U.S., Norway conduct first F-35 cross-service maintenance

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  • By SMSgt. Dan Heaton

The U.S. and Royal Norwegian Air Forces have validated a new level of fighter aircraft interoperability among NATO Allies, conducting the first-ever unsupervised F-35 Lightning II cross-service operation, after Norwegian aircraft maintainers serviced two of the U.S. fighter jets at a base in Norway, April 8, 2024. 

The two F-35s, assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, flew from the United Kingdom to Ørland Air Station in Norway, where they were received, refueled and re-launched by a maintenance crew from the RoNAF’s 132nd Air Wing. After two days of operations at the Norwegian base, supported by the Norwegian maintainers, the U.S. aircraft returned to RAF Lakenheath.  

"Operations like these showcase increased F-35 interoperability in Europe,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and NATO Allied Air Command. “Cross-servicing agreements allow nations to utilize foreign airfields and maintenance resources, expanding capabilities beyond borders. Our goal is for any F-35 to land at any F-35 base, then refuel, repair, rearm, and return to action."  

The first Norwegian F-35s arrived at Ørland Air Station in 2017, and the 132nd AW now operates two of its own squadrons of F-35s at the installation. USAF F-35s from the 48th FW first visited Ørland in January 2022, which is when the two units began training for cross-servicing operations.  

The ability for aircraft maintainers from one nation to provide service to the aircraft of another nation significantly expands the number of bases from which the aircraft can operate, building on the long-standing NATO concept of training together, which would allow the partner nations to fight together. In addition to the cross-servicing, pilots from RAF Lakenheath participated in a tactics conference at Ørland with their RNoAF counterparts in support of future integration. 

"We are proud that the progression in the F-35 program has come so far, that we can use each other's capacities in this way,” said RNoAF Col. Martin Tesli, base commander for the 132nd Wing. “This opens up more opportunities for cooperation in training and in operations. We become more flexible in this way of working together.” 

Twelve NATO nations either currently fly F-35s or have F-35s on order, which creates the opportunity for Allies to build a common operating capacity across Europe.  

"Cross-servicing with our Norwegian partners went off without a hitch,” said Maj Justin "Spike" Lennon, a 493rd Fighter Squadron pilot who participated in the event. “The ability to integrate our maintenance and operational capabilities with our NATO Allies allows a great degree of flexibility for F-35 operations.”