UPDATE 1-Norway extends period for buying F-35 fighter jets
* Norway about to order another six F-35 jets
* Plans to buy 52 jets in total by end 2024
By Henrik Stolen and Nerijus Adomaitis
GARDERMOEN, Norway, April 26 (Reuters) - Oil-rich Norway is stretching out its purchase of 52 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from Lockheed Martin, the Defence Ministry said on Friday, a move that will nudge up the total cost but reduce the annual burden on the defence budget.
The country is about to place firm orders for six of the fighter planes and will extend the timeframe for the purchase of all 52 from four years to eight years, the ministry said.
"We have looked into how we should acquire these aircraft through the most favourable time frame, so that we are able to phase out the F-16s and phase in the F-35 with pilots, equipment and everything else needed", Minister of Defence Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen told Reuters.
The F-35 is designed to be the next-generation, radar-evading fighter for U.S. forces and their allies, but costs have risen sharply and production has been delayed, leading some countries to scale down or rethink their orders.
The ministry said it had asked parliament to approve the purchase of six planes to be delivered in 2017, one year earlier than previously planned, but it would also take longer to complete the remaining purchases.
That means Norway, which formally ordered the first four aircraft last June, will complete the purchases during the period 2017-2024, instead of the original plan of 2018-2021. Continued...