President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that the first of 52 “F-52 and F-35” fighter jets have been delivered to Norway — proudly touting the “$10 billion” sale of military equipment to the NATO ally during a news conference with the Norwegian prime minister.
Trump’s affinity for promoting foreign military sales has been well documented over the course of his presidency but his latest remarks have raised some eyebrows due to one glaring problem: There is no indication that the F-52 fighter jet exists.
Standing alongside Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House, Trump highlighted the sale of fictional jets as evidence of growing economic and defense ties between the two nations.
“In November we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets,” Trump said. “We have a total of 52 and they’ve delivered a number of them already a little ahead of schedule.”
Trump appeared to read the comments from a prepared statement and likely mistook the number of aircraft in the deal — 52 — for part of a designation for a separate jet.
Lockheed Martin — the primary defense contractor for the fifth-generation F-35 fighter — declined to comment on whether a F-52 aircraft is in development but the company has never publicly mentioned plans for an aircraft by that name.
As pointed out by The Washington Post, Trump’s comments are not the first reference to an aircraft called the F-52. While fictional when it comes to actual US aircraft, the jet does exist within the virtual realm of the popular “Call of Duty” video game franchise.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for clarification on Trump’s comments.
While the F-52 may be available only to video game enthusiasts, the F-35 is a very real and controversial military machine. With a $400 billion price tag that is double the original budget, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history.
The cost of the aircraft has generated strong head winds of criticism, particularly from Trump, who has previously claimed to have directly helped saved billions on the jet.
But the stealth fighter jet is also touted as the most lethal and versatile aircraft of the modern era — combining advanced stealth capabilities, radar-jamming abilities, supersonic speed, extreme agility and state-of-the-art sensor fusion technology.
The single-engine F-35 comes in three variants: The A version is flown by the Air Force, the B version by the Marines and the C version will become part of the Navy’s fleet.
Last year, Defense Secretary James Mattis called the F-35 “critical” for US air superiority and praised it for its ability to integrate with allies who are buying the jet.
Many US allies have “bet their air superiority on the F-35 program. It bonds us tightly together with them,” Mattis said.
Several US allies — including Japan, Israel, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Turkey — have committed to purchasing their own versions of the F-35 and some nations have already received their first orders of the aircraft.
As Trump mentioned on Wednesday, Norway plans to purchase up to 52 F-35s but the Norwegian government has authorized funding for only 40 aircraft to date, according to Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Carolyn Nelson.
“Norway has taken delivery of 10 F-35s to date, three of which arrived at Ørland Air Base, Norway, in November 2017 and seven are stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where Norwegian pilots are conducting training,” Nelson told CNN.