Minister of Defence Odd-Roger Enoksen.
In September 2019, the Ministry of Defence tasked the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency to lead the retirement of the F-16 system in accordance with current regulations and under the best possible terms for the Norwegian government. Transfer to Draken International in the United States is expected to happen in 2022, pending formal approval by the US and Norwegian governments. The contract also provides opportunities for Norwegian industry, including maintenance of the aircraft in advance of delivery. Draken International is a leader within «Red Air services», where Draken International is in the role of opponent in the training of US pilots. The primary role of the Norwegian F-16 will therefore be as practice opponents for US combat aircraft. The sale of the F-16, or equipment related to the F-16, must be approved by both the US and Norwegian authorities.
The Belgian Air Force was one of the first four international customers for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. In the late 1970s, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands started looking for a replacement for the F-104 Starfighter. These four nations, known as the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF), became the first international customers for the F-16. Belgium ordered a total of 160 F-16s in two batches. Together with the US, they started a unique multi-national development program for the F-16. Under the terms of the agreement, F-16 Fighting Falcons for the EPAF nations were to be produced locally. Heavy attrition and restructuring of the armed forces reduced the operational inventory to 54 aircraft. The remaining aircraft have been stored or sold. Although the entire inventory consists of F-16A and F-16B models, all 54 remaining operational aircraft have been upgraded to MLU standard.
The Netherlands will sell twelve of its surplus F-16 fighter jets belonging to the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) to Draken International, the Defense Secretary of State Barbara Visser announced to the Dutch parliament in a letter. The twelve F-16s will be retired from 2022, with 28 more, to be withdrawn in phases in the following years. On July 1, 2021, the F-16s based in Leeuwarden Air Base will officially retire, with pilots and technicians moving to Volkel Air Base from where the aircraft will continue to operate until 2024. The equipment is in used condition and is sold and transferred in the state in which it is currently in. The Ministry of Defence does disassemble a number of things prior to the transfer. The drawing of the contract will take place in mid-2021 and the transfer is planned from 2022. The phasing out plan for the F-16 aircraft is leading in the transfer of all aircraft, even if the phasing out plan is delayed and the end date of the F-16 is pushed back. Within the F-16 End Life of Type (ELOT) program, one other F-16 has already been sold to Belgium.
Draken International, Inc. is an American provider of tactical fighter aircraft for contract air services including military and defense industry customers. The firm was incorporated in 2012 and is based at the Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida and also has an operating base in Las Vegas, Nevada; Mojave, California; and Nimes, France. Draken offers airborne adversary support (Red Air), Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), Close Air Support (CAS), flight training, threat simulation, electronic warfare support, aerial refueling, research, and testing services to the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. defense contractors and aerospace firms, provided by a fleet of former military aircraft. The company’s fleet includes: Douglas A-4K and A-4N Skyhawks, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 bis/UM, Aermacchi MB-339, Aero L-39 Albatros, Aero L-159E ALCA, Dassault Mirage F1M and Atlas Cheetah.