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Norway, NATO, F35s, P8s and AIP Subs.....and much much more


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"How Norway is Transforming its Armed Forces

At a time of increasing global uncertainty, the Norwegian government is in the process of upgrading its Armed Forces – across the various services – as outlined in a Ministry of Defense white paper, The Long Term Plan, or LTP, which was released in June 2016.

The LTP builds on the recognition that NATO and the transatlantic security community remain the cornerstone of Norwegian security and defense policy. As part of that effort, Norway is in the process of making significant military upgrades. By purchasing mostly U.S. state-of-the-art military technologies for its across-the-board defense upgrades, Oslo intends to use its enhanced capacities to remain relevant for NATO, as it seeks to provide cutting edge intelligence and situational awareness of the North Atlantic region.

The white paper also serves as a necessary correction that reverses decades of underfunding of the Armed Forces. It represents a historic increase in defense spending. In total, the government recommended increased funding over the course of the coming 20 years of $18.7 billion.

While the government implemented the LTP, it reached an historic agreement in October 2016 with Washington to host 330 U.S. Marines at the Værnes Air Station in central Norway. Under the agreement, the Marines arrived in January 2017 as part of the Marine Rotational Force-Europe, a program that temporarily bases U.S. troops with NATO partners in order to improve joint interoperability and boost the alliance’s ability to respond quickly to crises. Their arrival is not linked to the LTP, but the Marines will inevitably provide symbolic protection against any security gaps that may arise while Norway carries out the ambitious transformation of its Armed Forces.

The Threat

Russia’s newly upgraded class of nuclear-powered submarines are a strategic threat to Norway, as they are increasingly difficult to detect. And its Northern Fleet, which is its largest, operates within Russian territorial waters in and around the Kola Peninsula, right off the Norwegian border. Moscow’s new attack submarine is estimated to be the most dangerous threat to NATO, as it can travel vast distances and at great speed with little risk of being detected.

For instance, during a conflict, the combination of three Russian nuclear submarines blocking the so-called GIUK gap (Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom) would not only put Norway behind enemy lines and potentially prevent NATO from coming to its rescue, but would also make it harder for the U.S. Navy to come to Europe’s aid. Under such a scenario, Moscow could deploy a class of nuclear submarines further into the Atlantic, first to protect its fleet already operating within the GIUK gap, and second to sink any U.S. reinforcements coming to assist Europe. This is a scenario that NATO policy planners fear given Moscow’s decision to upgrade its various submarine fleets.

At the same time, Norway successfully maintained throughout the Cold War a pragmatic relationship with its mighty Russian neighbor, with which it shares a 122-mile border. And in 2010, it even reached a demarcation agreement with Russia that seeks to strengthen neighborly relations and enhance predictability and stability in the area. Oslo, however, understands that without its U.S. security guarantees, it would be unable to maintain a pragmatic relationship with Moscow.

LTP Implementation: Phases 1-3

Phase 1 is ongoing, with its completion expected in 2019.  As part of that process, military facilities – notably Ørland Main Air Station and Evenes Air Station – will be upgraded so that Norway can receive and accommodate allied reinforcements at a time of crisis but ahead of a military conflict.

The LTP’s Phase 2 focuses on the need for enhanced training and exercises of the Armed Forces and their increased presence in the larger North Atlantic region, which Norway considers its sphere of interest. This is of outmost strategic importance to Norway, as its troop presence throughout the North Atlantic combined with regularly scheduled exercises, including with allied forces, will ensure that no power vacuum develops. Within this context, the LTP’s Phase 2 envisions that regularly scheduled exercises are to be considered the norm and not an exception. Moreover, interoperability among allied forces and allied presence in Norway through exercises and training remain key components of its overall efforts to maintain a credible deterrence. Phase 2 is expected to be implemented in 2018.

Phase 3 focuses on investments in new defense systems, including in new submarines; the F-35 fleet; the P-8 fleet; a comprehensive air defense system; surveillance; and enhanced intelligence. Significant investments have been allocated for this phase and Norway will, under the LTP, increase defense spending every year, gradually. Phases 1-3 of the white paper seek to strengthen Norway’s capabilities as an important and reliable ally for both Washington and NATO.

Submarines & Maritime Surveillance

To enhance its deterrence against Russia, Oslo recently chose Germany’s ThyssenKrupp (TKMS) to deliver four submarines to its navy to replace its current Ula-class. The new fleet – which will have the Air Independent Propulsion – is expected to become operational between 2025–30. In the meantime, Norway’s current fleet has been upgraded in order to prevent any gap in capability.

In late November 2016, Oslo announced its intentions to purchase five P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircrafts designated for anti-submarine warfare from The Boeing Company as part of an effort to enhance Norway’s deterrence against Russia’s newly upgraded class of nuclear-powered submarines. The P8, however, is merely about surveillance, but it posses the additional strategic capability of launching torpedoes targeting submarines.

Norway’s current fleet of P3-Orion maritime surveillance aircraft (manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp.) will remain in service until the arrival of the five P8 planes, which are expected to be operational between 2020-2021. Once operational, the P8 will operate out of Evenes Air Station in the northern part of Norway.

