Primed & ready: Norway's armed forces in the 21st century

Norway’s thousand-year-old Viking history of raiders plying the North Atlantic in search of plunder may seem far removed from the modern day military. But the governing Norse law of the time, the Gulatingslovi, laid the very foundation for national defence: Every settlement had to provide and outfit a leidangskip, a communal boat to be used to protect Norway’s long coast against rival clans and foreign invaders.

In the centuries that have passed, Norway has continued to rely on its citizenry to serve when called – but society’s collective tax revenue, not individual communities, now pay for the equivalent of the leidangskip, the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates, or the Ula-class submarine. And Norway’s role in an increasingly globalized world extends far beyond the defence of its coastline. The realities of a post-9/11 world require Norway to respond in a variety of roles, with a variety of equipment, virtually anywhere in the world, says Norwegian Minister of Defence Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.

“Action in Afghanistan and Sudan, Asia and Africa are serious reminders of how involved we are in matters of international security, and of how little significance geographical distances now have where our own security is concerned. There is no longer any such thing as ‘far away’,” the Minister says in a broad brush outline of Norway’s military strategy given to the Oslo Military Society in early January, 2008.

Ready to Respond
While Norway is a country of just 4.6 million people, its military is nevertheless well armed with modern weaponry, communications and transportation designed to manage the nation’s unique challenges as an Arctic land with international responsibilities.

Norway’s institutes and industry also play an important part in this successful readiness, whether through the development of new composites to protect soldiers, as is being done at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s SimLab, or new composites and light metals for components and reinforcement, as are provided by Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace AS, Devold AMT AS, and TotAL-gruppen in Raufoss, to the production of traditional products like ammunition, by companies such as Nammo AS. The industry also has strong representation through the Norwegian Defence and Security Industries Association (FSi), which represents more than 100 companies across Norway.

R
esearch is also a priority. The country’s primary defence-related research is conducted at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), an administrative agency subordinate to the Ministry of Defence that acts as the chief advisor on defence-related science and technology to the Ministry of Defence and the Norwegian Armed Forces’ military organization.

The country has allocated roughly NOK 31.5 billion for defence in 2008, and has an annual procurement budget of approximately NOK 14 billion for the purchase of equipment, goods, services and buildings, as well as various construction projects. About NOK 6 billion of this is spent on new equipment, including cutting-edge technologies, developed and supplied in part by Norwegian-based companies.  Roughly NOK 6 billion goes to the purchase of goods and services related to the running of the Armed Services. Another NOK 2 billion is used for building maintenance and new construction projects.

This purchasing power, coupled with willing contractors and cutting-edge research, enables the country to answer a call to aid – or arms – with well-trained, fully equipped soldiers, whose foremost goal is protecting the nation and supporting peace abroad.

KNM Fridtjof Nansen and KNM Narvik together by Marstein lighthouse
© Magne Åhjem


Afghanistan, Kosovo & at Home

While most of Norway’s 23,000 active duty soldiers, officers and affiliated civilian staff serve at home, a number are found in some of the world’s hot spots, in both military and humanitarian roles. Roughly 500 troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, with about 250 of these in the north western part of the country, where they’ve met Taliban fighters in gun battle.

In contrast, just 7 officers are serving in Kosovo, in a mission designed to help the war-torn country. In late May 2008, for example, Norwegian officers helped organize a three-day mock earthquake to allow everyone to practise what to do in the event of a major emergency. “It’s important that crisis and aid workers at all levels know what they should do if a crisis happens. Now everyone has had a chance to practise in the worst possible scenario,” says Colonel Hans-Jacob Rødø, Chief of KIKPC, which is KFOR’s inspectorate for the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC).

Closer to home, the deployment of Norwegian Armed Forces reflects the country’s political agenda, says Bård Bredrup Knudsen, Deputy Director General and Head of Policy Planning for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence’s Department for Security Policy. NATO still has a vital role for collective defence, he says. "Collective defence remains very important as an insurance policy , even though with the lack of any military threat it is not at the forefront of the agenda,” he says. 

