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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Blunder shut NATO’s new ‘eye’ in Norway

Last week’s NATO summit was just getting underway when Norway’s defense department had to admit to a big blunder: After spending millions and scarring the landscape of a popular hiking area at Gyrihaugen near Oslo, plans to set up a new NATO radar facility were suddenly scrapped because it would disturb other surveillance systems in the area.

This is what the new radar installation planned for Gyrihaugen was supposed to look like, and be operative by 2025. Now the project, billed as being part of “NATO’s eyes” in the north, has been scrapped, after unspoiled forest was scarred by a new road and other site preparations, because the radar would disturb other installations in the area. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Forsvaret

“It’s a sorry situation that has turned up at Gyrihaugen,” said Lasse Halaas, chief engineer for Forsvarsmateriell, the defense division in charge of purchasing and managing defense material and projects. “Earlier analyses and tests indicated that the radar could be combined with other (surveillance) infrastructure in the area.”

New and allegedly thorough testing of “interference and robustness,” carried out by Norway’s defense research institute FFI proved otherwise. The new radar system planned for Gyrihaugen can’t be placed there after all, since it would disturb other radar installations nearby.

It’s an embarrassing blow to the radar project that’s still supposed to greatly strengthen Norway’s defense capability, and contribute to NATO’s surveillance operations. Project leader Ylva Sneve had confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) just six weeks ago that the Gyrihaugen project would be the first in a new chain of radar systems using new technology “to meet future challenges.” Sneve also told NRK in late May that five of the radar facilities would be installed in new locations around the country, while three existing radar stations would be upgraded.

The view from atop Gyrihaugen is nothing short of spectacular, and the reason why it’s long been a popular goal for hikers and skiers. The view is still there, but the way up to it has been marred by construction that now wasn’t needed. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“It’s important for us that people can still be allowed to hike in the area,” Sneve told NRK, but they wouldn’t be allowed to use drones or photograph the vacility itself. The summit of Gyrihaugen was also set to be fenced off and marked as a military area.

Per Anders Bakke, flag commander and chief of investments for the defense department, claimed that “many security- and risk evaluations were carried out” as the radar project first announced in 2019 proceeded. When the new tests from FFI showed that the planned radar can’t be placed at Gyrihaugen after all, “we have to take the consequences and halt construction,” Bakke said.

That’s happening after a controversial and wide two-kilometer road was built to allow vehicular access to Gyrihaugen’s summit, which has long been a popular destination for hikers and skiers because of its panoramic views towards the mountains of Southern Norway. Leaders of Norway’s chapter of the environmental organization Friends of the Earth, Naturvernforbundet, are not happy.

There’s long been other military installations atop Gyrihaugen, like here in 2009, but the area has remained open and accessible. It still will be, but calls are now going out to repair damage to the nature by the radar project that’s been halted. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“All the destruction (of the local forest) that has occurred is now a complete waste,” Håkon Eide Gundersen of the organization told newspaper Aftenposten. He conceded that it will now be easier for bicyclists to ride up to the summit, but he mourned the loss of “a lot of valuable nature.”

Neither Naturvernforbundet nor other organizations were able to examine or challenge the defense department’s evaluations of locations for the radar. In this case, Gyrihaugen had been chosen as the first in a chain of new radar installations to monitor Norwegian air space from eight various sites in Finnmark, Nordland, Trøndelag, Rogaland, Hedmark and Ringerike. Three of the sites are already established surveillance locations.

The Norwegian government has called the NOK 8 billion project “an important milestone for the Norwegian defense sector” and claimed that the radar would be part of “NATO’s eyes in the north.” Norway is a founding member of NATO and very glad both Sweden and Finland are joining the alliance, since it means all five Nordic countries can now form a much stronger northern flank.

The new radar chain is still supposed to be operative by 2030. The initial Gyrihaugen site was to have been up and running by 2025. Contracts amounting to NOK 70 million had already been signed before the Gyrihaugen portion of the project was halted.

Defense officials claim they’ve had “good and constructive cooperation” with local officials and environmental advisers regarding how the project could have minimal impact. Gundersen of Naturvernforbundet said defense officials are now willing to discuss what happens next, and whether some of the environmental damage can be mended. He said it will take time, however, for the forest to grow back.

The defense department now needs to recommend a new location to replace the Gyrihaugen radar site by September 1. The extra costs tied to the Gyrihaugen cancellation are expected to be covered within the project’s total budget.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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