HELSINKI -- In a bid to bridge the affordability gap for ever-rising military equipment acquisitions, Norway's Defense Forces will release funds freed up by cost savings programs to bolster purchasing power.

In an action backed by the government, the NDF will use monies liberated by reorganization projects within the national defense infrastructure to scale up its capacity to finance key procurement programs, including the modernization to the Navy's submarine and surface fleets, the land forces' strike capability and air-defense systems.

Norwegian defense groups, including Kongsberg, are primed to reap important sub-contact work from major programs such as the acquisition of P-8A Poseidon marine patrol aircraft from Boeing. Kongsberg is hoping to supply Joint Strike Missiles to the P-8A Poseidons.

Long term, the initiative has the potential to release an estimated $5 billion from cost-efficiency measures to the military equipment-procurement budget.

With the latest intelligence emphasizing a threat from Russia, combined with the Kremlin's perceived policy of trying to undermine and de-stabilize NATO, there is growing cross-party support within the Norwegian parliament to elevate spending on defense.

"Given all that is happening in the region, Norway needs to have the strongest defense that it can afford," said Bård Vegard Solhjell, a Socialist Left Party member of parliament who sits on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense.

The political mood between Oslo and Moscow hasn't been helped by Russia's refusal to grant entry visas to Solhjell and fellow committee member Trine Skei Grande this week. Both were part of a delegation heading to Russia at the invitation of the counterpart, the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In support of further cost-efficiency savings, the government has followed up its Long Term Defense Plan (LTDP) by injecting a significant increase in to the NDF's budget platform going forward.

In total, the government has agreed to a $232 million year-on-year increase in the NDF's budget. The revised funding plan is intended as an initial step in a longer-term process that aims to add $20.1 billion to the national defense budget over the next 20 years.

The additional funding will be used to bridge gaps in procurement funding, substantially increase force readiness capacities, deal with shortfalls in maintenance, improve training, and enable the NDF to re-stock on spare parts and ammunition.

According to Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway's defense minister, the budgeting framework of the LTDF will, for the first time, also include funding increases that are specifically intended to "address the cost growth of military equipment."

"This measure is intended to halt the continuing decline in purchasing power of the defense budget and ensure better long-term sustainability for the Defense Forces," said Søreide.

The government's defense increase also includes a proposal to seek authorization to order an additional 12 F-35 combat aircraft. Norway plans to acquire a total of 52 F-35s. The 12 aircraft, subject to authorization requests, are to be divided in to two batches of six and delivered in 2021 and 2022.

"When we introduced the new Long Term Defense Plan we said that we first had to make sure that what we already have actually works. That is exactly what this budget aims to do. We still have a long way to go, but this is an important first step towards building more capable and sustainable defense forces for Norway," Søreide said.

The government has allocated $6.2 billion to the NDF's budget in 2017. Of this, around $1.5 billion will be spent on equipment procurement, $378 million on infrastructure and $4.4 billion on operations and personnel.

Future budgets will also see a substantial increase in spending to reinforce Norway's cyber warfare capabilities. Norway's national security agency, the Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, or PST, Norway's national security agency, has identified Russia as Norway's primary security threat.

The threat from Russia is increasingly connected to espionage, said Benedicte Bjørland, PST's director.

"We are more concerned now than we have been previously in terms of what could happen in the area of illegal intelligence activities," said Bjørland.

PST believes that recent cyber attacks against the Norwegian Labor Party's headquarters-based computer systems were launched from Russia.

Intelligence agency chiefs believe that Russia's current "displeasure" with Norway is linked to the Norwegian government's desire to see a greater security stabilization role for NATO and the U.S. in the High North.

NDF's chief, Adm. Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, contends that Russia may be looking to compromise NATO and solidarity among member states.

"We are being played off against each other in an attempt to destabilize NATO or break up the alliance. The main thing now is to adhere to the unity and solidarity of NATO," said Adm. Bruun-Hanssen.

However, Bruun-Hanssen views dialogue between Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Trump as "important and positive."

"It is important that the relationship that Norway, the U.S. and NATO has with Russia balances deterrence with dialogue," Bruun-Hanssen said.

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