But Norwegian troops also contribute to societal security, by offering substantial resources for crisis management and protection of vital public functions and infrastructure, from water supplies to pipelines to transportation, he says. The Police and the Armed Forces’ last major mock terrorist attack exercise held in Oslo featured a scenario in which bombs and poison gas were unleashed in the subway system. “It is the Armed Forces that have the ability to handle chemical and biological weapons, and not the police,” Knudsen says. “That’s a good example of how the Armed Forces are involved in providing societal security.”

Norwegian KFOR soldiers during a crowd control exercise in Kosovo.
© Torgeri Haugaard
All Eyes Norh
When the Stoltenberg Government took the reins of power in 2005, politicians agreed that one of the nation’s top priorities was the high north, including the Barents Sea and the areas around Svalbard and Jan Mayen Land. It’s an area that has long been important to the country because of its rich fishing grounds, and more recently, as a new source of oil and gas. In fact, fully 25% of the world’s remaining petroleum resources are thought to lie in the Arctic.
 
At the same time, climate change is melting the Arctic ice cover, transforming the Arctic Ocean into an open highway to northern natural resources. For all these reasons, it’s vitally important for Norway to maintain a northern presence, the Defence Ministry’s Knudsen says. “Just by having military forces in the north is a way for Norway to make a statement about our ability and willingness to defend our interests and rights in case they are challenged,” he says.
 
The Norwegian Coast Guard, which is a part of the Norwegian Navy, has among its fleet a ship capable of towing a 100,000-tonne tanker, and an icebreaker that can slice through 4 metre-thick ice. The country absolutely must have this capacity, Knudsen says. “What would happen if a fully loaded 100,000 tonne tanker had engine failure off of Finnmark?” Knudsen asks. “It could be an ecological disaster. We have to have substantial towing capacity in the north.”
 
The Norwegian military also shares its cold-weather expertise with its own troops and allied forces through its Centre of Excellence for Cold Weather Operations, based in Stavanger. The Centre works with a network that is comprised of the Allied Training Centre South, Allied Training Centre North, the School of Winter Warfare, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and the Norwegian Armed Forces Medical Services. In February 2008, for example, the Norwegian School of Winter Warfare hosted military personnel from Great Britain in an adventure training session, which focused on cross-country ski skills and basic winter training.
 

Vigilance, Food & Shelter
But maintaining vigilance over northern lands and waters presents a considerable challenge: Norway’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and other ocean areas in which Norway enjoys sovereign rights are fully seven times larger than the country’s land area. That’s where cutting-edge technology comes in, particularly in the areas of remote sensing and satellite technology. Kongsberg Satellite Services, or KSAT, provides near real-time access to high-resolution satellite data from side aperture radar (SAR), which can peer through the thickest fog. The satellite imagery is particularly useful in oil spill detection, monitoring ships, and showing sea ice conditions – which can be critical for ships in the Arctic Ocean, or for oil platforms or structures in ice-prone areas.
 
Maintaining a presence in the north also requires attention to more down-to-earth challenges, such as clothing and equipment. Norwegian forces need to be able to operate in harsh weather or extreme cold, and Norwegian industry has responded to this demand. Companies such as Norsk Forsvarsmateriell AS (NFM) provide state-of-the-art clothing and equipment, particularly for armour and camouflage, while companies such as Equipnor AS supply name-brand specialized outdoor gear for military use.
 
Whether in northernmost Norway or in the remotest areas of Afghanistan, military forces need food and shelter. Drytech AS provides dried, vacuum-packed foods for field use that meet NATO requirements, while TAM AS provides lightweight, well-insulated mobile and semi mobile shelters. Rofi AS specializes in soft shelters and protection solutions, such as tents, body armour and lightweight ballistic protection for vehicles. The company’s shelters include everything from field hospitals and command post tents to simple accommodations, many of which are specialized for arctic conditions.
 
Prowling the Seas
Think of them as the modern day Leidangskips: Norway currently operates 6 Ula class submarines that prowl the murky depths of Norwegian territorial waters, along with Fridtjof Nansen class frigates – of which there will be five by 2010, when the last ship is due to be delivered. The Government’s investment in the new frigates, at NOK 21 billion, is so far the largest ever investment made by the Norwegian military, although the planned purchase of new combat aircraft will be considerably more expensive.
 
