Norway made history this week by landing an F-35A stealth fighter on a highway for the first time, thus showing a flexible solution for armies concerned about the vulnerability of their air bases.

The Norwegian Armed Forces reported that two F-35As landed on Thursday on a highway in neighboring Finland – a member of NATO and the last country to join the military alliance – during a training exercise with Finnish F-18s. After landing, the F-35s were refueled with their engines running (known as hot refueling) before the fighters quickly took off again. 

“This is a milestone not only for the Norwegian Air Force but also for the Nordic countries and for NATO. “This demonstrates our ability to execute a dispersal concept,” Maj. Gen. Rolf Folland, head of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, said in a statement.

“Thus, being able to use small airfields – and now highways – increases our ability to survive in war,” Folland added. “This is also a demonstration of the exciting development we have initiated within military-air cooperation in the Nordic region.”

The Norwegian military praised the F-35, a highly advanced fifth-generation aircraft, in its announcement about the success of the road exercise but said the fighters are limited by the time they can operate without refueling, weapons and ground support.

General Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway’s defense chief, said the highway demonstration highlighted the deep cooperation between the Nordic countries.

“Finland has been a close partner for a long time and now also an ally. Its straight and wide highways allow us to continue developing our dispersion concept,” stated Folland. “The objective of this concept is to make it difficult for the enemy to shoot down our aircraft on the ground. For this concept to work, we must map and practice all the possibilities.”

Although the landing was a first, the concept of operating military aircraft on a highway is nothing new. The US military has been doing this for years under its Agile Combat Employment program, centered on the idea that forces can be dispersed using traditional and non-traditional airstrips to make it more difficult for the enemy to suppress air power in attacks on the base known as fixed areas.

The US military and its partners put the idea into practice on European highways. In 2021, a US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft first demonstrated this concept in the United States by landing on a Michigan highway.

Since then, this ability has been revealed in different ways. Earlier this year, the Army landed several aircraft — including an MC-130J Commando II, an MQ-9 Reaper drone and MH-6M Little Bird helicopters — on a highway in rural Wyoming.

And nontraditional runways also extend beyond the highway. Last summer, the military landed a Reaper drone on a dirt runway in Texas, something A-10s have done before. Air Force special operators are even considering beaches as an option.

Although Thursday’s demonstration in Finland marked the first for the F-35A, it is not the first time an F-35 variant has landed on a highway.

Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets land on a highway.

Lockheed Martin makes three versions of the plane, and the U.S. military has previously performed highway landings with the F-35B, which is a short-take-off, vertical-landing aircraft used by the Marine Corps at smaller airfields and aboard naval vessels. Amphibious assault. For example, the Marines landed an F-35B on the Old Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California in August. The Air Force uses the F-35A, while the Navy and Marine Corps use the F-35C aboard aircraft carriers.

U.S. military officials have said these efforts to use nontraditional airstrips, such as highways, respond to threats that U.S. adversaries — such as Russia and China — could pose to traditional air bases and runways in the event of war.

These demonstrations are “an acknowledgment that our adversaries have watched America’s way of war for several decades and are going to jeopardize our initial and forward operating bases,” the US military said earlier this month. According to previous Insider reporting, Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind is head of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Jake Epstein