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Transformation – the ultimate defence upgrade

A "transformed" North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a changed United Nations and the altered global threat picture have the world's armed forces scrambling to keep up. Many wish they had Norway's choices: by some estimates, this oil-rich nation of 4.6 million...

New warships and aircraft highlight an ongoing refit which will include transfers of defence technology. A focus on real-world relevance and force flexibility has high-tech training schools replacing far-flung military bases, as physical infrastructure gives way to a high-tech communications network centred on the Far North but connected to NATO, the UN and Europe.

The core of NATO’s European transformation since 2001 – the Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) in Stavanger, Norway – is now fully operational just outside the laid-back coastal city. It is here that NATO commanders learn to communicate within the alliance while mastering the operational arts of modern warfare.

New alliance officers from Eastern Europe, Afghanistan-bound NATO staffs and harried Iraqi military leaders visit the JWC, where they learn how technology can direct the “sharp end” of a military stick.

Modernizing the “sharp end” is the subject of a current analysis of Norway’s defence needs which will end in 2007. A year later, politicians will decide the future shape of the armed forces, although much ordered has already arrived.

Enviable Choices

While never focused on numbers – counts of ships, planes, troops or installations – Norwegian military planners are nevertheless keen to get the most bang for the buck as the military is retooled.

A focus of the current defence analysis is which all-round military jet best suits the policy objectives. A possible 48-plane order and work for hundreds of Norwegian defence contractors is at stake, as is sharing in R&D of the highest order.

The Defence brass wants a multi-role interceptor, while Norwegian suppliers say any choice of Lockhead Martin’s Joint Fighter programme (JSF), the Eurofighter or the Saab Gripen should involve Norwegian technology. The Nordic country is known for its sensors, communications and controls, and the home industry also seeks a platform for Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and Nammo ammunition.


“It’s the industrial exchange and the repurchase agreements which are different, especially between the European candidates and the JSF F-35,” Undersecretary for Defence, Espen Barth Eide, says.

The Norwegian government renewed in May 2006 an agreement to keep funding the JSF programme’s “development and demonstration”. In December 2006 a deal between NATO nations is expected to assign the plane’s component builders.

Norwegians must decide between the apparent industrial upside of the American JSF or the partially Norway-funded Eurofighter Typhoon programme. In the Swedish Gripen, Norway would get the most modern fighter now in operation, while the JSF is seen as evolving over 40 or 50 years.

Whatever Norway’s choice, up to NOK 38 billion could help phase out the capable F-16 by 2020.

Force Projection

At sea, 1960s-era Norwegian frigates are now being retired in favour of five, ultra-modern Fridtjof Nansen-class vessels worth NOK 16.7 billion. The frigates’ complement of NH-90, anti-submarine helicopters could be worth NOK 2.4 billion.

The sleek lines of the first Nansen-class vessel drew large crowds in Oslo Fjord when it steamed in during the summer of 2006. Four more of these stealthy, electronics-laden ships will be delivered by 2009, complete with AN/SPY-1(F) multi-functional radar, anti-submarine torpedoes and mines, plus the Norwegian-developed NSM. Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace test-fired the contour-hugging anti-ship missile at the Naval Air Weapons Centre at Point Mugu, California in the summer of 2006.

The 5,300-tonne warships bring sensors and weapons systems into new areas of operational importance, like the Barents Sea. Satellite communications relays and extended marine surveillance promise a greater range of missions, including help boarding and inspecting to stop illegal fishing.

The frigates are a triumph of a Norwegian home industry which traces involvement in the frigate designs to 1996. In 1997, a tender went out to nine international yards, including the Norwegian Noreskort-Gruppen and Spain’s Navantia yard. The latter built the first Nansen.

Seaborne Screen

As Norwegians savoured their new frigate, events in the Mediterranean showed the utility of fast naval craft. Israel’s military actions in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 were accompanied by a naval blockade enforced mostly by corvettes.

The blockade coincided with one of the largest maritime evacuations since World War II, as parts of Beirut came under attack. Since a UN force would be needed to safeguard a truce once Israeli ships lifted their blockade, Norway agreed to rapidly shift four motor torpedo boats from NATO anti-terror assignments near Gibraltar to the Lebanese coast.

