The world’s biggest warship has continued to be at the center of more military exercises in and around Norway, most recently in the rough northern seas of the Vestfjord. The action is meant to both train NATO forces and send a message to Russia, while Norway’s defense chief prepares to deliver a new plan to make Norway more self-reliant.
The huge aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford sailed after nearly a week in Oslo north to the Vestfjord between Bodø and Lofoten. Norway’s Army, Navy, Air Force and special forces, along with the Ford itself, were put under the command of NATO (which was holding a meeting in Oslo) while exercises began with other maritime forces from allied countries.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) confirmed lots of flight activity as well in areas over the fjord where a no-fly zone had otherwise been ordered. The exercises, called “Arctic Challenge” were due to run until June 9, while another set of US-led exercises called “Formidable Shield 23” have been going on off Norway’s northern island of Andøya and off the Hebrides in Scotland. The latter, involving 13 NATO member countries, were aimed mostly at testing integrated missile and air defense at sea and from land.
Bård Ludvig Thorheim, a member of the Norwegian Parliament for the Conservative Party, is among those noting how all recent shows of force are meant to send a message to Moscow regarding NATO’s defense capability. “They’re surely following all this closely,” Thorheim told NRK while visiting the US aircraft carrier just before it left Oslo, “but that’s part of the point. “We’re demonstrating that we have the willingness and the ability to defend ourselves in strategically important areas of the north.”
Norway’s Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen, meanwhile, is making urgent calls for the Norwegian government to further expand and improve Norway’s own preparedness in the case of any attack. A government commission recently pointed out inadequacies, just in time for Kristoffersen to follow up later this week with a long wish list of his own.
Kristoffersen is expected to resume calls for far more helicopters instead of tanks and an emphasis on missiles and anti-aircraft defense systems. Newspaper Aftenposten recently reported that he also wants an entirely new fleet of vessels for the Norwegian Navy.
General Kristoffersen’s own message is that Norway must be able to defend itself in the event of war, on its own and before NATO forces arrive to join in the defense. That’s why all the current NATO exercises are going on but also to better train Norwegian forces to fight back on their own. In order to do that, they need lots of new equipment and ammunition. For example:
*** Norway hasn’t replaced one of its only five frigates since it collided with a tanker and sank nearly five years ago. Now Kristoffersen wants a fleet of up to six new frigates plus six new submarines.
*** The defense chief also wants a new fleet of up to 20 other warships made up of just two types of standard vessels, four large and 16 smaller.
*** Also on Krisfoffersen’s wish list, according to Aftenposten, is much more fire power including new missiles; long-distance surface-to-air missiles capable of hitting targets far away. He’s also calling for rapid build-up of drones, also those capable of carrying weapons.
Kristoffersen is also responding to the government’s own commission’s recommendation for correcting structural weaknesses in today’s defense. All branches of the Norwegian armed forces need to better retain talented officers and on-duty personnel, improve recruitment, improve operational capability, increase ammunition supplies and vastly improve response capability to digital attacks.
Russia’s invasion of Urkaine has been the proverbial wake-up call and vastly changed priorities. After years of post-Cold War build-down of armed forces, it’s time to build up again, not least since Russia’s most important base for strategic submarines on its portion of the Kola Peninsula is only 10 kilometers (six US miles) from the Norwegian border.
There’s little doubt that all the recent military activity and last week’s NATO meeting of member countries’ foreign ministers in Oslo is aimed at prodding the Norwegian government to keep boosting defense spending and get serious about the country’s self-defense. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and his Labour-Center government are under pressure to follow through on repeated calls for defense improvements.
“This isn’t meant to be escalation, but rather a form of ‘signalization’ to Russia,” wrote commentator Sverre Strandhagen in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “The presence of a US aircraft carrier is never coincidental, and it’s always prepared if the Putin regime tries to mount any form of provocation.”
Given the currently high tensions with Russia, Strandhagen noted how the US also used an aircraft carrier (the first USS Enterprise) during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. “There are some historic chills to all this,” he wrote. Use of the Enterprise marked “a dramatic high point” during the Cold War, when the super powers could have set off a nuclear war. “We may be near that again,” Strandhagen wrote.