| FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept 21
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept 21 Top Norwegian
officials on Monday underscored their commitment to buying up to
52 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets in coming
years, saying the stealthy jet's capabilities provided an
important counterweight to Russia's military buildup and
increased military flights in the region.
Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters
that Norway was concerned about what she called an "obvious
projection of power" by Russia in the Baltic Sea region, where
Russian military flights increased threefold from 2013 to 2014.
Soereide, in Texas to see the rollout of Norway's first F-35
from the Lockheed plant in Fort Worth, had no detailed numbers
about Baltic flights in 2015. But Norwegian monitoring had shown
increasingly complex and longer flights by Russia in recent
months and repeated violations of international airspace.
Norway, which shares a small border with Russia in the
Arctic, was keeping a close eye on Russian activities in that
region and the Baltic Sea, she said, and remained concerned that
increased Russian activities could inadvertently trigger a
potential conflict, Soereide said.
Norway is slated to receive its first F-35 fighter jets in
2017 to begin training, and expects to have an initial
operational capability in 2019.
Soereide said the jets would give Norway new radar-evading
capabilities and the ability to detect potential threats from
further away and with greater precision, key capabilities at a
time when all of Russia's neighbors are carefully monitoring
Russia's more aggressive military activities.
Sweden and Finland, for instance, have expressed concerns
about incursions by Russian submarines and other naval vessels.
Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, chief of defense of the
Norwegian Armed Forces, told Reuters in a separate interview
that Russia had also increased its submarine activities in the
Arctic, due to increased training.
"They are closing the gap in a number of areas," he said.
Bruun-Hanssen said it was difficult to provide details
without delving into classified material, but Russian fighter
jets flying in the Baltics were now often joined by refueling
aircraft, command and control planes and intelligence aircraft.
"They are using various types of aircraft together
tactically, so they are capable of extending their ranges. They
are capable of using their weapons systems in a better way than
we have seen previously," he said. "They are operating their
aircraft in a way in which long-range weapons are used in a
manner very similar to the tactics we have had in the West."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)