The move revealed a new NATO and Norwegian command flexibility matched only by the navy’s new operational speeds. The 4,000-strong Royal Norwegian Navy now boasts the fastest warship in the world – the 60-knot, hard-to-detect Skjold-class MTB.

Among Skjold features are gas turbines and water jets for propulsion; towed, anti-submarine radar decoys and a new Multi-Ammunition Softkill System (MASS) for up-close, anti-terror defence. The MASS allows for a choice of ammunition, including non-lethal and anti-missile types. Six Skjold-class MTBs will enter service by 2010 for an estimated cost of NOK 4.6 billion.

Theatre Demands

NATO assignments outside the Cold War Europe theatre and new UN rules of engagement demand a flexible approach, as missions diversify.

Afghanistan – where insurgents show new strength – is Norway’s biggest force commitment in battalion strength. To bolster the International Security Assistance Force, some 480 Norwegians form a special-forces company and the field hospital and provincial reconstruction team it protects.

The NATO mission has a clear UN mandate, but it demonstrates how peacekeeping is now often about “peacemaking” with humanitarian and stability aims.

“Today’s UN operations are considerably more integrated and robust than those of a decade ago. And more often than previously they are covered by a Chapter VII mandate which allows the use of force other than in self-defence, something which has proved to be essential,” says Norwegian Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.

Despite the vast, mountainous terrain at Mazar-e Sharif and Maymaneh in the north, the Norwegian rapid reaction force in Afghanistan has acquitted itself well. Success on the ground, however, has brought calls from allies for Norway to expand its commitment to the Afghan south, where a NATO force of 15,000 faces the resurgent Taliban.

Relevant & Flexible

When UN missions fail, insufficient force for the job is often blamed, as in recent UN retreats from the Ivory Coast and Sudan.

In the case of Sudan, NATO’s airlift of Norway-funded African Union troops salvaged a UN mission in trouble. As the UN as of this writing negotiates the placement of a new force in Darfur, southwestern Sudan, a rapid reaction might again be called in. It might be a European reaction force with a Scandinavian contingent, for which Norway has offered a military staff.

The governing coalition said it will increase force contributions to UN operations, of which 18 are in progress. Despite its setbacks in Rwanda and Bosnia, the UN can boast free elections in Liberia, Congo and a truce in Sudan.

Norway has contributed some 30 medics, military staff and observers to the UN mission in Darfur.

Data Fusion

In Bosnia, integrated Norwegian intelligence and planning staffs have served the Europe-lead Althea force since the NATO-lead stabilization force was handed over in 2004.

Lessons learned keeping Balkan peace, like lessons learned fighting terrorism, become NATO teaching tools back at the JWC in Norway; at NATO’s Transformational Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and at the alliance’s operational HQ in Mons, Belgium.

Data provided by units of the Norwegian ISTAR Battalion – or Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-Acquisition and Reconnaissance – help NATO, European and Norwegian commands build a picture of regional threats. The Norwegian forces’ rapid modernization is geared toward fusing satellite data with that of its allies. Such information will help smaller, more potent forces deploy where they’re needed.

To build a picture of the tactical battlefield, Norway will spend one billion kroner on fact-finding, unmanned aerial vehicles. Action in Afghanistan has shown their ability to identify threats on the battlefield and to risks for troops protecting aid convoys or enforcing ceasefires.

Northern Exposure

For the Norwegian Armed Forces, satellite-based communications and new coastal radar assist in the assertion of sovereignty in the Far North. Rich cod banks and undiscovered oil and gas mean the Barents Sea can quickly become an area of contention.

Two-way data links of the type that connect NATO commanders help Norwegian forces collect and integrate data on traffic in the extreme north. A new Regional Headquarters North is now a national crisis management centre. Add to that a new Centre of Excellence for Cold Weather Training, and you begin to understand why NATO insisted Stavanger also host the Joint Force Training Centre. The Stavanger region is also a centre for Norwegian air-traffic control and a worldwide search and rescue command centre with superb satellite links.

The Norwegian Armed Forces’ transformation has brought Norway closer to NATO, Europe and a world of trouble. “The world is changing,” Strøm-Erichsen says, adding, “Defence in our time is about being flexible.” In other words, whether protecting natural resources or reacting rapidly for the UN, the “sharp end” will henceforth arrive with great speed and pinprick accuracy.