The State Department has approved a possible $1.8 billion sale of P-8 surveillance aircraft to Norway at a time when NATO allies covet more intelligence-gathering aircraft to keep an eye over Russia’s increased patrols by land and sea.
Upon notifying lawmakers, the U.S. on Wednesday said the deal would offer a possible sale of up to five Boeing Co.-made P-8A Patrol Aircraft at the request of the Norwegian government.
The deal would also cover a number of sensor technologies, including navigation systems, 42 AN/AAR-54 Missile Warning Sensors, and 2,000 AN/SSQ-125 Multi-Static Active Coherent Source Sonobouys for sonar detection, according to a release from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that oversees foreign arms sales.
The P-8s are intended to replace Norway’s P-3C Orions made by Lockheed Martin Corp., the statement said.
The Norwegian government previously procured and operated the Orions, modeled after the L-188 Electra airliner. The Norwegians have maintained the aging aircraft for more than four decades, and the newer P-8s would be a boost to "collective NATO defense and enhance Norway’s regional and global allied contributions," the release said.
Norway would receive the aircraft sometime between 2021 and 2022, according to an announcement last month from the country's defence minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.
The move would help monitor a growing Russian submarine presence in international waters.
Officials from both the U.S. and Europe have talked about the growing need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gathering platforms in recent years, especially since the incursion of Russian-backed forces into eastern Ukraine and the country's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Meanwhile, the air war against the Islamic State, a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and militants groups in northern Africa, has seized majority of the U.S. military's ISR capabilities, with roughly less than 10 percent of the assets available to watch over European Command operations, according to the former Supreme Allied Commander-NATO Gen. Phillip Breedlove.
"ISR is always short," Breedlove, now retired, said earlier this year. "Yes, I could use more ISR. But I understand the calculus by which it has been apportioned."
Additionally, to pool resources, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Monday said NATO is acquiring a handful of RQ-4 Global Hawks as part of the alliance ground surveillance system to be based in Italy. Roughly 600 personnel will keep them flying and should be delivered before January, Defense News reported.
The Northrop Grumman Corp.-manufactured high-altitude drones “will enhance capabilities to support protection of ground troops and civilian populations in conflict environments as well as border control and maritime security,” James said at a talk hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
She added, "Presence, joint training and political resolve are extremely important at this point in time."