Norwegian submarines and fast patrol boats regularly serve as a part of NATO standing forces in the Mediterranean, for example, to guard against the illegal transfer of weapons or goods. Norwegian companies have stepped up to offer the kinds of specialized services these far-flung and complex assignments require.
 
In early May 2008, for example, Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace signed a NOK 179 million contract with the Armed Forces' Logistics Organisation for the delivery of a new Combat System Integration Infrastructure, a new passive sonar system and the upgrading of a tactical simulator for Norway's six Ula Class submarines.
 
Electronicon AS supports the Norwegian Navy with maintenance, engineering solutions, platform integration and maritime electronics, particularly sonar and radar, while companies such as Comrod AS and AnCom AS provide antennas and systems for marine and defence use. With 2,500 employees in 11 countries, Norwegian-based Kongsberg Maritime is the world’s largest manufacturer of marine electronics, including for underwater navigation, telemetry and echo sounder and sonar technology. 

Vehicles are brought over open water during the Cold Response 2007 winter exercise.
© Torbjørn Kjosvold

Ruling the Skies
The Royal Norwegian Air Force is entering a new phase in its patrol and defence of Norwegian airspace: by the end of 2008, the Government will have selected a replacement for the country’s 57 F-16 fighter jets, which first went into service in 1980 and are due to be retired in 2020. The country is evaluating two options, the Swedish JAS Gripen, and the American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
 
Fighter jets, of which two permanently are on standby 24 hours a day with a 15-minute reaction time, are seen as a critical part of the Norwegian military strategy, particularly in the northern part of the country, where last year Norwegian pilots identified 80 Russian aircraft flying in international airspace south along the Norwegian coast. The purchase of the new generation of jets is expected to top NOK 40 billion, which will make it the largest purchase in the history of the Norwegian military.
 
While the fighter jets are the largest purchase, they are not the only ones. Norway’s entire fleet of 6 C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, first put into action in 1969, has been retired and replaced with a new transport aircraft —the very latest of the Hercules family. The first of the new transports was delivered in November 2007, while the last of the old Hercules had its final flight in May 2008.
 
The Air Force also calls on other aircraft or helicopters for operations in areas such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Lithuania and Afghanistan. The Air Force’s P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft operated out of Italy to help patrol the Mediterranean as a part of Operation Active Endeavour. Three DA-20 Jet Falcons, 15 SAAB Safari training aircraft, 18 Bell 412 SP helicopters, 12 Sea King Mk 43 search and rescue helicopters and 6 Lynx Mk 86 coast guard helicopters also form a part of the stable of craft available.
 
The air fleet is also due to modernize, with the Air Force awaiting delivery of 14 NH-90 helicopters with a price tag of NOK 5.8 billion, which will operate from the Navy’s new Fridtjof Nansen frigates and the large ocean-going Coast Guard ships with helicopter capability. A number of companies help the Air Force in supplying and maintaining its aircraft, including Heli-One (Norway), a division of the world’s largest helicopter group, CHC Helicopter Corp.
 
Topping off the Air Force’s capabilities are six 6 NASAMS II (Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) batteries. This weapon system is modular, flexible, developed in Norway, and is the only system known in the world that can take out cruise missiles.

A Norwegian F16 prior to a mission over Afghanistan.
© Lars Aamodt CCT

The Chip Revolution
Developments in electronics, communication and computer technology have revolutionized modern society over the last two decades, and the military is no exception. “We’re talking about a ‘chip’ revolution that colours everything,” Knudsen says. “The Internet, mobile phones – all these things have transformed our lives. These new technologies are employed by the military as well. There are many new possibilities, new generations of weapons systems, but they are expensive.” 

Norway’s chief purveyor of ammunition and missile products is Nammo AS, located in the Raufoss Industrial Park. Nammo AS is one of the world’s leading suppliers of ammunition and missile products, including smart programmable airburst ammunition, hydro-ballistic mine clearance ammunition, and propulsion systems and warheads for missiles such as the NSM, ESSM, IRIS-T and Exocet Bloc 3. The company also offers the environmentally friendly disposal of conventional ammunition and bombs, with a full range of services from full disassembly and recycling to thermal treatment that meets the strictest European air pollution regulations. 

