A Norwegian Coastal Commando unit operates during the Cold Response 2014 exercise. Greater interoperability is expected among Nordic special operations forces. (Torbjørn Kjosvold / Norwegian Defense Forces)
HELSINKI — The pan-Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO) group’s mission to identify broad new areas for military cooperation will boost interoperability among Nordic special operations forces
The role of Nordic special operations forces continues to expand, elevated by the deployment of elite forces to combat zones in Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan in recent years.
However, the annual spend on spec ops units, in all Nordic militaries, remains relatively low. On average this year, special operations will account for less than 3 percent (including equipment) of the total annual military budget of $4.13 billion in Denmark, $6.2 billion in Sweden, $3.8 billion in Finland and $7.2 billion in Norway.
Future interaction among the various Nordic special operations forces will be strongly influenced by a series of force and capability assessment projects run by NORDEFCO.
The most important in terms of cross-border special ops cooperation includes the Nordic Battalion Task Force 2020 (NBTF-2020) project, which forms part of the NORDEFCO-approved 2014-2017 Action Plan.
NORDEFCO wants to have the specialized, modular NBTF-2020 organization assembled and in place by 2016 to be tested during the multinational Cold Response winter warfare exercise set to take place in Norway’s High North in March of that year.
Special operations mission-interoperability will also feature prominently in NORDEFCO’s Combined Joint Nordic Exercise Plan, which has been expanded to include the Baltic states under the new name Combined Joint Nordic and Baltic Exercise Plan.
The modular-battalion structure, which allows for the core operating group to bring in specialized elite forces as needed, is becoming a common feature within the ongoing military reorganization in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway.
“The establishment of a modular-type Nordic battalion force will be fundamental to developing meaningful Nordic defense cooperation,” said Gen. Sverker Göransson, chief of Sweden’s armed forces.
Trained and equipped to fight in extreme weather, the NBTF is expected to comprise about seven interoperable companies and become a focal point for the use of elite special ops reconnaissance, target/man-hunting, direct action, naval commandos, special parachute, coastal and Arctic ranger units, as well as tactical anti-terrorist forces.
“The Nordic-model modular format will suit reformed battalions very well and will create new forward roles for special operations,” said Paul Binz, a Berlin-based defense analyst
There is an added value to the cross-border training programs envisioned by NORDEFCO, Binz said.
“These specialized training projects have the capacity to produce a larger number of combat-ready specialized soldiers not just for the Nordic Battalion Task Force, but also for periodic force-building needs that require a tactical special ops capability, such as the Swedish-led EU-Nordic Battle Group,” Binz said.
With 1,200 personnel, the NBTF will be half the size of the EU-Nordic Battle Group force (NBG), which will have a manpower strength of 2,400 when it is placed on standby in January 2015.
The NBTF is being structured to be deployed as either a regional or international rapid response force, while the more multinational NBG, which includes troops from Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Ireland, Norway and Finland, will continue to operate under EU-assigned crisis management duties.
Nordic defense ministers discussed the importance of developing a Nordic special ops capability at a mid-April meeting in Tromsø, Norway.
The return of Danish and Norwegian special ops units from Afghanistan to peacetime duties is causing the Nordic states to put additional interstate training programs in place to ensure the availability of combat-ready elite forces.
Norway, which took over as chair of NORDEFCO in January, has pushed for a new style of Nordic military cooperation that is more specialized and goal-oriented, and has the potential to deliver mission-specific forces.
“Our objective is to further develop the practical side of cooperation. We want to see continued progress in NORDEFCO through result-oriented, efficient and relevant cooperation,” said Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s defense minister.
Norway has directed NORDEFCO to strengthen the capacity of the partner Nordic states to deliver relevant military contributions to international operations and elevate the importance of specialized training and exercises.
One area of special ops that has advanced to the commencement stage under NORDEFCO’s 2014-2017 Action Plan involves the establishment of a Special Operation Forces Medical Education program, which is designed to promote cost-efficient joint operations and knowledge sharing.
However, it is the NBTF from which most is expected in terms of force interoperability, including special operations’ units. The NBTF is to have fully interoperable forces built on joint development and standardization, and based on operating experiences gained from common training and exercises, as well as combat experience in theaters such as Afghanistan.
NORDEFCO’s Cooperation Area Training and Exercises (TEX) platform is pursuing new avenues to coordinate and harmonize trans-Nordic military training.
This will culminate in the development of a joint five-year cross-border exercise program.
Joint maneuvers between Nordic special ops Winter Warfare units will also take place under TEX’s Arctic Winter Training program. This will involve the elite Arctic combat units from the Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Norwegian militaries.
Significantly, NORDEFCO is looking to link its common force training and exercise projects to NATO’s commitment to maintain interoperability between allies and partners under its Connected Forces Initiative (CFI). The goal is to tap into routine and special ops CFI activities with a special focus on capability cooperation, operations, training and exercises.
Another avenue that may promote Nordic cross-border special ops capability, and potentially common units, is the deepening defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland, a provisional blueprint for which was announced on May 6.
Cooperation under this initiative is to be conducted bilaterally and through NORDEFCO.
Areas of collaboration being examined include joint force building to include a land, air, special ops and naval capability that will enable Finland and Sweden to contribute joint, modular, battalion-level units for deployment to international exercises. ■