Posts tagged ‘Norway’
Baltic to Potomac.
It seems like nearly every day Russia is doing something new to provoke, irritate or worry its Western neighbors, from flying combat aircraft dangerously close to Swedish and Finnish airspace to a senior Moscow official’s recent unannounced and uninvited visit to one of Norway’s Arctic islands.
In response to the potential threat, several Scandinavian nations are planning to increase their defense spending and reaching out to their neighbors across the Baltic Sea for mutual security exchanges. All three of the so-called Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — as well as Poland are NATO members.
Latvian Minister of Defense Raimond Vejonis was in Washington this week, speaking at a think tank and meeting with Pentagon officials. According to a Pentagon spokesman, Vejonis met for about 30 minutes with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work (Defense Secretary Ash Carter was out of town) to discuss “the importance of clear NATO unity against Russian aggression, continued presence of U.S. forces in the region, and ways to work together to better support NATO deterrence measures.”
Work also praised the Latvian government for committing to raise its defense spending to 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (an agreed upon, but sparsely reached, NATO target for member nations) and to increase the size of Latvia’s armed forces from 15,000 to 17,000 by 2018.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington policy institute (April 21), Vejonis said having U.S. and other NATO troops in Latvia for exercises like Operation Atlantic Resolve was helpful but to effectively deter further Russian aggression “we really need a visible NATO presence in the region … on a rotational basis.”
Such a strategy, he said, will keep Moscow from making a dangerous miscalculation because they think NATO is weak after President Vladimir Putin successfully annexed Crimea from Ukraine without a NATO military response. (Ukraine is not a NATO member nation). He noted Russia’s economy “totally depends on its raw materials, especially energy.” And with oil prices slumping, “there is a requirement to deliver military victories to the Russian public to cover [the] economic gap.”
Vejonis added that Russia rebuilt a former helicopter base less just 15 miles from Latvia’s eastern border to house Moscow’s newest combat helicopters. Finland, which also borders Russia, has reported Russia is building new bases and conducting large training activities near the Finnish border.
Eyes on the Bear.
After months of Russian probes, intrusions and military provocations, the countries of Scandinavia have agreed to build closer defense ties among themselves and with the neighboring Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Writing in a joint declaration, the defense ministers of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said Northern Europe must prepare for possible crises or incidents because of Russia, according to a dispatch from Reuters (via Army Times’ Early Bird).
“Russia’s leaders have shown that they are prepared to make practical and effective use of military means in order to reach their political goals, even when this involves violating principles of international law,” the ministers wrote in a joint statement in the daily Aftenposten.
Over the last year, there have been numerous reports of Russia probing Nordic defenses from an underwater vehicle — believed to be a Russian submarine — entering Swedish waters and Russian bomber flights violating Swedish and Finnish airspace. Estonia was hit by a massive cyber attack, believed to be Russian in origin, in 2007. Then there is Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels.
“Russia’s actions are the biggest challenge to the European security,” the ministers said. “Russia’s propaganda and political maneuvering are contributing to sowing discord between nations, and inside organizations like NATO and the EU.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We recommend clicking on the photo above to enlarge it and get the full impact of its technical achievement).
Big Norwegian Exercise.
Thousands of Norwegian soldiers, sailors and airmen are converging on the northernmost county in Norway as part of joint service exercise called “Joint Viking.”
Some 4,000 soldiers and 400 vehicles will take part in the largest winter exercise near the Russian border in almost 50 years. Submarines, surface ships and aircraft will also be part of the exercise
The object of the 10-day arctic exercise that began Monday (March 9) is to perfect a concept called “Joint Operative Arenas,: which fuses several sea-air-land-specific exercises together “in order to give all players an increased outcome,” according to the Norwegian Armed Forces website.
Another, pointed but less direct object of the exercise — the largest near Norway’s border with Russia since 1967 — is to send a message to Moscow. Since the end of the Cold War, Norway (a member of NATO) and Russia have conducted several joint exercises in the Barents Sea region — the latest was in 2013. But with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Norway as ended all military cooperation with Russia, according to the Barents Observer.
Meanwhile, Russia has launched numerous military exercises near the borders of NATO nations — including an air force war game last week over the Barents Sea.
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Oslo’s Arctic Buildup.
As we have said in previous posts, Russia’s new aggressiveness all along its borders with former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries (like Estonia and Ukraine) has provoked several Nordic countries to reevaluate their military spending – particularly on equipment and manpower in the High North.
Norway, for one, is planning on an $8 billion defense budget in 2015. Norway is beefing up manpower and equipment for Arctic combat units as part of the Norwegian Defense Forces’ Smart Defense Strategy. The strategy places a higher priority on Arctic-class specialized equipment procurement and more intensive training for Arctic-deployed units.
