HELSINKI — As Russia strengthens its naval, air and ground forces in its northern territories, Norway has responded by scaling-up manpower, equipment and Arctic combat units as part of a broader reinforcement of its High North defenses.

Norway's program, part of the Norwegian Defense Forces' (NDF) Smart Defense strategy, and comprises a strong Arctic-focused dimension in funding and resource allocation.

The Smart Defense approach to High North military reinforcement has, since 2010, placed higher priority been given on Arctic-class specialized equipment procurement coupled with more intensive training for the NDF's High North-deployed ground, air and naval units. The goal is to produce combat-ready and useable modular combat units that can fight independently or alongside NATO forces.

The NDF's August 2009 decision to relocate the Army's headquarters functions 1,700 kilometers (1,000 miles) north from Oslo to the Arctic town of Bodø — 1,700 kilometers north of Oslo — bolstered Norway's commitment to establishing an integrated High North operational defense system. That decision led to the establishment of the Joint Operational Command Headquarters (JOCH).

This new approach system is centered around reorganized and more compact units and forces equipped with the best available in class Arctic fighting equipment and capable of delivering greater firepower.

The JOCH is currently overseeing the evolution of Norway's High North defenses into a centralized command and coordinated fighting structure that will be able to call upon an Air Force (NAF) equipped with the F-35s, forward Army battalions deploying CV90 tracked armored fighting vehicles and high mobility Archer artillery units, and a strengthened stronger Navy naval branch operating anti-aircraft and submarine-hunting Arctic-class Fridtjof Nansen frigates and Skjold corvettes.

The scaling-up of Norway's defense capabilities in the High North is happening while against a backdrop where the country's military intelligence services are urging the government to adopt a more cautious posture toward on Russia's increasing militarization in the High North region.

Although the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) believes Norway is under no "short- to medium-term threat" from Russia, its latest open threat evaluation assessment, FOKUS-2015, advocates forward-looking cautious vigilance.

"Threat is a combination of two factors; capacity and intention," NIS chief Lt. Gen. Kjell Grandhagen said. "Although capacity is increasing, it is difficult for the time being to see a rational reason for Russian military activity against Norway in a short- to medium-term perspective. But intentions can change over time, and it is therefore now increasingly important for Norway to follow Russia's long-term political, economic and military development."

The NIS's intel-gathering capacity will be in the High North is set to be enhanced once its new advanced signals intelligence Sigint ship, the Marjata 11, enters service in the High North and Barents Sea in 2016.

Under the Smart Defense program, Ørland, located on the mid-Norway coast, and Evenes, above Norway's Arctic Circle, will become the main operating bases for F-35 aircraft and, during more regular joint exercises, NATO aircraft and forces. Evenes also will house a Quick Reaction Alert squadron.

Ørland, Evenes and the NDF's core High North battalions will also be equipped with an updated the up-dated NASAMS II (Norwegian advanced surface-to-air missile system, medium- to long range air-defense system, which is being mainly deployed primarily to protect key military installations, warfare units and infrastructure against air-to-surface attacks.

The system uses 's ability to use active missiles and different types of sensors, boosting providing important firepower for elevates NASAMS' importance as a formidable fire-power tool within the NDF's Smart Defense and High North military-strengthening program.

Archer, the next-generation self-propelled artillery system developed as a joint project with Sweden, also increases boosts adds to the NDF's firepower. capacity in the High North. Norway plans to deploy 24 Archer systems complete with fully automated 155 mm/L52 howitzer guns and M151 Protector remote-controlled weapon stations. These are mounted on modified Volvo A30 six-wheel-drive 6x6 chassis all-terrain articulated haulers.

The Arctic-class Archer's RCHER'shigh tactical mobility, operational strike-and-run capacity makes it ideal in the hilly and forested terrains of the High North. Moreover, the precision and multiple-strike Archer can fire is capable of firing Nexter Bonus and Raytheon/Bofors XM982 Excalibur guided rounds over respective distances of 34 kilometers (22 miles) and 60 kilometers.

In addition, As part of High North defense-strengthening, The NDF also is establishing a specialized Arctic-trained "professional" rapid reaction force north (RRFN), based in Troms County and drawn from enlisted soldiers. The RRFN is set to become fully operational in 2017. The core of the armored RRFN unit's core will comprise an existing armored battalion and a motorized infantry battalion equipped with CV90 infantry fighting vehicles IFVs and Leopard 2 tanks

Norway's ability future capacity to defend its High North territories has also received a boost been advanced from the Defense Ministry's of Defense's US (MoD) $1.6 billion program to re-equip its core forward armored brigade units with CV90 tracked infantry fighting vehicles, (IFVs) as part of the NDF's biggest ever fighting vehicle modernization project investment.

In addition to the Apart from the procurement of new CV90-variant procurement, armored vehicles, The modernization program also includes the overhaul of the Army's 103 CV90-30s, bought in the mid-1990s and deployed with the Telemark and other High North core battalions.

The vehicle fleet upgrade, with delivery scheduled from BAE Systems in 2015-17, will include 74 modernized and armor-strengthened infantry fighting vehicles, 21 reconnaissance, 16 multirole (mortar carrier or cargo), 15 command and control, 16 engineering, vehicles, in addition to two driver training vehicle types.

The addition of new and updated infantry and IFVs, and support vehicles are expected to make the substantially bolster and add new mobility and firepower to the NDF's forward armored battalions in the High North more mobile with improved firepower. The infantry vehicles also new armor-reinforcd IFVs will have better protection against armor-piercing weapons and rounds, including improvised explosive devices.IEDs.

The infantry and IFVs, and reconnaissance vehicles will also be equipped with better sensor systems, enhanced surveillance and communication capabilities, and fitted with integrated combat solution and integrated technologies that will extend to dismounted infantry troops. Norwegian company Kongsberg's Protector remote weapon stations are to be fitted to all IFV variants.

The need to prioritize military readiness and defense capability in the High North helped drive was a pivotal factor behind Norway's decision to raise its spending on defense above that of any of its Nordic neighbors, ing states, said defense analyst Thorvald Stoltenberg, a defense analyst, and former Norwegian defense minister.

"Russia is rebuilding its naval and Air Force strength, as well as its Arctic fighting capability, in the High North," Stoltenberg said. "While this is understandable from a Russian perspective, its growing level of activity regionally is causing problems and concerns among all Nordic governments and militaries. This is unfortunate, as the emphasis should be on building more, not less, bilateral cooperation with Russia on defense and security in the Arctic."

Norway's defense budget will run to $8 billion in 2015.