F-16 fighter aircraft wait to refuel in April during a flight exercise involving forces from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden. (Getty Images)
HELSINKI — Nordic defense cooperation is set to enter a new phase that aims to unlock the potential in cross-border collaboration through enhanced regional security, heightened common equipment procurements and the establishment of joint operating units.
The higher level of regional defense ambition is contained in the new Nordic Vision 2020 charter rolled out at a summit, held in Helsinki Dec. 3-4, of Nordic defense ministers and military chiefs attached to Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO).
Officials from the Northern Group, comprising the Baltic states, Poland, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, the European Defence Agency and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation attended, reflecting the broadening of Nordic defense cooperation.
The Vision 2020 charter is certain to boost project activity in 2014 that will have implications for cost savings, material procurements and capacity-sharing among Nordic countries, said Eero Heinäluoma, speaker of the Finnish parliament, the Eduskunta.
“The prevailing mood is that defense cooperation needs to deepen and quick,” Heinäluoma said in an interview. “Nordic militaries are hurting from tight budgets. The search is on to find greater commonality in how the resources we have can be used in a more cost-efficient and constructive way to strengthen regional security.”
The stage is now set for a number of important joint initiatives to be rolled out in 2014, including projects that will make improved use of air surveillance and transport assets, Heinäluoma said.
“Sweden and Finland will join NATO partners Norway and Denmark to provide air surveillance patrols over Iceland next year. This shows NATO and non-aligned Nordic states are ready to task-share and provide high-end assets such as fighter jets, radars, helicopters and refueling aircraft for important joint regional missions,” Heinäluoma said.
Cooperation air transportation (CAT) will be among the most important of the new joint defense initiatives to be launched in 2014. A memorandum of understanding on this project was signed in Helsinki covering the coordination and use of air transport assets.
“Cooperation on development and use of airlift has great potential and contains all the factors that NORDEFCO is all about,” Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said at a post-summit news conference. “Together the Nordic countries spend over €130 million [US $180 million] annually to operate their air transport capabilities. Cost savings can be made here.”
The CAT project, Søreide said, will also deliver operational gains through increased availability of aircraft and better quality in training. The cooperation will include air transport assets owned by Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, as well as those owned in partnership with others and leased air transport assets.
The Nordic military commands are already discussing establishing a joint sustainment solution, a common pool of spare parts and joint procurement of heavy maintenance equipment and services.
The Vision 2020 charter opens the door “wider” for Baltic states that may want to increase their participation in Nordic defense cooperation, said Urmas Reinsalu, Estonia’s defense minister.
“Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will have a stronger role to play in Nordic defense cooperation in the future,” Reinsalu said in an interview. “Initially, this may cover common procurements, operational output and cost-efficiency-driven initiatives and projects.”
Capacity building will become an integral part of Nordic contributions to international missions by 2020, Carl Haglund, Finland’s defense minister, said at a news conference. Nordic countries will focus on developing joint rapid deployment capabilities, including specialist Arctic fighting units, that can support the NATO Response Force and the EU battle groups.
“We will see more regular cross-border training and exercises among the Nordic militaries, and more of these will cover the whole Nordic area,” he said. “There will be enhanced cooperation in air and sea surveillance of the Nordic region and better exchange of surveillance data with the aim of improving situational awareness.”
One major area of reform, according to Marit Nybakk, president of the Nordic Council, is the Vision 2020 plan to establish common Nordic rules and legal processes to facilitate a greater role by Nordic defense industries within the framework of cross-border equipment procurements.
“NORDEFCO is deepening its dialogue and cooperation with the Joint Nordic Defense Industry Cooperation Group, which represents the interests of the Nordic defense sector. The aim here is to achieve financial, technical and industrial benefits for all member states in relation to military equipment and systems acquisitions and lifecycle support,” Nybakk said.
The industrial focus of NORDEFCO’s Cooperation Area Armaments program, in 2014, will set out to identify possible joint procurements for big-ticket items such as soldier protection gear, mine countermeasures, long-range precision engagement, anti-ship missiles, long-range air-surveillance sensors, NATO codification, Nordic Future Soldier Common Capabilities systems, armored vehicles and mobile artillery systems.
“Joint acquisitions will deliver cost benefit gains and interoperability in materiel procurement for all of the Nordic countries,” said Maj. Gen. Erik Gustavson, the Norwegian Armed Forces’ assistant chief of staff and a member of NORDEFCO’s Military Coordination Committee. “There has already been cooperation in this area, but we now want to place a greater emphasis on it. ... Decreasing defense budgets of the Nordic countries have been the cause for this deepening of cooperation, as materiel procurements must be done with less and less funding.”