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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

‘High priority’ for defense, as tensions and potential threats rise

As Russia’s war on Ukraine grows even more bloody, concerns also keep rising in Norway over its own defense. A recent rash of potential threats tied to Norway’s unpredictable neighbour in the north have sparked more government vows to make defense a high priority, and Norway’s biggest investment in ammunition ever.

Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram (second from right) announced a huge order for ammunition and weapons systems from state-owned firm Nammo on Friday. From left: Nammo leader Morten Brandtzæg, Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, Gram and Rigmor Aasrud, leader of the Labour Party’s delegation in Parliament, where the arms investment has broad support. PHOTO: Forsvarsdepartementet

Both the Norwegian defense- and finance minister took center stage at a press conference Friday where they announced an order for NOK 2.6 billion worth of artillery ammunition from Norwegian arms producer Nammo in Raufoss. It’s the largest such contract on record and will allow Nammo to significantly increase both production and storage capacity.

It also will help Nammo meet demand as countries all over Europe build up their defense forces and need more weapons and ammunition. The company, in which the Norwegian state owns a 50 percent stake, had asked the government for financial back-up and won a response that also has broad support from opposition parties in Parliament. Several leaders of parties from the Conservatives to the Social Left issued statements agreeing that the Nammo deal will be good for both Norway’s own military preparedeness, but also for Norway’s allies and all their efforts to support Ukraine.

Nammo was predictably most pleased: “This contract will give us the assurance to invest (in new weapon and ammunition technology) and create even more jobs,” Nammo chief executive Morten Brantzæg said at the press conference. Most of the work and job creation will take place in Raufoss, located north of Oslo and just south of Gjøvik.

“We think this is a good solution, and a means of continuing to support Ukraine,” said Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram. He claims the contract will further contribute towards strengthening Norway’s own defense preparedness, along with that of allies also keen to place orders.

Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum said the contract was an important part of ensuring Norway’s security. “Through this major investment we’ll build more expertise, and that’s important for the government,” he said, stressing that defense will continue to be a priority. Norway has long been a major weapons producer, with companies like Nammo and Kongsberg winning large contracts and thus aiding efforts to support Ukraine.

Norway has donated weapons and ammunition to Ukraine and helped train Ukrainian defense forces. Defense Minister Gram is shown here visiting Norwegian soldiers at the Rena training base north of Elverum last fall. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Marita I Wangberg

Norway recently announced how it was doubling its own donations of weapons to Ukraine and recently sent 10,000 modern long-range artillery grenades to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia. Norwegian air defense systems from a Norwegian supplier in Kongsberg have also been in action in Ukraine and were received with gratitude: They have warded off many of Russia’s kamikaze drones aimed at Ukraining cities. Norwegian arms donations have been valued at around NOK 6 billion so far with more on the way.

“Ukraine has a right to defend itself,” Defense Minister Gram has said on repeated occasions, dismissing any concern that Russia can use the arms assistance as proof that NATO allies including Norway have become part of the war. “There’s no foundation for any such claim,” Gram told state broadcaster NRK just after New Year. “We are on secure legal ground to support Ukraine with weapons and defense material.”

Concerns have risen, meanwhile, about Norway’s own security and defense, or lack thereof. Its always taken into consideration when arms donations to Ukraine have been made, officials claim, and Norway is now also making defense and preparedness improvements at home. Tests of the country’s nationwide air raid defense system were carried out earlier this week and a new digital emergency warning system is due this winter.

The latest defense boost also comes after another string of perceived threats both before, during and after the Christmas and New Year holidays. Gram claimed just before Christmas that he “wasn’t surprised” by Russia’s announcement, for example, that it was strengthening its defense forces in the northwest, which comprises the area closest to its borders to Norway and Finland. Russia’s defense minister claimed Russia was setting up a “new defense unit” directed at the Nordic region because of Finland’s and Sweden’s decisions to join NATO. It’s important to note, however, that Russia moved many of its troops formerly based in the far north to fight in Ukraine, and may only be making efforts to replace them.

Even air ambulances like this one stationed in Northern Norway have experienced GPS jamming that’s believed to come from Russian sources across the border. PHOTO: Babcock

Other potential threats from Russia have included more GPS jamming of aircraft in Norway’s northernmost region of Finnmark. The GPS jamming, believed to be coming from the Russian side, has long been a problem and often has affected incoming domestic airlines. NRK reported in December that even several air ambulances operating in eastern Finnmark had also been affected by GPS jamming believed to have been carried out by Russia to secure its own airspace against long-range precision weapons.

“We’ve lost GPS signals in eastern Finnmark,” Nikolai Hamre of Babcock, the aviation firm supplying air ambulance service in the area, told NRK, adding, however, that he couldn’t confirm the jamming came from the Russian side of the border.

In early January, meanwhile, NRK reported that the Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov was sailing southbound in international waters but along the Norwegian coast. Norwegian defense forces were reportedly following the vessel’s movements closely as long as it remained close to Norwegian territorial waters.

Norway’s defense department confirmed it was using surveillance aircraft and naval vessels to follow the Russian frigate, which is capable of carrying the new hyper-sonic “Zircon” missile with a speed nine times the speed of sound. The missiles can also be equipped with nuclear weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had used a digital ceremonial launch of what was called the frigate’s “military exercise” as an opportunity to boast of the vessel’s capbilities. Putin called the exercise an “an important, if not extremely important” event and claimed he was “certain” that “such powerful weapons” would make it possible for Russia to “defend itself from possible enemies and secure Russia’s national interests.” The Russian frigate is also due to sail in the Atlantic and Indian oceans and the Mediterranean.

In other cases that have raised concerns, NRK and other Norwegian media have reported how maps of Norwegian sea floor in areas of strategic important have unwittingly been sold to Russian firms, along with information about pipeline infrastructure and technology. An earlier controversial sale of Bergen Engines, with a prime location and access to state secrets through work on Norway’s own frigates, was halted just in time and widely viewed as a huge potential blunder by the former Conservative government.

Military and defense experts have long complained that Norway has been naive in its relations with Russia, underfunded defense for years (also when current NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was Norwegian prime minister) and lacks preparedness for any attack or invasion. Commentators have warned that history is repeating itself and raised questions over whether Norway learned anything from its own occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. Norwegians in general, many have warned in recent months, should be much more scared.

“Norwegians’ understanding of security has been inadequate,” warned Anders Romarheim, leader of the center for international security at Norway’s Institute for Defense Studies, in newspaper Aftenposten last fall. Norwegians, he notes, use the same word (sikker) for both safety and security when they can have very different meanings. He worries Norwegian officials have concentrated too long on “safety” instead of national security, and can blame one another for misunderstandings. Norway has also been accused of relying too heavily on NATO to come to its rescue.

There’s no question that Putin’s invasion of Russia jolted Norway into a new reality, with both business executives and state officials now rushing to improve security, send support to Ukraine, invest in defense systems and end a long ban on supplying any country at war with weapons. The far-left Reds Party remains the only one of nine parties in Parliament still questioning the arms shipments or an investment in ammunition and ammunition exports like the ones announced on Friday.

“The war in Ukraine has created a great need for ammunition and the Norwegian firm Nammo plays a considerable role for NATO countries and in western production of ammunition,” said Defense Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum. “Ensuring the security of the Norwegian population through good preparedness is one of the main jobs for the government. With this order (for ammunition) we contribute both to our national military preparedness and provide access to more western support for Ukraine.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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