London - Norway's deputy defence minister Eirik Øwre Thorshaug is to meet with officials from Lockheed Martin and the F-35s Joint Program Office in the first week of December, as Oslo seeks further assurances over the integration of the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile (JSM) on to the stealthy fighter.
Oslo has committed to acquiring an initial four examples of the F-35A conventional take-off and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, but securing the ability to field Kongsberg's "fifth-generation" munition was a pre-requisite for its order. It could eventually acquire up to 52 aircraft to replace its fleet of Lockheed F-16s, in a procurement exercise worth a total of NKr61.2 billion ($10.8 billion).
Although Norway has received what Thorshaug describes as "good signals on the political level" in its efforts to ensure integration, largely in the form of a letter from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, he acknowledges the process "is not finished".
"We are pushing and leaning forward in that respect, towards both [Lockheed] and the US government," he said during an event in Kongsberg to mark the unveiling of the first JSM fuselage. "We will not rest or hesitate in bringing this issue to our partners or important US ally.
"For the Norwegian government it is crucial to get the JSM integrated, mainly because we need to be operationally capable in relation to our national defence needs."
The Royal Norwegian Air Force views the JSM, with its range of about 150nm (277km) and ability to target and attack heavily armed naval vessels, as a key asset for defending its lengthy coastline.
However, Kongsberg also sees a potential market for the highly manoeuvrable missile, which can also neutralise land targets, with other F-35 partner nations worth a minimum of NKr20-25 billion. Harald Ånnestad, company president, says it has already held initial discussions with Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and South Korea over possible sales.
But Ånnestad is so confident about the weapon's performance and lack of a direct competitor, he believes the USA will also purchase the JSM for its F-35s, rather than spend valuable funds on developing a rival. "The market window is wide open for our missile," he says.
Additionally, Kongsberg will offer the munition for deployment on legacy fighters, principally Boeing's F/A-18, in the 2015 timeframe, although Ånnestad acknowledges nations will have to fund the integration work themselves.
Kongsberg aims to complete the JSM's critical design review by mid-2013, thereby securing a further contract from the Norwegian government to move into the next development phase.
This envisages flight testing and qualification using either Norwegian F-16s or US Navy F/A-18s in 2014, says Pål Bratlie, executive vice-president of Kongsberg's missile systems division. Integration work with the F-35 will then begin, aiming for deployment when aircraft with the Block 4 software upgrade begin to roll off the production line around 2020.
The JSM is derived from Kongsberg's Naval Strike Missile. Bratlie says changes to the munition's shape - partly driven by the need to fit inside the F-35's internal weapons bays - have helped the JSM to gain about 50nm in range over its sibling. It will also be enabled for land as well as naval warfare, he says. Additional modifications were required to allow it to cope with the extreme changes in temperature experienced between carriage in the weapons bay and deployment, he adds.
"There's nothing else on the market now, or in development, that has the same capability as the JSM," he adds.