According to Defense News, a Joint Operational Command Headquarters “is overseeing the evolution of Norway’s High North defenses into a centralized command and coordinated fighting structure” that will be able to rely on air force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, army battalions deploying CV90 tracked armored infantry fighting vehicles and Archer self-propelled artillery units, naval surface vessels like anti-aircraft and anti-submarine Arctic-class Fridtjof Nansen frigates and Skjold corvettes.
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Congressional Arctic Caucus.
Two U.S. senators are forming an Arctic Caucus in the Senate to focus on building U.S. leadership in the region.
Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said March 4 that she and Maine Independent Senator Angus King are forming the caucus to initiate discussions on a range of issues including defense, energy, environment and trade. “I’m calling on colleagues in the Senate to join me, to step up, to help us not only build out policy initiatives, but really take that leadership role we should be doing as an Arctic nation,” Murkowski said from the Senate floor, adding: “Embrace your inner-Arctic self,” The Hill newspaper reported.
The new caucus comes as the United States is poised next month to begin a two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental group that focuses on cooperation in the region.
King said his priorities include: appointing a U.S. ambassador to the Arctic; ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, examining the need for infrastructure investments — such as building more ice-breakers, evalue tthe challenges of Arctic shipping and how the United States might work cooperatively with Russia on Arctic issues, according to the Portland Press Herald.
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Arctic Sea Ice Melt.
Research shows that Arctic sea ice is not only covering less of the planet, but it’s also getting significantly thinner. That makes it more susceptible to melting, potentially altering local ecosystems, shipping routes and ocean and atmospheric patterns, The Guardian newspaper and other news outlets report.
“New data compiled from a range of sources – from Navy submarines to satellites – suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated, according to a study aiming to link those disparate data sources for the first time,” the Guardian said.
According to the report from the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, the extent of Arctic sea ice is well below average, but it remains to be seen whether March will see a rise or set a record low maximum. “Regionally, Arctic ice extent is especially low in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea. In the Antarctic, sea ice shrank to the fourth highest minimum in the satellite records,” the report said.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the Arctic. “Those interests include national security needs, protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening “international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
Special Ops in the Arctic.
WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.
Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they [special operations forces (SOF)] can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).
To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF regional commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.
Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals.
In 2007, a Russian mini sub deposited a metal Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole. Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, calls for a more aggressive stance toward NATO and boosting its military presence in the Arctic. Those plans include setting up an Arctic Strategic Command and opening 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015.
Sweden has tracked unidentified undersea vehicles – believed to be Russian submarines — violating their territory. In December, a Russian military aircraft flying with radar-evading stealth technology nearly crashed into a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen, Denmark. In April, Russian fighter jets carried out a simulated bombing raid on Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.
Add to these incidents Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and ongoing fighting between Ukraine’s military and Russian-supported separatists and U.S. military leaders and their NATO allies have reasons to be concerned.
“I consider this a current and future challenge for us,” Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, told the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium & Exhibition. He conceded that the harsh Arctic environment poses a different challenge after more than a dozen years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is something we can deal with. While we have engaged in the Middle East, we have not forgotten about the other areas,” Votel said, adding that with industry’s help “I feel confident we would be able to address that relatively quickly.”
On other issues, Votel said the flow of foreign fighters joining the violent extremist organization styling itself an Islamic State “is staggering.” IS (also called ISIS and ISIL) has attracted more than 19,000 foreigners from 90 different countries to fight with them in Syria and Iraq, he noted. Counter terrorism experts at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security worry about the threat these fighters pose when they return home to countries in the West.
Votel said SOCOM and law enforcement were also seeing “a growing nexus” between terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations because the crime groups’ ability to move money, people and weapons across borders is very attractive to terrorists. While officials don’t fully understand how these networks interact yet, what is known is “the more they cooperate, the greater the threat,” Votel said.
The SOCOM commander and Army Ranger added that airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-gathering “remains one of our chief concerns.”
SOCOM is “a global synchronizer of SOF forces, focusing on activities ranging from counter terrorism to foreign internal defense and from unconventional warfare to combatting weapons of mass destruction,” Votel added
ARCTIC NATION: Russia Moving on Arctic Bases; Swedes Hunt Russian Sub; U.S. Focusing on Climate Change
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shogiu says Russia will complete the deployment of military units Russian territory along the Arctic circle by the end of 2014, according to RIA-Novosti.
“We have been very active in the Arctic region lately, and this year we will have a large number of units deployed along the Arctic Circle, from Murmansk to Chukotka,” Shoigu announced at a meeting Tuesday (October 21) with top military brass in Moscow.
Over the past few years, Russia has been pressing ahead with efforts aimed at the development of its Arctic territories, including hydrocarbon production and development of the Northern Sea Route, which is growing importance as Arctic sea ice recedes as an alternative to traditional routes from Europe to Asia.
