International Exercise in the Barents Sea: “Norway Wants to Assert Its Defense Capacity in the Arctic”

The Norwegian frigate KNM Thor Heyerdahl is currently on exercise in the Barents Sea along with vessels and planes from Great Britain, the USA and Denmark. (Photo: Martin Giskegjerde/Norwegian Armed Forces. Photo of Julie Wilhelmsen: NUPI)

Vessels from the British navy will lead a multinational maritime operation north of the Arctic Circle. “It is important for Norway to demonstrate that it is not only the prolonged arm of the USA”, says Julie Wilhelmsen of NUPI, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

Norway participates with the frigate KNM Thor Heyerdahl, while Great Britain sends the frigate HMS Sutherland as well as the support vessel RFA Tidespring. The USA sails with the USS Ross destroyer, according to a press release from the Norwegian Armed Froces.

Accumulated defense of Norway

The multinational force met off the coast of Lofoten, Norway and sailed together north, towards the Barents Sea.

“We want more allied training and exercise in Norway and our immediate neighborhood. This is not in lieu of our own defense, but rather a key part of the accumulated defense of Norway”, says Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and adds:

“It is important that our allies get to know conditions in our immediate neighborhood through regular exercises and drills alongside our forces.”

Increased military presence in the High North

Early May this year, a group of American and British warships sailed in the Barents Sea to exercise together for the first time since the mid-1980s. Norway chose not to participate in that exercise.

Senior Researcher Julie Wilhelmsen of NUPI, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, says Norway now wants to assert its defense capacity in the High North.

Julie Wilhelmsen, seniorforsker ved NUPI. Foto: Amund Trellevik / High North News

Senior Researcher Julie Wilhelmsen of NUPI, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

“Many pointed out that Norway did not participate in the American-British exercise last May. And now they [the Norwegian Armed Forces, journ. note] have decided that it is important with Norwegian participation in exercises taking place in Norway’s neighborhood. Through participating in this exercise, Norway sends a signal. It somehow deflects the impression that this is all about big power rivalry between the USA and Russia. This is also about Norway’s ability to defend itself.”

“There is a major change going on in this area. Russia is far more proactive in its exercise activity and positioning in the region. NATO has also increased its presence in the High North. This has been an increasing trend for the past five years.”

“It is important for Norway to mark that it is not just the USA’s prolonged arm, as is often claimed by Russian authorities. This is actually about the defense of Norway’s neighborhood too”, she says.

The Norwegian Armed Forces has recently repeatedly exercised with allied forces. As late as on Wednesday 2 September, an American tanker plane and American bombers trained together with Norwegian sea, air and land divisions.

British and American warships during a military exercise in the Barents Sea, May 2020. (Photo: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum)

The British Navy writes in a press release that the current exercise is to secure peace in the region and that the USA, Great Britain, Denmark and Norway work together to boost readiness to operate in the High North and increase resilience in an area which is vital to UK interests.

A statement from the U.S.’ Sixth Fleet stresses the importance of conducting ongoing operations in vital waterways in the Arctic.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.