Officer warns of military breakdown

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Years of budget and staff cutbacks have left Norway’s military on the verge of an equipment breakdown, warns a retired commander in the Norwegian Navy. He has told Defense Minister Grete Faremo that battleships and military aircraft may simply stop working.

Hans Christian Kjelstrup had main responsibility for keeping Norway’s submarines ready for action, until he retired at the end of last year. Bare-bones maintenance budgets and personnel, however, made it nearly an impossible task, he told newspaper Aftenposten.

He said he warned top military officials about the maintenance challenges last fall. When he didn’t feel he was being heard, Kjelstrup went to Defense Minister Faremo just before Christmas.

He said his message was that critical comments from the state auditor general (Riksrevisjon) made in 2009 needed to be followed up. More competence throughout the system is needed, he claims, citing an incident in 2006 when only two experts, one of them retired, could solve a problem on board a submarine in trouble in the Mediterranean.

Kjelstrup claims the military is far too dependent on a limited pool of people with the skills needed to keep the fleets in good repair. The auditor general’s report also pointed to a lack of competent military staff, and since then, another 300 positions are being cut.

Vice admiral Jan Eirik Finseth dismissed Kjelstrup’s warnings, calling them “misleading.” Finseth doesn’t think the situation is nearly as bad as described.

“We have greater focus on exactly this issue than we perhaps have ever had, both within the political and military leadership,” Finseth told Aftenposten. He said not all military personnel want to accept the greater role that suppliers of military hardware now have in maintenance.

“A lot of what we did before is now the suppliers’ responsibility, not least required system updates,” he said. He also claimed the auditor general’s report was being taken seriously and would be followed up.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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