Securing stability and predictability in the Arctic, one may claim, takes a constant balancing act. Allied air power will continue to be key. The Royal Norwegian Air Force last year celebrated its 75th anniversary, which coincided with attaining initial operating capability with our fifth-generation combat aircraft, the F-35. As our legacy F-16s need replacement, geostrategic developments require preparations for the future.

The Air Force is now undergoing the most profound modernization since its formation in Great Britain during the Second World War. We have now set our eyes on the goal of full operating capability for the F-35s in 2025 with the Joint Strike Missile as the key weapon. The purpose is to deliver a modern war-fighting capability able to deter aggression, and to provide continued contribution to NATO collective defense.

Over the past decade, Russia has strengthened its military capabilities in the High North. Building a so-called active defense, which emphasizes high readiness, mobility, strong coordination and the ability to launch massive firepower, Russian military activity is increasing. Because of Russia’s prioritization of the Arctic, we are witnessing large-scale infrastructure reestablishment, the addition of new military equipment and a higher number of exercises in the region. The key task of the Russian capabilities on the Kola Peninsula is global deterrence, making horizontal escalation a lasting concern for Norway.

Looking north is second nature to Norway, as we were the only NATO member state with a border to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In terms of air power, I would like to highlight a few significant Norwegian peacetime contributions to the alliance.

All military decision-making begins with understanding the operational environment to build situational awareness. The Royal Norwegian Air Force’s chain of air surveillance radars is permanently monitoring the national and adjacent airspace. They feed into NATO’s integrated air command-and-control system with an air picture of the north. The government’s long-term defense plan released this spring gives priority to the renewal of the air surveillance radars.

Permanent 24/7 NATO air policing is one of the most crucial missions of the Royal Norwegian Air Force in the High North. Norway is accustomed to the frequent presence of Russian bombers and other military aircraft in international airspace close to our borders flying into the North Atlantic. Norwegian F-16s have provided NATO quick-reaction alert from Bodø Air Base situated north of the Polar Circle for more than half a century. The quick-reaction alert is operated under NATO command according to established allied procedures. In March this year, F-35s performed their first identification of Russian bombers, a mission the new aircraft will take over from 2022.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force is also monitoring the waters in the north, with our P-3s soon to be replaced with five new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. We have performed this task in cooperation with close allies since the Russian Northern Fleet, and particularly their submarines, started their Cold War patrols into the Atlantic. Our MPA provides situational awareness and a stable presence. The Northern Fleet has modernized old submarine classes and introduced new ones, including the silent Yasen-class multirole submarines (the Severodvinsk) armed with cruise missiles, and the strategic Borei class with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Monitoring the north with MPA is also a substantial contribution to the alliance.

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon takes flight. Norway plans to replace its fleet of P-3s with five new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. (U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon takes flight. Norway plans to replace its fleet of P-3s with five new P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. (U.S. Navy)

The Norwegian short, medium and long-term goal for the High North continues to be stability and predictability. As a small state bordering Russia, Norway depends on NATO and close allies for its defense and joint deterrence. Credible military presence is an important part of the balance. Therefore, the Norwegian government is working to increase our military presence in the north.

The credibility of collective defense rests on allied cohesion and interoperability. We therefore value allied military presence and participation in exercises and training in demanding Arctic conditions. Hosting the NATO exercise Trident Juncture in 2018 in Norway was a successful manifestation of allied cohesion focusing on collective defense. The exercise comprised large-scale training goals such as interoperability, reinforcement and mobility — crucial for allied operations on both the northern flank and elsewhere.

The most recent confirmation of the importance of the Arctic is the United States’ release of the Department of the Air Force Arctic Strategy. The strategy confirms a continued U.S. ambition to contribute to a secure and stable Arctic region. Norway welcomes and support our American allies’ enduring effort to address common challenges in this strategically important area in the years ahead.

The modernization of the Royal Norwegian Air Force enables continued strategic presence in the north. NATO’s quick-reaction alert with Norwegian F-35s will operate from Evenes Air Base from 2022. Our F-35s will continue the strategically important task of permanent air policing on the northern flank — constituting NATO fifth-generation presence in the Arctic airspace.

Tone Skogen is the state secretary of the Norwegian Defence Ministry.