President Donald Trump's announcement of U.S-made F-52s fighter aircraft delivered to Norway may have rattled its neighbor Russia, the source of rising tension among NATO allies. Was it a secret advanced jet capable of beating its Russian counterparts? A ruse to fool intelligence analysts?
Neither, it turns out. The F-52 is a fictional jet only available to fly if you're a gamer at the controls of "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare."
Trump lauded the sale of the fictional planes alongside Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House on Wednesday, remarking on the very real and growing defense relationship with the U.S.'s northern Europe ally. "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 was reading from a statement, and it appears he combined the figure of 52 planes with the "F" designation assigned to fighter jets in the U.S. inventory, like the F-35 Lightning II. Lockheed Martin, the defense company that produces the aircraft, said on its website that Norway requested a total of 52, with funding set aside by the country to purchase 22 so far, the site says. A trio of F-35s arrived in Norway in November, Reuters reported.
Lockheed Martin did not say if it had an F-52 program in development. That plane, at least in pixilated form, exists in 2014's installment of the popular Call of Duty franchise. In the game, players are at the helm of the jet soaring through a canyon, firing a chaingun and missiles in a scene reminiscent of another fantasy dogfight - the Death Star run in Star Wars' "A New Hope."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not return a request to comment on the issue and did not respond to a question asking whether Trump was a Call of Duty fan. Lockheed Martin and the developer of the game, Sledgehammer Games, did not return requests for comment.
The stealth F-35 is the most advanced jet in the U.S. inventory, honeycombed with sensors and loaded with technology to fulfill its multi-role capability - to defeat other planes but also to provide close air support to troops on the ground, scoop up vital surveillance and conduct electronic warfare attacks.
The jet has been an albatross around the neck of Pentagon acquisition officials, with years of cost-overruns, delays and concerns over pilot safety. The program will cost $1 trillion dollars over its 60-year life span - the most expensive agency program ever. Trump targeted the price tag before he was commander in chief, saying he would save billions, and Lockheed Martin responded with commitments to lower its costs.
Since then, Trump has highlighted the aircraft, saying in September: "When our enemies hear the F-35 engines, when they're roaring overhead, their souls will tremble, and they will know the day of reckoning has arrived." Air Force variants of the plane arrived in the U.K. in April for the service's first overseas operational deployment, with the Marine Corps already fielding them in Japan.
Norway, which shares a maritime and land border with Russia, has relied on the U.S. to bolster its defense in the face of tension in Europe after Russia's incursion into Ukraine in 2014, after its annexation of Crimea. The State Department approved a possible sale of 60 guided air-to-air missiles to Norway in November, an agency release said. Those missiles are compatible with the F-35, which will replace Norway's aging stocks of F-16s.
The country is also home to a rotational force of 300 U.S. Marines training for cold weather and mountainous warfare, mirroring a rotational armored brigade fanned out across Eastern Europe. The head of the Marine Corps told personnel in December that a "big ass fight" was looming while he visited Oslo.
"I hope I'm wrong, but there's a war coming," Gen. Robert Neller told Marines in December. "You're in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence."