Norwegian F-35s intercept Russian A-50 Mainstay during first QRA mission

In a tweet posted (with a strange delay) on Wednesday, February 2, the Norwegian Air Force announced that its new F-35 Lightning IIs carried out their first QRA mission from Evenes Air Base on January 6, identifying a Russian Beriev A-50 (NATO code: "Mainstay") operating in the High North. This demonstrates that the F-35 works in its new role", says Air Force chief Rolf Folland. Doing so, it ended the F-16 fleet’s 42 year-long mission serving Norway and NATO.

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Norwegian F 35s intercept Russian A 50 Mainstay during first QRA mission 1 During their first QRA mission, on January 6, 2022, Norwegian F-35s intercepted a Beriev A-50 "Mainstay" (Picture source: Twitter account of Norwegian Air Force)

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. “F-35 has now received the baton from F-16, continuing to keep a constant guard. I sense 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.

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 to 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 any unknown aircraft that come close to Norway and NATO airspace.

History of Norway’s F-35s

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

Beriev A-50 "Mainstay", first Russian aircraft intercepted by Norwegian F-35s

The Beriev A-50 "Mainstay" is an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport. Developed to replace the Tupolev Tu-126 "Moss", the A-50 first flew in 1978. Its existence was revealed to the Western Bloc in 1980 by Adolf Tolkachev. It entered service in 1984, with about 40 produced by 1992.

Norwegian F 35s intercept Russian A 50 Mainstay during first QRA mission 2 Beriev A-50 "Mainstay" intercepted by Nowegian F-35s on January 6, 2022 (Picture source: Twitter account of Norwegian Air Force)