Attention has been focused on the Arctic by several nations including the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark since the region is believed to have large reserves of oil and gas.
On October 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a NATO presence in the Arctic isn’t necessary, because, he said, there are no problems in the region requiring the alliance’s participation.
Norway, the NATO member closest to Russia in the Arctic, announced two years ago that it wants more soldiers in the north. “Our ambition is a clear NATO footprint in the north,” said State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen of Norway’s Defense Ministry, according to the Barents Observer via Alaska Dispatch News
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Meanwhile, Swedish naval forces have been scouring their territorial waters since last week for what they think may be a Russian submarine.
Since October 17, surface vessels and helicopters 200 service personnel were mobilized along with helicopters, minesweepers and an anti-submarine corvette fitted with stealth-type anti-radar masking, according to The Guardian.
The operation began late on Friday following what Sweden’s armed forces said was a reliable tipoff about something in the Stockholm archipelago, which has 30,000 islands and rocky outcrops around which a submarine could lurk. The officer leading the operation declined to give more details, saying only that there had been no armed contact, according to the British newspaper.
Although officially neutral and not a NATO member, Sweden is no stranger to Russian provocations. Besides the possible submarine, Russian planes have violated Swedish and Finnish airspace in recent months. Against the backdrop of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, Sweden, like other countries, is growing increasingly nervous about what Moscow might do next, according to The Economist.
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Admiral Robert Papp Jr., the special U.S. representative to the Arctic, says climate change will be a main priority for the U.S. when it takes over chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.
During one of his first speeches as the nation’s first Arctic envoy, Papp said the U.S. will be “more active and more forward leaning” when it comes to addressing the impact of climate change in the region, according to The Hill.
“It is imperative to address the effects of climate change before it’s too late,” Papp said during a September 30 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
If it weren’t for the “warming of the Arctic,” said Papp, the former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, no one would be up there exploring, shipping cargo or drilling for oil and gas, which is why the council will need to set more “actionable items and goals.” The U.S. is slated to take over chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Canada next year.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
Needs and Wants, Part III.
TAMPA, Florida – At last month’s National Defense Industry Association’s Special Operations Industry Conference (SOFIC), the generals and admirals who oversee Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Air Force combat controllers and other Special Operations Forces explained what they need to operate in vastly different environments. Today we finish our roundup with a focus on another world region followed by the 4GWAR Blog: The Arctic.
THE HIGH NORTH
“It’s said by some of our European partners that Africa is the challenge for this generation and the Arctic will be the challenge for the next,” said Air Force Major General Marshall Webb, the head of Special Operations Command Europe, one of three three theater special operations commands that share responsibility for the Arctic region. He noted that communications north of the Arctic Circle was “a challenge” for his people “as they operate in that environment.”
He also noted that high tech airborne intelligence gathering and surveillance is important but “the ability to share [ISR] with our European partners is paramount from my perspective.”
U.S. Northern Command’s area of responsibility includes Alaska and Canada. And Pentagon officials have said that as polar sea ice melts — as it has been doing for several years — maritime access will open up in the high north and present a “true strategic approach to the [U.S.] homeland.” Northern Command has been working with Canada to develop communications, maritime domain awareness (both on and under the sea) and infrastructure for safety, security and defense needs.
Rear Admiral Kerry Metz, commander of Special Operations Command-North, said like Africa Command, the Arctic poses communications challenges over vast distances “as SOF [special operations forces] re-engages in extreme cold weather maritime operations — both surface and subsurface.”
Share the Road
In this photo, a Norwegian Leopard 2 tank from the Telemark Battalion, prepares for battle on the busiest main road in North Norway.
Military exercises are normally conducted inside a restricted area far from populated areas. But during Exercise Cold Response, which recently concluded in Norway, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines from 16 nations drove, marched and flew over two counties in the northern part of the country. The 16-day exercise’s area of operations included several towns and villages.
According to the Norwegian Defense Force, the folks of Nordland and Troms counties near the Arctic Circle, have no problem sharing their roads with the military visitors – in fact they welcome the “invasion” of foreigners. Military Police from eight nations helped the Norwegians maintain road safety and kept the Volvos and Saabs separated from the armored vehicles during the sprawling exercise.
Cold Response, which tests the operational ability of participating forces in extreme winter weather conditions, takes place in a geographic area about the size of Belgium. Norwegian troops have been doing this for years and say it prepares them for a rigorous arctic experience.
Click here to see the Swedish Defence Forces Cold Response website (in Swedish, but cool photos).
NOTE: Because the 4GWAR editor will be flying late Thursday/early Friday we are posting this week’s FRIDAY FOTO early.