OSLO Norway placed its first firm order for Lockheed Martin's (LMT.N) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on Friday in a big victory for a program troubled by cost overruns, production delays and order cuts.
Norway formally ordered two aircraft and expects to order another 50 for a total procurement cost of $10 billion, the largest ever public purchase, Minister of Defence Espen Barth Eide told a news conference.
The F-35 project's lifetime cost, including development, production, operating and maintenance costs, and inflation, will reach $1.51 trillion over the next 55 years, the Pentagon said earlier, making it one of the biggest military developments on record.
But costs have risen sharply and production has been delayed, leading countries like the U.S. and Australia to delay orders and nations like Italy and the Netherlands to say they would cut their orders.
Norway, which has stood firmly by the program and its order, will receive its first four aircraft by 2016 while the remaining 48 would be delivered after 2017.
In addition to the warplanes, Norway will begin preparations for the final phase of Joint Strike Missile development after it received U.S. support for the integration of the missile into the F-35.
Lockheed is developing three variants of the F-35 for the U.S. military and eight partner countries, including Britain, Canada, Australia, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands.
The U.S. military plans to buy 2,443 aircraft while the program's partners plan to buy 697.
(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)