Northern Europe’s largest air force exercises got underway in the Arctic on Monday, just as Norway’s Northern Brigade also kicked off a military drill in the area as well. The two are not connected and military officials have insisted that Russia should not view such exercises as a provocation.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that the Russians, on the contrary, are ridiculing how US Marines, who have also been training in Norway’s Arctic regions this past winter, experienced rough conditions on the tundra of Finnmark. The weather reportedly came as a shock, they froze and much of their equipment didn’t function as intended in the icy climate.
Russian news bureau Ria Novosti jokingly questioned whether the equipment had been tested in either Hawaii or Florida, while other Russian media, according to Aftenposten’s correspondent in Moscow, claimed it was all a “ridiculous fiasco.” US Marine Corps Major Richard K Ulsh told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the exercises were meant to reveal weaknesses, and that the US equipment will be improved.
The US Marines’ current presence in Norway, through what Norwegian officials call a “rotation” of soldiers based at Værnes near Trondheim, has been controversial. Member of Parliament Kirsti Bergstø of the Socialist Left party (SV) told NRK on Monday that it “doesn’t build much confidence that they were so poorly prepared to be able to defend us if needed.” She claimed that’s “no argument for ongoing exercises so close to the Russian border. They can find snow and cold weather farther south in Norway, too.”
‘Arctic Challenge’ takes off
On Monday, meanwhile, more exercises were launched by Norway, Sweden and Finland in their so-called Arctic Challenge Exercise 2017. It involves more than 1,000 participants and 100 military aircraft from 11 countries, all coordinated by the three host countries. “We invited other allied nations, and interest has been very strong,” Major Vegard Bøthun of the Norwegian Air Force told NRK.
Fighter jets, bombers, transport planes and aircraft geared for electronic warefare will be taking off from Bodø in Norway, Luleå in Sweden and Rovaniemei in Finland in the exercises that will run until June 2. Among them will be an American B-52H bomber, according to NRK, that won’t land at any of the bases but will take part in a specific assignment towards the end of the exercises.
‘Snap drill,’ too
The Arctic Challenge exercises are all separate, however, from a “snap drill” called by the Norwegian Army Sunday evening that involves moving tanks and other military vehicles to the Evenes Airport that serves Narvik and Harstad. “It has nothing to do with the Arctic Challenge exercise,” Lt Col Ole Johan Skogmo of the Norwegian Army told the Kirkenes-based Independent Barents Observer.
The drill, rather, involves around 200 soldiers from Norway’s Northern Brigade who will be moving equipment including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from their camp in inner-Troms County to the Evenes Airport, which will serve as the High North forward base for Norway’s new F35 fighter jets. Skogmo said the tanks and armoured vehicles will return to the camp on Tuesday.
Even more major military exercises are planned for next year, when Norway will host NATO’s high-profile Trident Juncture exercise. It will involve around 35,000 soldiers from as many as 30 countries.