Norwegian F-16 fighter jets participate in the air-defense flying training event Iceland Air Meet 2014. (NATO)
HELSINKI — Nordic governments have approved Norwegian plans to strengthen the Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO) vehicle so it promotes collaboration through common cost-savings programs under the Vision 2020 project.
Norway, which will chair NORDEFCO this year, also wants to elevate the military agency’s role in building partnerships with the Nordic defense industry. This will raise the profile of Nordic defense groups in the design, development and production of common Nordic weapons and equipment.
Vision 2020 was rolled out at a December summit here.
NORDEFCO’s expanded function was presented by Norway’s Ministry of Defense during two days of talks between Nordic defense and foreign ministers in Reykjavik, which ended Feb. 12.
“Our goal is to further develop the practical side of the cooperation. We want to ensure the continued progress in NORDEFCO through result-oriented, efficient and relevant cooperation,” said Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s defense minister.
Norway plans to use its chairmanship to improve dialogue between NORDEFCO and the Nordic defense industry. The objectives, Søreide said, are to ensure timely deliveries of materiel to the Nordic armed forces and to maintain a competitive defense industrial base.
Efforts also are planned to revitalize cooperation through public-private partnerships (PPP), with the aim of developing a Nordic approach to PPP to identify common projects and improve dialogue with Nordic defense industry, Søreide said.
The increased role for NORDEFCO will be welcomed by the Nordic defense sector, said Frank Bill, chairman of the Joint Nordic Defense Industry Cooperation Group (JNDICG). The JNDICG was formed in 2012 to protect the industry’s interests within the framework of increased joint Nordic procurement.
“We have worked very hard as an industry to ensure that we are a very real part of what is happening in Nordic military cooperation. We recognize the potential that exists for cooperation between the defense industries of the different Nordic countries. However, only time will tell what the level of this potential will be,” Bill said.
Norway also wants NORDEFCO to become more active in providing military contributions to international peace operations, promoting training and exercises, and facilitating coordination among Nordic, Nordic-Baltic and NATO military exercise programs.
“Norway is taking the subject of NORDEFCO’s reorganization and development as a more robust force for trans-Nordic defense cooperation very seriously,” said Jussi Niinistö, chairman of Finland’s Parliamentary Defense Committee.
“In late January, and before the Reykjavik meeting, the Norwegian parliament had an interpellation debate that discussed core aspects of Nordic defense cooperation and NORDEFCO’s expanded role. This shows Norway’s intent to ensure that NORDEFCO takes a leading position in Nordic defense cooperation,” Niinistö said.
During the January parliamentary debate, Søreide outlined plans to expand Nordic defense cooperation to include the so-called Northern Group, which includes the NATO-aligned Baltic states, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Poland.
The Nordic countries, Søreide told the Norwegian national parliament, need to identify common priorities at an early stage that could lead to “high-value potential projects.
“As regards Nordic capacity building, we see the defense sector as a key partner. It is important to ensure delivery of the right material at the right price to national defense and to maintain a competitive defense industry regionally,” Søreide said.
The untapped potential in Nordic defense cooperation is visible in a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) cost-sharing initiative, approved by the five countries, and which covers the use and coordination of air transport assets.
The MoU’s primary objective is to jointly develop air transportation capabilities to reduce costs and improve operations. The air transport collaboration will also include common training, establishment of a joint sustainment process, a common pool of spare parts and joint procurement of heavy maintenance.
The Nordic countries spent a combined $200 million on air transport operations in 2013.
Under the Vision 2020 project, NORDEFCO will help drive defense cooperation, creating opportunities for the four primary Nordic militaries (Iceland does not have an armed forces’ organization) to develop, maintain and use its military assets more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Vision 2020 also envisions deeper regional and multinational cooperation with other countries and organizations such as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union. Arctic security and joint cyber defense intelligence will also receive more emphasis.
The Iceland Air Meet 2014 exercises, which involve about 20 fighter aircraft from Sweden, Norway and Finland training together this month over Icelandic airspace, underscores the potential for practical joint tasks within the framework of trans-Nordic defense cooperation, Niinistö said.
“The Nordic countries are well used to engaging in various forms of military cooperation, despite their different neutrality and military aligned positions to organizations such as NATO. The deeper involvement of the Nordic defense industry in the project adds a new and very interesting dimension, and one that could produce important real cost sharing and savings in future equipment procurement for all Nordic countries,” Niinistö said. ■