HELSINKI – Nordic governments are primed to raise suspected GPS jamming of military exercises and communications with Russia.
Finland and Norway intend to launch diplomatic discussions with Moscow over suspected GPS signal-jamming by Russia’s military over recent weeks that impacted areas in northern Norway where NATO-led Trident Juncture maneuvers were being conducted.
Norway’s defense intelligence agency said it tracked the source of the signal-jamming to a Russian military base on the nearby, heavily fortified Kola Peninsula. Finland’s military intelligence said Norway’s analysis mirrors its own investigations and evaluations.
Scrambled GPS signals were first detected during NATO’s large-scale Trident Juncture exercises in Norway at the end of October. Defense and civil aviation chiefs in Finland and Norway warned that the GPS jamming posed a serious risk to both military and commercial aircraft using the affected airspace in the High North.
Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has presented the national parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (CFA) a preliminary report on the jamming. The MFA is expected to furnish the panel with a more conclusive report by the end of November.
The GPS signal-jamming issue is being discussed with the Russian Federation “through diplomatic channels”, said Sari Rautio, director of the MFA’s unit for security policy and crisis management.
Russia will almost certainly deny any involvement in jamming military exercises, said Matti Vanhanen, the CFA’s chairman.
"There is every reason to trust Norway and its intelligence. It’s unlikely that Norway will publicly disclose the methods behind its assessment. As no technical evidence will be offered in the public domain, we may end up in a situation where Russia just denies it. We need to tell Russia that we do not accept disturbances of this kind in our airspace," Vanhanen said.
Initial diplomatic contacts between Nordic governments and Moscow has produced a flat denial that Russia was behind the GPS signal-jamming.
"There is a tendency to blame Russia for all sins in general. As a rule, these allegations are found to have no basis in actual fact," said Dmitry Peskov, the senior press spokesman to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Norway’s civil aviation authorities opened an investigation into possible GPS signal-jamming in the High North at the end of October when several commercial aircraft reported loss of satellite navigation while flying over the Troms and Finnmark regions in the north of the country.
National aviation authorities in Finland and Norway subsequently issued a so-called notice to airmen (NOTAM) due to widespread disturbances in GPS signals in the airspace of both countries’ northern regions. In Norway, the NOTAM related to the northern airports of Kirkenes and Vadsø which are located close to the border with Russia and the Kola Peninsula.
The investigation by Norway into suspected GPS signal-jamming by Russia covered the period between Oct. 16 and Nov. 7. NATO’s Trident Juncture exercises started, following months of field preparation work, on Oct. 25 and finished on Nov. 7.
Norway also conducted investigations into suspected jamming of satellite navigation systems by Russia linked to the Zapad-2017 drill. These large-scale military exercises by Russia were held on and around the Kola Peninsula during September and October 2017.
The Trident Juncture exercises comprised 50,000 NATO personnel from 31 member states and partner countries. With 65 surface ships, 10,000 armored and troop vehicles, and 250 aircraft participating, it was the largest NATO maneuvers in the High North since the end of the Cold War.
Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.