Et av F-35A flyene på QRA beredskap for NATO på Evenes flystasjon.

F-35 takes over QRA mission from F-16

Thursday 6 January 2022 was a historic day for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. 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.

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.

Due to heavy snowfall and low visibilty, the original programme was shortened. However, the event was still a historical milestone for the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

“F-35 has now received the baton from F-16, continuing to keep a constant guard. I sense a great pride today. The introduction of the new fighter jets has been a great success, thanks to our passionate and talented personnel and partners”, says Major General Rolf Folland, Chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

Chief of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Major General Rolf Folland, in front of one of the F-35s based at Evenes. Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces

The QRA mission

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. Evenes is 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 two 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 the unknown aircraft.

The history of Norway’s F-35s

I 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 organisation immediately started a series of operational testing and evaluations.

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 organisation have also served in two international missions – Iceland Air Policing in 2020 and 2021.

One of the F-35s based at Evenes for the QRA mission. Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces

Evenes Air Base

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 Poseidons.

The F-35 and P-8 are among the most important capacities in the defence of Norway. Evenes Air Base also has an air defence battalion and a force protection squadron – seving together with the base’s own base defece. 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.