HELSINKI — Norway is on course to pursue a new wave of cost efficiency as part of a broad, long-term investment plan to reorganize its military into a leaner and better equipped front-line force armed with a scaled-up strike capability.
The cost-efficiency drive forms part of a broader and multi-branch capital spending plan that aims to add a greater degree of modern capability, fire power and combat readiness to Norway's military organization and defense structures.
The level of planned capital investment in the military is the highest by any Norwegian government since the end of the Cold War.
Around $300 million in efficiency-generated savings will be used to ease historic problems of underfunding within core sectors of the Norwegian Armed Forces, including the Army and Navy, in the period 2017-2020.
In terms of achieving savings, the force reorganization will result in the shutdown of some 11 military bases across Norway. Among the closures will be the Norwegian Air Force's (NAF) Arctic-based Andøya Air Station in northern Norway. Andøya houses the NAF's 333 surveillance squadron equipped with P-3C Orion aircraft.
The cost-efficiency drive, coupled with ambitious defense-strengthening capital investment plans, are directly connected to the actions and behavior of a "more unpredictable" Russia, said Erna Solberg, Norway's prime minister.
"We have an increasingly unpredictable neighbor to the East which is strengthening its military capacity and showing willingness to use military force as a political tool," Solberg said.
However, she stressed that Russia posed no immediate threat to Norwegian territory or sovereignty.
Norway’s parallel defense organization strengthening and cost-efficiency programs are backed by a groundbreaking government promise to bolster military spending by around $19.8 billion in extra capital outlays over the next 20 years.
The cost-efficiency element of the plan is contained in a white paper on long-term spending for the Armed Forces that covers the years 2017-2020.
This plan, which is yet to go before the national parliament, has the potential to free up some $4.8 billion over the next 20 years. Savings are to be redistributed among front-line units and channeled into underfunded training, exercises and procurement programs.
Spending in Norway's defense budget for 2016 rose by 9.8 percent, in real terms, to $6 billion. The white paper lays out a spending road map under which the Armed Forces' annual budget will incrementally rise by $862 million over the next four years. This level of increase will raise the defense budget to around $7 billion by 2020, the highest level of annual spending by any single Nordic nation.
The reinforced capital spending program, said Solberg, is intended to add a higher dynamic to the Armed Forces' capability to delay and repel possible "hostile threats" against its sovereign territories until the NDF’s front-line units are supported by NATO and other military cooperation partners.
The Armed Forces' command leadership, who acknowledged the need to make further cost-efficiency savings, confirmed the defense force had sought an even higher spending commitment from the government.
"The government has listened to what we had to say on spending and has largely responded to our advice. It is providing the means for the economically sustainable development of the defense forces," said the Norwegian Armed Forces' chief, Adm. Haakon Bruun-Hanssen.
The defense force reorganization program will aim to reduce the number of personnel employed in administrative duties. Savings will be channeled into training and operations budgets.
Additional restructuring-led closures will impact the NAF's aircraft maintenance and training center at Kjevik. The Coastal Ranger Command near Harstad will be disbanded and personnel redistributed to Navy and Army units.
Norway's Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has called for "capable and sustainable armed forces" before it is too late to react to a threat.
Photo Credit: JIM WATSON, AFP/Getty Images
The closure of the Andøya Air Station will see the relocation of its Maritime Patrol Aircraft 333 squadron to Evenes Air Station, which will be the High North forward base for the NAF's F-35s.
Moreover, the Armed Forces will establish a new Ranger Company that will operate as part of the Sør-Varanger garrison in northern Norway. The base is located close to Norway's 122-mile border with Russia. The new company will be equipped with light anti-aircraft and anti-armor weapons.
The scale of ambition in the Norwegian government's white paper is particularly evident on the capital spending side. Elevated spending will enable a higher rotation of crews to operate the Navy's recently delivered Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates.
There will also be additional funding for the Army’s Northern Brigade North, including the Telemark Battalion in Rena, the Armored Battalion at Setermoen and the 2nd Battalion at Skjold.
The reorganization will also impact big-ticket procurements. The Navy's six Ula-class submarines are to be replaced by four next-generation subs between 2025 and 2030. The submarine acquisition project is the second-highest capital-intensive program after fighter procurement.
Norway plans to purchase 52 F-35A Lightning II aircraft. The overall cost of the F-35’s procurement phase is estimated at around $10 billion. The Armed Forces will also invest in adding longer-range weapons to the existing NASAMS II-based system, or the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System. New maritime patrol aircraft will be bought to replace the fleet of Lockheed P-3 Orions.
Future expenditure will also cover the acquisition of dedicated, long-range air-defense systems to protect critical areas. Moreover, the procurement end of the capital investment plan will deliver increased spending to bolster capabilities in strategic areas such as intelligence gathering, situational awareness, survivability and the Armed Forces' offensive strike power.
The long-term strategic objective is to strengthen military capacity to a level where the military can effectively respond to threats, aggression and attacks within the framework of NATO's collective defense.
"We need capable and sustainable armed forces in order to ensure that when we need them the most, they have the tools, the skills and the manpower to deliver. Developing this kind of force takes time, and history has shown us that it is too late to begin when the threat is already here," said Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway's defense minister.
Norway's force reorganization and budget-strengthening plans will fall short of raising the country's gross national product (GNP) spending on defense to the 2 percent level advocated by NATO. Norway's defense spending is currently hovering at around 1.5 percent of GNP.