LONDON — With all Nordic countries now part of NATO, the nations must manage how to reconcile and integrate national as well as regional security needs and initiatives with what the alliance requires, which could necessitate changes to existing command structures, officials have said.

In March 2023, the commanders of the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Danish air forces signed a declaration that envisioned the creation of a joint Nordic air force to protect their shared airspaces.

The concept called for the nations to integrate air command and control, joint operations planning, and execution; create flexible air basing; share situational awareness; and produce common air education programs and training exercises.

While the countries have experience in military cooperation, this level of integration between them is unprecedented. Acting as a coordinated force in the air rather than independently will require a shift in the way each nation approaches its airspace security, according to the chief of operations for the Royal Danish Air Force.

“All nations take great pride in their national commands and forces, and our sovereignty is paramount, [but] in order to effectively join our forces, Nordic countries need to have a minute-to-minute command function, which can plan and execute operations, including the use of weapons in defense of our territories,” Col. Søren Andersen said March 27 at an air warfare conference hosted by the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank.

“For instance, effectively defending Copenhagen would require very close coordination between Sweden, allies and Swedish airspace,” he added. “It requires consensus. … It doesn’t work in a way where I just grab the phone and say, ‘Do you think we should shoot this guy or not,’ and then we can vote on it.

“So it needs to be more firm than that.”

A mini-NATO?

All the Nordic countries are expected to share management responsibilities for the combined military force, but this may require them to release some level of control to a higher authority.

The proposal of a combined polar air force structure has earned the title “mini-NATO” — a notion some officials don’t seem fond of.

“This Nordic initiative is in no way to be seen as a substitute or replacement to NATO, but as part of it,” Andersen told conference attendees.

Along the same lines, Lt. Col. Jan Bjurström, deputy director of air operations in the Finnish Air Force, said “Nordic air forces are not planning a separate structure, but one that complements the military alliance as a whole.”

During his presentation, the Danish official touched on what he called the command structure dilemma, surrounding the challenges of having to consider national, Nordic and NATO operational perspectives. Now that all Nordic states are NATO members, there is the question of how their individual and regional responsibilities will fit within the military alliance’s current command-and-control structure.

A statement published last month by the Norwegian Armed Forces, said the NATO command over the Nordic region would “soon” be transferred from the headquarters in Brunssum, Netherlands, to Joint Force Command-Norfolk in the United States.

The alliance’s command-and-control structure was not specifically designed with territorial defense in mind — something the air chiefs said will need revised to include a Nordic agency.

“The Nordic air power concept and Nordic air operations center need to be aligned with NATO plans and structure. This means that NATO’s C2 needs revision to implement this [air operations center] into it,” Bjurström said.

During the Nordic Response exercise this year, a temporarily combined Nordic air operations center was set up for the first time as a test at the Bodø Air Base in Norway. The center was made up of personnel from the air forces of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (Iceland does not have a military).

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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