In addition to the planes, Norway’s planned purchase covers a large collection of equipment, including radios, radar, missile warning sensors, and 2,000 AN/SSQ-125 Multi-Static Active Coherent Source Sonobouys, launched from the plane to help track submarines.

Within its Northern Fleet, Russia is believed to maintain between 5-10 operational KILO-class diesel electric submarines; between 5-10 operational SSN-submarines that could be used as nuclear attack submarines; and between 5-10 operational SSBN-nuclear-powered submarines with ballistic missiles – capable of reaching Norway and continental Europe - serve as a strategic asset operating within waters in and around the Kola Peninsula. In light of Russia’s struggling economy, suffering from the combination of the sharp decline in global energy prices and Western sanctions targeting its financial sector, Moscow is believed to have invested its scarce limited resources towards upgrading its submarine fleet and is therefore not expected to be able to make significant expansions to its navy.

Whether the combination of the P-8 and new submarines will be a game changer within the North Atlantic vis-à-vis Russia is unclear. But through its upgraded naval capabilities, Norway is uniquely positioned to provide Washington with much needed naval deterrence against Russia and stands out as a model of proper burden sharing. This, along with Oslo’s ability to provide Washington with cutting edge intelligence and enhanced situational awareness of Russia’s Northern Fleet and its modus operandi enhances its standing as a particularly relevant ally.

Air Defense

As of January 2017, Norway’s P3-Orion fleet does not enjoy any air defense protection; Norway’s seven Air Force bases only have limited air defense capability provided by the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS), a system jointly developed by Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace and The Raytheon Company. Under the LTP, Ørland Main Air Station and Evenes Air Station will be prioritized for future F-35 and MPA operations, while less relevant airbases will be closed down. Efforts are presently underway to strengthen the air defense capabilities for the two prioritized bases as they will respectively host the P8 (Evenes) and the F-35 (Ørland). While no systems have been selected yet, an integrated and multilayer system will be installed prior to the respective arrivals of the aircraft.

The government has separately requested a joint study from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on how Norway can contribute to NATO’s ballistic missile defense. A report is expected in late 2017.

A comprehensive and integrated air defense is not only critical for protecting all of the Armed Forces’ upgraded capabilities as targeted in the LTP, but it provides the necessary protection required for allied forces to come to Norway’s defense in the event of a crisis.

The Joint Strike Fighter (F-35 Lightning II)

In anticipation of the arrival of the F-35, extensive construction work at Ørland Air Station is well underway and preparations for construction work at Evenes Air Station has started, including the air defense systems.

The government has so far committed itself to purchasing 28 Join Strike Fighter jets out of a total requirement of 52, which together with the necessary support equipment and training is estimated to cost $8.4 billion. Deliveries are expected to be completed by 2024, with initial operating capability in 2019 and Full Operating Capability in 2025. Norway also intends to maintain four F-35s at Luke Air Force Base to train pilots; the remaining 48 jets will be stationed in Norway. Oslo’s investment in the F-35 program is the single largest defense investment in its history.


The LTP outlines the government’s commitment to strengthen its intelligence services for the timeframe of 2017-2020 and seeks in the process to increase its capacity, relevance, and competence within its area of responsibilities. These investments center on acquiring new technologies, including for geospacial intelligence and surveillance purposes and will be part of a broader infrastructure development. For 2017, the government has allocated $0.84 billion for its intelligence services.

U.S.-Norwegian intelligence cooperation centers on Norway’s geographic location, which enables it provide Washington with enhanced situational awareness of the North Atlantic region. Intelligence sharing also extends to counter-terrorism cooperation and managing risk pertaining citizens who have joined terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere.


Even with the significant boost in defense spending as outlined by the LTP, Norway won’t reach NATO’s 2 percent target of GDP – which was $7.6 billion, according to 2015 numbers – but it does have the per capita measure of defense spending which ranks Norway second in NATO after the U.S. At a time of repeated calls for NATO reform, including enhanced burden-sharing by Washington’s European allies, the LTP not only underscores that Norway does take its security seriously but more broadly signals a willingness to match rhetoric with policy.

The LTP strengthens Norway’s territorial defense capabilities but maintains its out-of-area military capabilities so that it can continue to contribute to U.S.-led military operations around the world. The LTP also honors acquisitions of U.S. defense technologies (F-35 and P8), even amid political pushback against its decision to participate in the costly F-35 program.

Finally, through its holistic approach towards upgrading the Armed Forces while addressing its military deficiencies, Oslo provides Washington with the demonstrated value of predictability and consistency of messaging towards NATO and the Euro-Atlantic defense community at large, at a time of increasing global uncertainty. "

Sigurd Neubauer is a senior analyst at a U.S. defense consultancy and a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, where he specializes in U.S. policy toward the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf region. He is a frequent lecturer at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute and has addressed a number of international conferences, including in Europe and the Middle East. Neubauer is from Norway and received his B.A. and M.A. from Yeshiva University in New York."