Thursday 6 January 2022 was a historic day for the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF, Forsvaret). On this day, Norway’s new F-35s officially took over the QRA mission, ending the F-16 fleet’s 42 year-long mission serving Norway and NATO. Due to heavy snowfall and low visibility, the original program was shortened. However, the event was still a historical milestone for the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Royal Norwegian Air Force. The formal transfer of authority from F-16 to F-35 took place at Evenes Air Base in northern Norway at 11:45 on Thursday 6 January 2022.
1980, Norway started operating its fleet of F-16s, and this fleet has now retired. In the 2010s, Norway decided to replace the F-16 fleet with a fleet of 52 new F-35A fighter jets. In 2015, Norwegian personnel consisting of pilots and technicians arrived at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, USA. From there, they started educating both pilots and technical personnel to operate the new fighter jets. The first Norwegian F-35 touched Norwegian ground in November 2017 at Ørland Air Base, central Norway. The F-35 fleet has its home base at Ørland, but some of the F-35s will be based at Evenes to conduct the QRA mission. The F-35 system and organization have also served in two international missions – Iceland Air Policing in 2020 and 2021.
For the past decades, Norway’s fleet of F-16s has carried out the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) on behalf of NATO from Bodø Air Base in northern Norway. Now, the F-35s handle this mission from Evenes Air Base a little further north. Events are currently under development and construction to house both F-35s and the coming fleet of P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrolling Aircraft. Norway conducts the QRA mission on behalf of NATO. This means that Norway continuously has fighter jets on standby at all times. If unknown aircraft come close to Norwegian – and NATO – airspace, the F-35s are scrambled and airborne within 15 minutes. Then they find, observe and document any unknown aircraft that come close to Norway and NATO airspace.
Evenes Air Base is located along the border of Nordland County and Troms and Finnmark County in northern Norway. Evenes is will be the Air Force’s most significant base in the north, serving as a complex base for the F-35, in addition to being the main base for the coming fleet of P-8 Poseidon. The F-35 and P-8 are among the most important capacities in the defense of Norway. Evenes Air Base also has an air defense battalion and a force protection squadron – serving together with the base’s base defense. Multiple support functions have additionally been established. By 2025, about 500 employees and 300 conscripts will be working at the airport. The Norwegian fleet of 52 F-35s will be complete and fully operational by 2025.