HELSINKI — Norway’s announcement that it plans to deploy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft to the Arctic in 2022 marks significant progress in the country’s long-term effort to bolster defense capabilities and readiness in the region.
The Ministry of Defence unveiled the timeline Aug. 13, having already approved Evenes Air Station as the main base for its future Boeing-made fleet.
The Royal Norwegian Air Force ordered five P-8A Poseidons to replace its in-service fleet of six Lockheed Martin P-3C/N Orion maritime patrol aircraft and two Dassault Falcon 20 special mission aircraft. The service’s P-3 Orions operate from the Andoya Air Station, located 190 miles inside the Arctic Circle.
Evenes Air Station offers the P-8As shorter flying times to key strategic areas within Norway’s maritime security zone in the high north. The aircraft to be are equipped with submarine-detection sonobuoy technology, and they can identify and launch torpedoes to eliminate hostile submarines.
Norway signed a contract to purchase five P-8As in March 2017, with delivery dates in 2022 and 2023. The first of the P-8As on order underwent tests during the first week of August, jointly conducted by Boeing and Norway’s MoD in the United States.
The acquisition forms part of the Norwegian Armed Forces’ strategic plan to beef up maritime surveillance in the high north against the backdrop of increasing submarine activity by Russia’s Northern Fleet and foreign surface vessels in areas west of the Barents Sea, including the Norwegian Sea and the northern Atlantic Ocean.
“We have a challenging strategic environment that constantly reminds us that we cannot take our freedom and security for granted. Norway will continue to invest substantially in defense and security to ensure we remain a reliable, responsible and capable partner on the Northern flank of the Alliance [NATO],” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said in an August update on the Poseidon buy.
The Norwegian military has developed a plan to strengthen its ability to track newer Russian vessels, including the fourth-generation, Yasen-class multimission submarines equipped with superior stealth features, compared to other subs in Russia’s Northern Fleet. Armed with long-range cruise missiles, Yasen subs pose a new level of concern for Norway and its NATO allies.
The scale of Norway’s reinforcement in the high north is reflected in its planned spending from 2021 to 2024. The government raised spending from $6.9 billion in 2020 to almost $7.3 billion in 2021. Military spending it to increase to about $7.85 billion in 2024, second only to Sweden in terms of defense spending by a Nordic country.
The spending is largely driven by the government’s “Long Term Defence Plan,” released in October.
Amid the procurement of pricey P-8As and F-35 fighter jets, the long-term effort includes a capital investment plan to upgrade the military’s NASAMS II air defense systems with modern sensors. “This will contribute to countering threats against bases, and protect allied reception areas and other vital infrastructure,” the plan’s summary document read.
Additionally, the 2021 budget includes a provision to equip the special forces with new and improved transport helicopters able to operate in extreme climates, meant to replace Bell 412 helos.
Norway is also considering a long-term option to add long-range air defense systems to its inventory.
The long-term plan also embraces closer collaboration with NATO forces in the high north, and particularly in joint training that leads to allied growth in the region. Already, Britain’s separate decision to acquire and deploy P-8As is expected to complement long-term, joint operations with Norway.
The ongoing restructuring of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, including in sub-Arctic Norway, is also expected to substantially buttress air defenses. This major capital project includes the development of new bases to house newly acquired capacities such as F-35s, NH90 multirole helicopters and AW101 rescue helicopters.
The Orland Air Station will serve as the main base for the 52-strong fleet of F-35s, slated to become fully operational in 2025. Farther north, Evenes Air Station is the service’s primary “quick reaction alert” base, conducted on behalf of NATO.
The Air Force created a maritime helicopter wing at Bardufoss Air Station in the north of the country in 2019 as part of an air-defense restructuring plan. Station Group Gardermoen, located outside Oslo, was expanded to house the service’s C-130J Hercules and DA-20 aircraft, while the Army’s Bell 412 helicopters operate out of the Rygge Air Base.
Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.