Key point: Oslo has a decent military and knows that Russia is a threat. Are its efforts to deter Moscow enough?
Norway’s got a new military strategy. To deter and, in the event of war, defeat Russian forces, Oslo is bolstering its northern garrison and investing in submarines, stealth fighters and surface-to-air missiles.
But the Norwegian government doesn’t plan to replace a navy frigate that ran aground and sank in 2018. That decision alone represents a de facto 20-percent cut to the fleet’s open-ocean surface fleet.
Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg revealed the new strategy in mid-April 2020. The 123-page defense plan cites Russia, and to a lesser extent China, as a major threat. “These are countries where the authorities do not see the value of neither democracy, rule of law, nor the fact that people have undisputed rights,” Solberg said.
To better prepare for war, the government plans to add nearly $2 billion to the existing, eight-year spending plan. Oslo in recent years has spent around $7 billion annually on its 23,000-person military.
As part of the new strategy, the army’s northern brigade will get an additional battalion with several hundred troops. The army also will receive around a hundred new G5 armored personnel carriers from Germany to replace aging, American-made M-113s.
The Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, which fires a version of the U.S. AIM-120 missile, will get a new sensor. Oslo will buy new long-range and short-range air-defense systems to complement the army and air force’s combined force of around 72 medium-range NASAMS launchers.
The navy is getting four new Type 212 submarines from Germany to replace six older boats. Upgrades will prolong the service lives of the fleet’s four Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates and six Skjold-class corvettes.
But the fleet will not replace a fifth frigate, Helge Ingstad, which ran aground and sank in 2018. Salvagers raised the vessel, but the government determined it was not economical to repair her. Losing Helge Ingstad without a replacement amounts to a one-fifth cut to the fleet’s major surface combatants.
It’s not clear how Oslo plans to compensate for this loss. But it should try, the U.S. think-tank RAND advised. “As a major coastal and maritime nation, Norway is dependent on control of sea lines of communication for allied reinforcements as well as economic function,” RAND noted.
NATO officials recommended Oslo at least consider buying unmanned surface vessels, according to RAND. “Given finite resources and the unexpected loss of a frigate in 2018, allied officials highlighted the need to consider how best for Norway to deliver a mix of naval missions – either through different force mixes or other novel (e.g. unmanned) solutions.”
Norway’s new strategy does not alter the air force’s existing plan to acquire 52 F-35A stealth fighters to replace older F-16s plus five P-8 patrol planes to replace P-3Cs. Norway also is buying into NATO’s new fleet of up to nine A330 aerial tankers.
But RAND urged the Norwegian defense ministry to use the F-35s in new ways. “The F-35A represents a significant development not only for Norwegian air power, but also for how situational awareness, low observability and sensor and data fusion can enable future operations across all domains.”
“Allied officials emphasised the need for Norway to continue to experiment with novel [concepts], including by linking the aircraft with land- and sea-based capabilities, to maximise the [F-35’s] full potential.”
David Axe is defense editor of The National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.