Reshaping Norway's Armed Forces

By Cordier, Sherwood S. | Scandinavian Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Reshaping Norway's Armed Forces


Cordier, Sherwood S., Scandinavian Review


Even after the end of the Cold War, Norway's strategic geographic position remains vital to European security and transatlantic links. The country must seek a balance between providing forces for national defense and forces dedicated to international peacekeeping.

DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR NORWAY held a position of strategic significance in the NATO Alliance. Norwegian airfields and naval bases commanded the crucial air lanes and sea-lanes from the United States to Europe. Control of such Norwegian bases assured the flow of American armed forces needed to effectively defend Western Europe. Norway is rather large in area but its population numbers little more than four million. Even so, Norway was able to field impressive armed forces in time of Cold War crisis. Upon mobilization, Norwegian forces could number 240,000 soldiers and 85,000 Home Guards. This array would include 13 Army brigades, 74 fighter planes, 38 fast-missile boats, and 14 small submarines. Comprehensive and detailed organization was required. Every able bodied civilian was assigned a wartime task. Civilian vehicles from helicopters to taxicabs were impressed into service. The basic purpose of Norwegian defense was to hold a Soviet attack long enough for the United States and other NATO allies to come swiftly to Norway's rescue.

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought fundamental changes in the framework within which the Norwegian defense system was designed to function. Reshaping Norway's armed forces in the post-Cold War world has proven particularly difficult and painful. This is true for many reasons. Norwegian defense structure was so totally configured to cope with the highly specific threat of invasion and rescue that change is indeed challenging. Modifying a structure designed to ensure the very survival of Norway is an added dimension of difficulty.

Norway's strategic position does remain vital to European security and transatlantic links. Thus, finding a balance between forces for national defense and forces dedicated to international peacekeeping is hard to do. As the need for territorial defense has receded, the demands of international peace operations have rapidly mounted. Terrorist attacks in the United States emphasize the need to confront the threat of terrorism worldwide. The forces required to cope effectively with these challenges must be highly professional and in constant readiness.

Substantial changes in Norwegian defense policy and the structure of the armed forces have been recommended in far-reaching studies by a Defense Policy Commission and by the Chief of Defense, General Sigurd Frisvold. Issued in June 2000, the two reports became the basis for a Long Term Plan on Defense, 2002-2005. After considerable discussion, a modified defense program was backed by parliament on June 13, 2001.

Military infrastructure will be sharply reduced: 5,000 of 24,000 positions will be eliminated. Wherever possible, duplication in training will be replaced by common training programs. A common logistics organization will serve all three branches. Some headquarters will be disbanded and others consolidated.

The Norwegian Navy will retire four elderly Oslo-class frigates. In 2005, the first of five Fridjtof-Nansen class frigates will enter service. Special funding by parliament was required to meet the expenditure of $1.92 billion for these ships. The first ships will be built in Spain but Norwegian shipbuilders will complete the fourth and fifth ships.

The 5100-ton Nansen is especially constructed for operation in the rough waters of the North Sea and Norwegian Sea. Powered by diesel engines and a gas turbine, the Nansen will feature a maximum speed of more than 26 knots. Anti-submarine warfare is the primary mission of the new frigates. For that purpose the Nansen is furnished with hull-mounted and towed sonar, one medium-size (ten tons) helicopter and anti-submarine torpedoes. For protection against aircraft and missile attack, the Nansen is equipped with a version of the U.

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