Norway agrees to donate its F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine

Norway has sent two Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper fighters to Denmark, where training on the type is underway with Ukrainian pilots and ground crews.

The two combat jets were retired from active service with the Royal Norwegian Air Force in 2022, after more than 40 years in frontline operation.

Oslo announced the transfer of its Vipers on 5 January. The jets join a contingent of Norwegian Air Force personnel already overseeing the training of Ukrainian counterparts in Denmark.

“The Norwegian government has decided to support Ukraine in building a modern fighter jet capability, donating Norwegian F-16 fighter jets,” the defence ministry says.

Oslo has sent two Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters from the Royal Norwegian Air Force to Denmark, supplementing Danish F-16s being used to train Ukrainian pilots and ground crews on the type, ahead of a planned aircraft transfer

The Norwegian Defence Material Agency since 2022 has been working to decommission the country’s F-16s and prepare them for sale to a third party, according to Oslo.

Romania has already purchased 32 of the single-engined US-built fighters.

Norway replaced its F-16 fleet with the fifth-generation Lockheed F-35A, of which the country currently operates 40 examples, with options to purchase an additional 12, according to Cirium data.

Oslo says work began in July 2023 to restore two of its formerly decommissioned F-16s to flight status, after a coalition of NATO countries led by the Netherlands and Denmark pledged to provide Ukraine with Vipers.

“Personnel from across the Norwegian defence sector have worked diligently to re-operationalise the F-16 after two years on the ground,” the Norwegian defence ministry says.

The Ukraine-bound fighters were tested at a facility in the far northern city of Bodo.

The two Norwegian jets will eventually join F-16s being provided to Ukraine by Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. All four of the countries are F-35 customers, with Norway and the Netherlands already operating significant numbers of the stealthy type.

Denmark brought home its first four F-35As in September 2023, which had previously been housed in the USA to train the initial class of Danish F-35 crews.

Lockheed has F-35s ready for delivery to Belgium, but Brussels has joined Washington in delaying acceptance of the new fighters until Lockheed completes airworthiness testing on a new flight computer and software.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen sat in an F-16B in July 2023, following the announcement by the Danish and Dutch governments that they would provide Ukraine with F-16s from their fleets

The Netherlands has pledged the largest number of F-16s to Ukraine and made the most progress toward delivering them. In December, the Dutch government began preparing the first tranche of 18 Vipers for transfer to Kyiv.

The nation has previously committed 42 F-16s to the effort.

While the USA has not yet pledged any of its aircraft, Washington has committed to approving the third-party transfer, once operational and sustainment capabilities have been established within the Ukrainian air force.

The USA is also hosting F-16 training for Ukrainian personnel.

While the receipt of the highly-capable fourth-generation fighter is highly anticipated by Kyiv, Norway has struck a cautious tone.

“While some effectiveness is anticipated from the start, it will take time for Ukraine to operate the F-16 according to Western standards,” Oslo says.

The Norwegian defence ministry calls Ukraine’s transition from Soviet Bloc aircraft to Western combat jets a “long-term endeavour”.

Despite that measured language, NATO officers engaged in training Ukrainian aviators are reporting positive early results.

“Operating, maintaining and conducting operations with fighter jets are specialised and complex operations,” says Lieutenant Colonel Bard Bakke, commander of the Norwegian detachment in Denmark.

“I’ve been very impressed with the Ukrainian personnel,” he adds.

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