A Naval Strike Missile launched from the Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen scored a direct hit on a US Navy target ship during Pacific exercises. (Norwegian Ministry of Defence)
WASHINGTON — It’s a long voyage from the land of the midnight sun to the middle of the Pacific, and one not often made by Norway’s Navy. But if you’re going to come all that way, it’s important to make a splash. And the crew of the Aegis frigate Fridtjof Nansen — the first Norwegian ship to take part in the huge Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises — did just that when they fired a single surface-to-surface missile and scored a dramatic hit on an old target ship.
“It was a very successful shot. The missile performed exactly as programmed and expected,” Cmdr. Per Rostad, the ship’s commanding officer, said in an interview Saturday.
Speaking via satellite phone while his ship was underway near Hawaii, Rostad would not provide details of specific features demonstrated in the July 10 live fire exercise, when the Fridtjof Nansen launched a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) at the decommissioned US Navy amphibious ship Ogden.
“But the missile system has a number of features that make it unique on the market and we were able to demonstrate those features,” Rostad said. “We also demonstrated some agility.”
Developed by Kongsberg, the NSM is designed to be highly maneuverable, and features an autonomous target recognition capability that allows it to recognize ships of a particular class or design, and even to target specific areas of a ship based on its silhouette.
“The key takeaway from the NSM exercise,” Rostad said, “is the missile was demonstrated to work just as well in a tropical climate as in an arctic climate.”
Only a single NSM was fired during the exercises, Rostad said, although the Fridtjof Nansen also launched two Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, the ship’s primary surface-to-air weapon.
The frigates of the Fridtjof Nansen class are the only warships to carry the SPY-1F radar, a lightweight version of the bigger SPY-1D sensor fitted on other Aegis ships. The combat system was not modified for the RIMPAC exercises, Rostad said. “It was not upgraded for any specifics in the Pacific.”
But the Nansen does have one key feature that made it the ship of choice to come to Hawaii — an enhanced cooling system, one not yet installed on the ship Rostad and his crew originally deployed on.
“My crew was on the Helge Ingstad,” Rostad explained, on deployment to the Mediterranean. They swapped ships in mid-May to sail the Fridtjof Nansen to Hawaii. “When water temperatures reach 30 degrees Celsius it’s better to use Nansen,” he said, but he noted improved cooling systems are being installed on all five ships of the class.
Rostad’s crew has had an interesting cruise. In mid-November, just before deploying, they fought a fire aboard the ferry Britannia Seaways off the Norwegian coast. In the Med, they were assigned to escort missions for ships carrying Syrian chemical weapons to Cyprus. After transferring to the Nansen, they took the ship through the Panama Canal to San Diego, where they joined a group sail of US and Chilean warships out to Hawaii.
Underscoring the importance of Norway’s participation, Navy chief Rear Adm. Lars Saunes and defense minister Ine Eriksen Søreide came out to Pearl Harbor for the exercises.
“It’s a message there as well,” Rostad said of his high-level support. “It is not normal to have both [officials] come to an exercise.”
The cruise, Rostad said, reflects “a desire in Norway to show that we take the alliance with the US seriously. We wish to show we are willing to deploy a ship to the Pacific to enhance the alliance with America — that is very important for Norway.”
The opportunity to train in such a large-scale exercise, with ships and forces from so many different countries, simply doesn’t exist in Europe, Rostad said. “To generate the impact of training like in RIMPAC, you can’t do it in Europe anymore. As a war fighter it’s important to train in this environment with these resources.”
Rostad was effusive in his praise for the support Norway has received on the cruise.
“The support we’ve receive from the US Navy has been absolutely first class,” the commander said. “All the services have been excellent. The cooperation we have with the US Navy is absolutely magnificent and we’re thankful for that.”
Rostad and his crew will get back to Norway before the ship. Another crew is flying out to Hawaii, and will take over the Fridtjof Nansen in early August. The crew will then fly home, while the ship returns through the Panama Canal.
Norway and Kongsberg continue to seek customers for the NSM. Different versions can be launched by ships, aircraft and ground forces, and the company recently announced it was developing a submarine-launched variant. It is already in service with the Norwegian armed forces and Polish coastal artillery.
The variant fired in RIMPAC was a four-meter-long, sub-sonic, low-flying anti-ship missile, weighing about 400 kilograms and capable of ranges up to 150 kilometers.■