Perhaps the most visible aspect of the technological revolution is in advanced telecommunications options, whether delivered by giants such as the Thales Group, whose Norwegian offices provide state-of-the-art cryptographic products, military message handling and soldier networks, or companies such as Nera Networks AS, which specializes in wireless network solutions for strategic communication infrastructures. Teleplan AS provides C4ISR system solutions and crisis management systems, and Tinex AS offers a Defence Technology branch that works with secure and open systems radio communications, radar, command and control systems, and satellite-based C3I systems. Kitron AS designs and manufacturers defence and marine electronics, including electronics for harsh and exposed environments.

Other areas where technology has made significant inroads are in optics and information technology. Simrad Optronics ASA is a top supplier of military electro-optical instruments, including laser rangefinders and target locaters, laser gun sights and night sights and night vision goggles. Jotne EPM Technology AS develops database solutions for sharing and storage of complex information, whereas Applica AS offers systems integration, software and hardware development, and EMC compatibility consulting.

The technological revolution has also allowed manufacturers to design equipment and systems that are intuitive to use and require a minimum of personnel to operate, which are perfect for Norway’s active duty forces, whose numbers have dropped over the years, but whose training and equipment has increased in sophistication and utility.

One example of this is Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace’s SL (Surface Launched)-AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) System, which is delivered through the country’s NASAMS batteries. Since 2004, NASAMS has been earmarked by the Norwegian armed forces to be deployed in support of international crisis management operations.

All of this equipment and training enables Norway’s Armed Forces respond to a broad variety of tasks and missions. That’s how Defence Minister Strøm-Erichsen wants it. “We must ensure the visibility of our capability and our will to defend ourselves. Maintaining a presence can of itself serve to emphasise policy and behaviour,” she says in her speech to the Oslo Military Society. “And we must, to quote the Defence Commission, be able to raise the military threshold to such a high level that ‘no rational adversary would be able to impose its will on Norwegian authorities without resorting to a use of force that would be totally unacceptable to the global community and to the Alliance’.”

Loading missiles during the test firing of NASAMS II at Andøya in 2007.
© Jon Anders Skau

Related articles

Latest articles

Ship Energy Efficiency: The Fourth Wave

Shipping has seen three waves of energy efficiency trends since 2007. The latest buzz is the Big Data revolution.

Sustainable Fish Farming Solutions: From Feed to Egg

The challenge of rising fish feed and sea lice costs is stimulating new sustainable technology solutions in Norwegian aquaculture. In the future, producers might raise salmon in egg-shaped offshore farms.

Standardization Key During Low Oil Price

The Norwegian petroleum industry is focusing on standardized solutions, inspired by Formula One and Lego, to help tackle rising field development costs.

Blue Growth for a Green Future

The Norwegian government recently launched its new maritime strategy “Blue Growth for a Green Future” aimed at keeping the country’s second largest export industry competitive and sustainable.

New Development Licenses Spur Ocean Farming

Norway has initiated free development licenses to spur new technology concepts to tackle the aquaculture industry’s acreage and environmental challenges. Many of the applicants are innovative ocean farms.

Bucking the trend: Norwegian Shelf Still Attractive

The Norwegian Continental Shelf continues to be attractive even amidst the low oil price environment. Statoil’s giant Johan Sverdrup oil field development is just the latest example.

British Showing Great Interest in “Frozen at sea”

The British are the world’s largest consumers of cod. 70 percent is used in the “fish and chips” market. Lately several Norwegian owners of trawlers have discovered the British market for the “frozen at sea” concept.

The many reasons to choose Norwegian seafood

There is an ongoing debate regarding the pros and cons of eating wild or farmed fish, or, in fact, eating seafood at all. In this article we look at the arguments for and against wild and farmed fish. Seafood is not just a...

New Ways to Enhance Oil Recovery

Norwegian companies are testing more advanced ways to enhance oil recovery, everything from converting shuttle tankers to stimulate wells and springing titanium needs inside liner holes to open up tight formations.