HELSINKI — Denmark is responding to a perceived elevated military threat from Russia by rolling out plans to significantly scale up its contributions to the defense of the Baltic Sea region.

The new plans, which have gained cross-party support in the Danish legislature, will see a higher level of spending on enhancing Denmark's defense capabilities in collaboration with the Nordic nation's regional partners and NATO.

In a notable development, this January will see Denmark will take "rotational" command of the Standing NATO Maritime Group One, or SNMG1, which is one of NATO's two standing naval immediate reaction forces in the North Atlantic region.

There has been a recognizable cooling in relations between Denmark and Russia since the Danish government signaled its intent to join NATO's European missile defense shield program, otherwise known as N-MDS.

The Kremlin has cautioned Denmark against participating in the N-MDS, warning that Russia would not hesitate to target Danish military assets, including naval ships. Moreover, Denmark's national intelligence agencies are reporting an increased risk of hybrid warfare attacks by Russia against Danish administrative and military information technology and other critical infrastructure.    

Denmark recently confirmed the deployment of 200 troops with NATO in Estonia. The Danish unit will join a battalion-level force, under British leadership, stationed near Estonia's border with Russia. 

"We are talking about NATO's outer borders. This is a clear signal to the Russia[ns] that [if] they engage militarily across the borders of the Baltic states, then they will face Danish, German or British forces," Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said.

The SNMG1 that will come under Danish command in 2018 consists of four to six destroyers and frigates. Core contributing countries include Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States. The SNMG1 is regularly strengthened by ships from other NATO nations, including Poland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Danish Navy frigate Iver Huitfeldt transits in the Arabian Sea. Command of the Standing NATO Maritime Group One will see the expanded use of the Navy's Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates.

Photo Credit: MC2 Deven B. King/U.S. Navy

The SNMG1 mainly operates in the Eastern Atlantic and Baltic Sea areas.

"What we know is that the Baltic Sea is becoming an increasingly important area in light of Russia's escalation in the region. We see a need for a more powerful presence in our own neighborhood," Danish Defence Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said.

Capability boost

According to Frederiksen, taking command of the SNMG1 will sharpen the Danish Navy's capabilities to both operate and defend the interests of Denmark and NATO-member states in the Baltic Sea region.

Command of the SNMG1 will see the expanded use of the Danish Navy's Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates. The frigates are fitted with the Lockheed Martin MK 41 Vertical Launching System for the evolved Sea Sparrow missile and the SM-2 IIIA missile. The MK 41 system can fire anti-air, anti-submarine and anti-ship missiles.

Danish Navy frigates Peter Willemoes, Niels Juel and Iver Huitfeldt are also armed with the Boeing Harpoon Block II anti-ship missile system and the Eurotorp MU90 lightweight torpedoes fired from a twin or triple torpedo launcher. 

Denmark's defense reinforcement efforts mirror growing security concerns among the Nordic and eastern countries bordering the Baltic Sea. 

Russia's increasingly unpredictable behavior in the Baltic Sea region headed the agenda when NATO's Allied Air Command met with commanders of the air forces of the Nordic and Baltic countries as well as Poland in Lithuania at the end of March. In attendance were the air force commanders of the non-aligned Nordic states Finland and Sweden.

NATO's air-policing mission in the Baltic Sea was established after Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the alliance in March of 2004.

"What is clear is that NATO must be visible and prepared," Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said. "In the area of readiness, there are things NATO needs to improve, including reaction times."