Romania are taking delivery of three updated F-16 Jets from Norway, it was announced 1 December, the first lot from a deal for 32 of the multi-role fighters meant to modernise Romania’s Air force and bolster Nato’s East flank.

The remaining jets will be delivered over the course of 2024, providing time for Romania’s pilots and technical staff to develop competencies with the material before integrating the entire consignment, according to a statement by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence. 

Romania divested its MiG-21 LanceR jets after 60 years of service in May 2023, as part of an Air Force modernisation effort that transferred its support of Nato’s Air Policing mission to its F-16 fleet. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2023, this fleet comprises of 14 F-16AM and 3 F16BM Fighting Falcons.

The Nato Air Policing mission is a permanent peacetime mission involving a continuous prince from Nato fighter aircraft and crews, headquartered in Rammstein, Germany, with Quick Reaction Alert interceptor aircraft ready to scramble and divert possible airspace violations. Since 2004 this has involved the stationing of Nato fighter Aircraft in Lithuania, and following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, additional Nato Air Policing forces were deployed to Estonia and Poland, augmenting the national air policing capabilities of Bulgarian and Romanian air forces. 

The F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole fighter is a 4th generation advanced aerial combat aircraft, originally manufactured by from General Dynamics and then Lockheed Martin, flown by over 25 countries in more than 13 million sorties by 4,600 aircraft since it first entered service in 1979, with 3,000 F-16 fighters currently operational.

Romania’s defence spending soars

The sale was first cleared by the US State Department Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 3 July, with a statement recognising Romania’s role in the political stability and economic progress of Europe. 

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Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Russia’s illegal war of conquest, Romania has dramatically increased its defence budget, from $0.7bn over 2019-20, then $5.5bn over 2020-22, and in a budget passed in December 2022 the defence spend was lifted to $8bn in 2023. 

This total arrived at from this year-on-year increase of 45.2% over the period represents a significant proportion of Romania’s GDP, standing at 3.2% for 2024-28, well above it’s Nato spending commitment of 2%. 

The purchase of the F-16 fighter jets was supported by the Norwegian Defence Material Agency in collaboration with Kongsberg Aviation Maintenance Services (KAMS). Norway’s divestment of its F-16 fleet follows the acquisition of 28 F-35 stealth fighter, a fifth-generation jet that represents an advancement on the capabilities of the F-16.

Broad F-16 fighter deal

Norwegian Defence Material Agency Director Gro Jære acknowledged the rarity with which his organisation is charged with the delivery of materiel to other buyers, stating that the agency supplies equipment far less often than it acquires it. He expressed pride in contributing to the re-use of equipment by Romania for the improvement of defence capabilities in another allied nation, and credited Norways ‘professionalized disposal area’ with making the transfer possible. 

“The contract with Romania doesn’t just includes the deliverance of new fighter jets, but also two fighter jet squadrons with spare parts, support equipment and training of technician. The reasons for this progress are due to the great work from the Norwegian Defence Material Agency and their employees, with great aid from KAMS and the experienced F-16 personnel from the Norwegian air force,” said Gram. 

Equipment included in the deal described in the initial DSCA announcement includes: KY-58M and KIV-78 cryptographic devices; AN/PYQ-10C simple key loaders; night vision device aviator vision systems and spare image intensifier tubes; electronic warfare database support; and classified/unclassified computer program identification number systems (CPIN) and CPIN electronic combat international security assistance program equipment and support, among other items.