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Norway Stocks Up To Deal With The Russians
by James Dunnigan
April 8, 2014

Norway has ordered 36 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles for its F-16 fighters. Norway received 72 F-16AMs in the early 1980s and upgraded them in the late 1990s to the Block 50 standard. The Norwegian F-16AMs were built in the Netherlands under license. Norway recently replaced the wings 57 F-16C fighters it still has in order to keep them in service until 2023. By then the F-16s will all have been replaced by 52 F-35s, which will begin arriving in 2018. At least that's the plan. The F-35 has been plagued by a seemingly endless number of unexpected delays but so far Norway has remained a customer. On the plus side the F-35 also uses AMRAAM and these missiles will, with maintenance and upgrades, last over two decades if not fired in combat or training. This order was in the works before the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine but the Norwegians have long been wary of their Russian neighbor and the missiles that equip Norwegian F-16s are most likely to be used against Russian aircraft if Norway finds itself under attack.

AMRAAM is a long range radar guided missile that weighs 172 kg (335 pounds), is 3.7 meters (12 feet) long, and 178mm (7 inches) in diameter. AMRAAM has a max range of 70 kilometers. U.S. aircraft use the AIM-120D while export customers get the C7 version.  AMRAAM entered service in 1992, more than 30 years after the first radar guided air-to-air missile (the AIM-7) came into use. Vietnam provided ample evidence that AIM-7 wasn't really ready for prime time. Too many things could go wrong. Several versions later, the AIM-7 got another combat test during the 1991 Gulf War. While 88 AIM 7s were launched, only 28 percent scored a hit. The AIM 9 Sidewinder did worse, with 97 fired and only 12.6 percent making contact. That said, most of these hits could not have been obtained with cannon, especially when the AIM 7 was used against a target that was trying to get away.

AMRAAM was designed to fix all the reliability and ease-of-use problems that cursed the AIM-7. But AMRAAM has only had a few opportunities to be used in combat, although 77 percent of the 13 launched have hit something. AMRAAMs cost about $2.2 million each.

The F-16 is the most numerous post-Cold War jet fighter, with over 4,200 built and more in production. There are 24 nations using the F-16, and 14 have ordered more, in addition to their initial order. During The Cold War, Russia built over 10,000 MiG-21s and the U.S over 5,000 F-4s, but since then warplane production has plummeted about 90 percent. Since the end of the Cold War, the F-16 has been popular enough to keep the production lines going, despite the fact that the F-35 is supposed to replace the F-16. But the F-35 price keeps going up (it is headed north of $100 million per aircraft) and the F-16 continues to get the job done at half that price and using many of the same weapons (like AMRAAM) that the F-35 uses.  



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