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Cablegate: Norway Fighter Purchase: High-Level Advocacy Needed Now

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RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM PRIORITY 3322
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE PRIORITY 4402
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMSOCEUR VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
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RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 1529
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C O N F I D E N T I A L OSLO 000522

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2018
TAGS: MARR MASS MCAP PREL PGOV NO
SUBJECT: NORWAY FIGHTER PURCHASE: HIGH-LEVEL ADVOCACY NEEDED NOW

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin M. Johnson for reasons 1.4 b and d 1.(C)

Summary: The GON decision making process on the purchase of new fighter aircraft has entered a critical phase. Public opinion has swung away from the F-35 due to negative coverage, and private contacts warn that the GON may decide to purchase the Saab Gripen or leave the decision to a future government. High-level Washington advocacy on this issue is needed to help reverse this trend. Norway's decision on this purchase will either end or sustain one of the strongest pillars of our bilateral relationship and could impact subsequent Danish and Dutch decisions on the F-35, affecting NATO joint operational capacity and the vulnerability of the Northern Flank. Septel requests Deputy SecDef direct engagement, possibly with a visit to Oslo. End Summary

The Decision Making Process
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2.(C) The GON decision on fighter aircraft has been a frequent theme of media debate over the last year. Numerous commentators have expressed largely ill-informed opinions on the F-35 and Gripen and opined on what the GON should do. The GON has tasked the Ministry of Defense to conduct a technical study on the merits of the competitors, including the capabilities of the aircraft, price, and the industrial participation plan (Eurofighter was an original candidate but dropped out in late 2007). The GON will announce its decision on December 18 on which plane they will purchase. The conclusions of the MOD technical studies recommendation will not be made public and the GON could decide against the expert recommendation. Public debate over the decision has focused on the political aspects of the decision as well as the announced criteria. The GON governing coalition includes the Socialist Left party which is strongly against purchasing aircraft from the U.S. Forces within the coalition's largest member, the Labor Party, are also in favor of furthering Nordic Cooperation and prefer to buy from Sweden. The U.S. vs. Sweden angle, combined with misinformation on the capabilities, price and industrial package offered by Lockheed Martin have created a very confused and conflicted picture.

Action needed to counter negative trends
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3.(C) After extensive efforts by the Embassy and Lockheed Martin, the public debate over the summer consisted of largely balanced coverage. As we enter the final months of the decision making process, however, we have seen a definite shift in public perception against the F-35. In an unusual political move, the PM of Sweden recently told the press that if Norway does not buy the Gripen then industrial cooperation with Sweden will suffer, to the detriment of Norway. Shortly thereafter, Haakon Lie, the grand old man of the Labor Party, spoke out saying that if the party did not buy the Gripen, they would lose the 2009 national elections. Although 103 years old, Lie still has great moral influence over the Labor Party and his statements were taken seriously. These statements were followed by a seemingly well-orchestrated public campaign against the F-35's abilities and attacks on U.S. interventionist foreign policy which an F-35 purchase by implication supports. Very senior contacts, including the President of the Parliament, are said to believe that the GON is likely to choose the Gripen, based largely on political reasons. Other contacts, primarily in the MOD, have reassured us that the MOD will recommend the F-35, but it is important to note that it will be a few political leaders in the GON which will ultimately decide and could ignore the MOD recommendation. This purchase will be the largest in Norway's history and given the extensive media coverage the GON will need a good explanation for whatever choice it makes.

Major Misunderstandings on the F-35
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4.(C) Inaccuracies about the F-35 have been repeated in the media so often that they have become part of the accepted wisdom. Despite assurances from the MOD that they understand the truth, these myths matter as the GON will need to convince the public that it has made the right decision. Some of the major myths on the F-35 are:
--The F-35 is a bomber, not a fighter and is not suited for the role Norway has in mind, primarily surveillance of Norway's Arctic waters and territory. --Because it is more a bomber, the F-35 is best suited for participation in international operations with the U.S., not for defense of Norway's territory.
--The F-35 is a slow plane and does not match the Gripen in speed.
--The F-35 will cost twice as much as the Gripen.
--The Lockheed Martin industrial participation plan will not adequately compensate Norwegian industry.
--The U.S. wants Norway to buy the F-35 because it needs Norway's money. The Embassy and Lockheed Martin have been active in refuting these false myths about the F-35 but high-level advocacy from Washington will help amplify this message to the most senior GON decision-makers and to the general public. The relevance of the F-35's capabilities to the monitoring and defense of Norway's Arctic region is perhaps the best selling point of the F-35, but it has been consistently attacked by Gripen and the media. This and other misunderstandings may shape the GON decision and must be counteracted in the next month in order to impact the MOD December announcement.

Why the Norwegian Decision is Important
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5.(C) We believe the GON decision is of more importance than it may appear on the surface. The first reason is for the JSF program. A decision by one of the original partners to purchase a competitor would be damaging. In addition, the timing of the GON decision comes before the Danish and Dutch decisions on the F-35. While Norway's decision will not determine the Danish or Dutch decision, a Norwegian decision to buy Gripen could have an impact. For EUCOM and NATO we believe it is important as a Gripen purchase would weaken Norway's ability to defend NATO's northern flank, at a time when we are seeing increased Russian military activity in that area. A primary importance of this decision is the impact on the bilateral relationship. It would impact our very strong military ties (particularly in the Norwegian Air Force which trains all its pilots in the U.S.), business cooperation between a wide range of Norwegian and U.S. firms, and would reduce contact between our leaders both militarily and politically. A Gripen decision would significantly alter the forty-year close relationship between our Air Forces and weaken one of the strongest pillars of our bilateral relationship.

Request for Advocacy
-------------------

6.(C) We request senior-level advocacy for the F-35, stressing the advanced fifth generation capabilities, countering the rampant negative myths on the F-35 and demonstrating that the USG is committed to Norway's ability to defend itself and NATO's northern flank. Septel contains a request for the Deputy Secretary of Defense to visit Oslo to make these points. Other advocacy efforts would contribute to helping the GON recognize the seriousness of their decision and resist the temptation of making a short-term expedient choice, but damaging long-term interests. WHITNEY

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