Sledge Patrol: Denmark's year-old Joint Arctic Command assumed responsibility for the Sirius long-range reconnaissance patrols that provide security in Greenland. (Danish Defense Force)
HELSINKI — Denmark’s establishment of a specialized military command to police the country’s vast Arctic territories in 2012 underlined its intent to develop a heightened and better-resourced defense and security strategy in the increasingly significant region.
Denmark’s Arctic Strategy, which was presented to the UN in August 2011, outlined its plan to claim the North Pole seabed by 2014. The broader plan includes leveraging its ownership rights to the majority of Greenland’s strategic resources — including gold, diamonds, rare metals, base ores, natural gas and oil — to drive energy resource exploitation, economic growth and trade.
The launch of the Danish Defense Force’s (DDF) Greenland-headquartered Joint Arctic Command (JAC) in October 2012 also served to reinforce plans to expand training and deployment of special operations forces to reinforce Denmark’s sovereignty over its Arctic territories, which extend to 1.6 million square miles.
The JAC’s initial task will be to scale-up Denmark’s surveillance and general air and sea monitoring capability, particularly in the strategic areas around the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
The Arctic command organization takes over responsibility for the special operations Sirius unit, which has spearheaded the DDF’s long-range reconnaissance patrols in Greenland since 1941, often operating in temperatures down to minus 50 degrees Celsius. Many of the DDF’s core special operations forces, past and present, have sharpened their survival and reconnaissance skills on Sirius missions.
The establishment of the JAC formed part of core targets set down in Denmark’s 2010-2014 National Defense Agreement. This gave the JAC the power to access specialized forces and equipment when needed. The new command organization would play a pivotal role in coordinating military tasks and operations in the Arctic from its main base in Nuuk, Greenland, and its substation at Thorshavn on the Faroe Islands.
The Greenland and Faroe Islands’ locations are designed to provide an enhanced level of preparedness and coordination between the JAC and the Norwegian Armed Forces for military missions and civilian-type operations such as sea search and rescue. Crucially, the JAC is also tasked with the deployment and coordination of missions involving special ops forces.
“The defense agreement involves a stronger focus on the tasks of the Danish Armed Forces in the Arctic. The agreement includes four overriding initiatives that must be viewed in light of climate change and increased activity that could conceivably result in an increase of tasks for the armed forces,” said JACcommander Maj. Gen. Stig Ø. Nielsen.
Although the surveillance and military protection of Danish Arctic territories is already covered by Article 5 of the NATO treaty on collective defense, Denmark has laid down concrete targets to enhance its military capability in the region. The result will be increased funding to recruit and train soldiers for niche and highly mobile special ops forces units.
Specifically, more resources will be directed at the Army’s and Navy’s main special ops forces units, the Hunter (Jægerkorpset) and Frogman (Frømandskorpset) corps. Both units, which have been extensively deployed in Afghanistan, are spending more hours on mission-specific training that requires honing the skills to deal with a broad range of tasks, from Arctic land reconnaissance patrols, to assaulting enemy ships and using stealth or more direct anti-terrorist measures to restore control and sovereignty over Danish fixed oil and gas installations in the North Atlantic, by air or sea.
“The Jaeger and Frogman units usually have between 130 and 150 men in training and available for special ops in extreme weather missions if needed. With the ongoing reorganization of Danish forces into task-centered specialized units, the expectation is that each of the two main special forces corps will expand to around 200 to 300 men. New recruits are being trained by officers with valuable front-line combat experience in Afghanistan,” said Karl Flasch, a Berlin-based defense analyst.
Significantly, one of the four core targets contained in the 2010-2014 National Defense Agreement advocates the creation of an Arctic Response Force (ARF) that will add to the DDF’s capability to conduct operations in the region. The proposed modular design of the ARF would make it possible for the unit to support regular Danish ground, naval or air units or partner multinational forces from the US, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Denmark’s capacity to support special ops and general military missions in the Arctic has been bolstered by the recent acquisition of Iver Huitfeldt frigates and Knud Rasmussen-class ice-strengthened offshore patrol ships, in addition to the purchase, finalized in December 2012, of nine MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters, which are due to be delivered in 2016-2018.
The Sea Hawk acquisition will enable the DDF to more effectively use the heli-pad and hangar-equipped frigates and patrol craft to expand the military’s reach within Arctic territories, while raising the speed and response times for the deployment of troops and equipment to mission sites. Moreover, the Danish government is also looking to acquire and deploy satellite capacity and Arctic-class drones to support the JAC-DDF’s surveillance and mission-specific operations.
The development and training of special ops forces units will focus on skills and capability to protect strategic offshore installations and shipping routes between Europe and Asia through the Northern Sea Route, a commercial cargo corridor that has the potential to shave seven days and 4,300 sea miles off of a standard freight vessel journey between Rotterdam and Tokyo.
The JAC’s funding provision is likely to benefit from a Sept. 14 report by the Danish State Auditors (Rigsrevisionen) that criticized the government for failing to provide sufficient capital and material resources to enable the DDF to fulfill its fundamental defense and marine surveillance tasks in the Arctic.
The armed forces are completing a climate-change-centered risk assessment of security and environmental threats in the Arctic, said naval Capt. Anders Beck Jørgensen, the head of the DDF’s Military Planning and Training unit.
“When the assessment is complete in 2014, it will be relevant for all organizations operating in the Arctic region, the military included, to examine the level of activities in the region and readjust our capability if required,” Jørgensen said.