By Robbin Laird
The Royal Norwegian Air Force is transitioning from an F-16 to an all F-35 air combat force as part of both Air Force modernization and overall defense transformation for the Norwegian forces.
The coming of the F-35 and the interaction between the standup of the F-35 and shaping a way ahead for the RNoAF was laid out and discussed.
In my conversation with the Norwegian head of the F-35 program, Major General Morten Klever, we had a chance to discuss key elements of shaping a way ahead, which would optimize the contributions of the air system to the transformation process.
We started with a base line reality as seen from Norway.
Major General Klever: “The plane is performing very well.
“The capabilities are superb.
“The feedback we have from the pilots is excellent and we are clearly looking forward to the impact of the aircraft or more accurately, the air system can have on RNoAF, and more generally upon the Norwegian armed forces.”
He underscored that it would take time as well because moving beyond legacy thinking and legacy cultures is part of the transition challenge.
Yet “pilots are already starting to work with the Navy and the Army and to explore ways they might work the F-35 with the ground and maritime forces.”
As the standup of the air system is put in place, it is important to generate best practices to ensure that the innovations, which the air system might allow, are realized.
Or put another way, it is important to lay a foundation that goes in the right direction rather than constraining the air system with regard to antiquated practices or legacy thinking that will reduce the impact, which the new air system can have on the combat force.
One key aspect of change, which is crucial for the F-35 weapons system itself, is expanding the ability to rapidly add capabilities, based on emerging threats.
Major General Klever: “We need to find ways to speed up the software development and insertion processes and to allow the warfighting experience of the entire range of partners to shape that software development process as appropriate.”
Another key aspect of change is to ensure that an enterprise approach can be instituted from the performance of the software on the aircraft to its replication in the simulators.
This is especially important as the training dimension for fifth generation enabled combat will require expanded training spaces.
And even though Norway has significant air space in which to operate, there is little interest in letting potential adversaries learn how coalition F-35s will work together to empower and extend defensive and offensive force.
Virtual integration of aircraft and simulators across the enterprise and between partners will enhance daily training, and turn out to be a force multiplier in operations.
Major General Klever: “This means that we will still need to train in the United States and elsewhere, but even more importantly we will need to find ways to connect our air forces across key coalition partners to shape extended live virtual constructive training as well.”
And the infrastructure supporting the F-35 as a global air system needs to be shaped effectively.
This means that a global sustainment approach, grounded in an effective regional support structure, is established so that fifth generation aircraft can fly to the crisis rather than having to move large amounts of equipment prior to setting up and operating.
Major General Klever underlined the central importance of such an effort and expressed his concerns with the way ahead.
“The USAF is taking over the global sustainment approach as early as 2019.
“And currently, the USAF is continuing its legacy approach, , where the USAF transports its support equipment and parts to the fight, rather than relying on a more agile support structure.
“And even though they have an excellent PBL in the C-17 program, generally they do not do performance based logistics, and that is what is needed for this program.
“The USAF is currently too committed to a strategy of organic ownership of parts.”
Major General Klever argued that the partners did not sign up for such an approach.
Under the leadership of JPO, all partners and services have designed a global sustainment concept to be implemented and from this standpoint the USAF could learn from partners, notably UK and the RAF and their approach to aircraft availability.
My visit to the UK the week after this interview highlighted how significantly the RAF is innovating with regard to Typhoon support and how those innovations are clearly relevant to the F-35 2.0 approach to sustainment.
And during that visit, the RAF maintenance community highlighted a visit of then then head of the Joint Program Office, Lt. General Bogden, who kept focusing on the legacy question of trust: how could I know the part was there when I needed it.”
During a visit to RAF Coningsby a few years ago, he repeatedly asked that question to the RAF maintainers who all had the same answer: that is the wrong question. We will ensure that the aircraft going into combat has parts priority and we have set up a system to ensure that that happens.
And for Major General Klever, the key is getting the right support to the right aircraft at the right time, at the right place.
That will NOT happen unless there is a global sustainment approach with an established management structure supported by agreed business rules to ensure priorities are supporting the needs of the warfighter.
Major General Klever underscored that Norway has had an excellent experience with Pratt and Whitney with regard to a PBL contract on F-16 engines and P&W is currently standing up a support structure in Norway for the F-35.
He believed that the some US services could learn from the partners on this issue; and more to the point, this is what the partners and services signed up to; not a legacy maintenance and support structure for their F-35s.
And with allies flying as many F-35s as the US in the next few years, clearly the U.S. needs to pay attention to this approach.
And beyond that, if the F-35 will enable the kind of military transformation necessary to turn adversary anti-access and aerial-denial bastions into Maginot Lines, an ability to provide combat sustainment at the point of critical interest is the key.
The image put by one analyst in a discussion about the shift highlighted that when United Airlines flies to Australia it does not have a cargo plane carrying parts to ensure that it can fly back.
Major General Klever concluded: “How often have you missed a flight because of unavailability of aircraft due to maintenance?
“The commercial world has taught us a significant lesson about the way ahead.
“In the end, this boils down to affordability, and subsequently increased operational effect.”
The featured photo shows Maj. Gen. Morten Klever, the program director of the Norwegian F-35 program, accepts the first two Norwegian F-35 Lightning IIs after they arrived at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 10, 2015.
Shortly after, a Norwegian pilot flew the F-35 for the first time, in conjunction with the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s birthday.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)