Large Army and Navy Exercises in the Nordic Region This Late Fall

As a part of the army exercise Arctic Bolt in Troms in Northern Norway, the entire Artillery Batallion in Brigade Nord trained together on sniping, with all their artillery vehicles of the type K9 Thunder. (Photo: Ole-Sverre Haugli/the Armed Forces)

In these times, this fall's most extensive exercises for land and naval forces are being carried out in Northern Norway, Eastern Finland, and the Gulf of Finland.

Outside the Northern Norwegian and Finnish coasts, large and partly international forces are training in maritime warfare, respectively in the exercises Flotex 2022 and Freezing Winds 2022.

At the same time, significant army forces have recently been and are now training for combat on land in the long valleys of Inner Troms in Northern Norway and deep within the Northern Finnish forests – in the exercises Arctic Bolt 2022 and Kontio 2022.

These are the fall's largest exercise activities within these two branches of defense both in the Norwegian and Finnish context – and partly also involve the participation of air forces, the Norwegian and the Finnish Armed Forces informs. 

Arctic Bolt 2022

The Norwegian Army's main exercise this fall, Arctic Bolt, took place in Troms, Northern Norway. It started on the 18th of November and concluded on Tuesday.

In total, the exercise involved around 3500 army soldiers, 200 Home Guard soldiers, and 1000 military vehicles. The majority of these belong to Brigade Nord (Bardufoss garrison and Setermoen camp, Troms), the Army's Quick Reaction Force of the aforementioned brigade (located in Southern Norway), as well as a task force in the regional home guard district. 

Last Friday, Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anniken Huitfeldt (Labor), and Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis (Christian Democrats) visited the Bardufoss exercise (see photo gallery).

They wanted to see how the army forces are training for deployment in Lithuania, as part of NATO's enhanced forward presence. Chief of the Norwegian Army, Major General Lars S. Lervik, was also present.

Read more about this exercise here.

Flotex 2022

The annual Norwegian-led naval exercise Flotex started on Monday last week and lasts until the 10th of December. This is the Navy's most important national exercise, in which allies are also participating. This year, forces from Denmark and Germany are taking part. 

The activity is primarily taking place in Vestfjorden and Andfjorden, Northern Norway. This is off the coast of Nordland county, but also partly off the coast of Troms. The exercise area in addition extends as far south as the sea areas outside Agder for presence at oil and gas installations in the North Sea.

"The exercise follows the same pattern as previous years, but presence at oil and gas installations is also a priority. Therefore, it is combined with some patrolling both along the coast and by petroleum fields," writes Head of Communications in the Norwegian Navy, Commander Senior Grade Torill Herland, in an e-mail to High North News.

The aim of last year's Flotex exercise was to build maritime combat power and strengthen warfare abilities in Northern waters. With this in mind, there was placed great emphasis on hunting for submarines and anti-submarine warfare.

Participating units in Flotex 2022

- A total of nine warships are in action. Eight of them are Norwegian: the frigates KNM Fridtjof Nansen and KNM Roald Amundsen; the corvettes KNM Skjold, KNM Glimt, KNM Steil, and KNM Storm; the minesweeper KNM Måløy, as well as KNM Nordkapp, a former coastguard vehicle recently converted into a naval vessel. These are co-training with the Danish frigate HDMN Vædderen.

- Kystjegerkommandoen is also involved – a coastal combat unit based in Harstad, referred to as the Navy's eyes and ears along the coast – as well as the Navy's logistics command, which assists with transport and supply.

- From the Norwegian Air Force's side, F-35 fighters and maritime surveillance aircraft of the types P-3C Orion and P-8 Poseidon are participating. German naval patrol aircraft, probably also of the type P-3C, are also taking part.

– * In retrospect, the Norwegian Armed Forces informs that the British submarine HMS Artful and the frigate HMS Northumberland also were involved in the exercise to test future submarine commanders in a warfare scenario, specifically as part of a submarine command course informally known as 'The Perisher Course'.

Last week there was, among other things, sniping training in a large area southwest of Bodø city in Northern Norway, near the nature reserve Kjølsøyværet/Valvær (see NOTAM map further down).

Over the weekend, several of the vessels stayed in Bodø. The towering frigates KNM Fridtjof Nansen and HDMS Vædderen were docked in the city's harbor, as were the smaller vessels KNM Skjold (corvette) and KNM Måløy (minesweeper).

The activity level during Flotex will be at its highest this week, according to the Norwegian Navy. On the agenda are several rounds of sniper training in Andfjorden and Vågsfjorden that will be audible from the shore.

"We carry out Flotex every year to ensure high-level competence aboard the vessels and to train on warfare in Norwegian waters together with allies and units from the Air Force. Even though the security policy situation has changed, it is important for us to carry out the exercise this year. It contributes to our preparedness and we have expanded the training area to ensure the need for presence during the exercise," says Chief of the Navy Fleet, Commodore Trond Gimmingsrud, in a press release.

On Tuesday afternoon, the largest vessels were scattered between north and south: HDMS Vædderen was outside Harstad city in Troms and KNM Fridtjof Nansen was by Andøya in Nordland, while KNM Roald Amundsen and KNM Nordkapp were near Bergen, Western Norway.

Compared to the two previous editions of Flotex, allied participation in the exercise is more limited this year. Denmark is now participating for (at least) the third year in a row, while Germany took part last year together with France. In contrast to 2020 and 2021, the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 is not participating. This group is now taking part in the Freezing Winds exercise in the Baltic Sea.

German and Norwegian forces trained together in the North at the end of October during the German-led exercise Heimdall by Andøya. Marine vessels from Denmark and Germany also took part in the allied sniping exercise Mjølner outside Andøya in May. The last allied training activity by Andøya took place earlier in November, partly under the auspices of the US.

Notices to Airmen-map for last Tuesday (24.11), Monday (28.11), and Tuesday (29.11). Military operational areas are marked with red. These show both training fields within the framework of Arctic Bolt and Flotex. Areas marked with orange refer to "unmanned flights", most likely drone flights under military auspices. The coastal combat unit in Harstad is at the forefront of the Navy's work on drone development. (Screenshots from NOTAM Info)

Kontio 2022

The Finnish Army's main exercise Kontio 2022 takes place in North Karelia, a landscape in Eastern Finland by the Russian border. The exercise started last Friday and it will last until tomorrow, Friday.

Around 8000 soldiers, of which 2000 are reservists, are participating. The aim of the exercise is to develop the cooperation ability between the Army and other branches of defense. More specifically, it will enhance the soldier's readiness to operate in rapid situation frameworks together with the Finnish Air Force and the Finnish Border Guard. No international troops are participating.

The majority of the army soldiers come from the Kainuu Brigade, the Pori Brigade, the Karelia Brigade, and the Armoured Brigade. Also involved are the Utti Jaeger Regiment, the Army Academy, and the Defence Forces Logistics Command.

Freezing Winds 2022

The Finnish Navy's main exercise this fall, Freezing Winds 2022, began Tuesday last week and will last until Friday. The exercise, with large international participation, is held in the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea. It also includes heavy flight activity in southern Finland and the northern Baltic.

The Gulf of Finland is located in the Baltic Sea between Finland, Russia, and Estonia. Central ports are Helsinki and Hangö on the Finnish side, Vyborg and St. Petersburg on the Russian side, and Kotka and Tallin on the Estonian side. The Archipelago Sea refers to a large group of islands in the Baltic Sea between Åland and the Finnish mainland.

The Russian Baltic Fleet has its Kronstadt base in the innermost part of the Gulf of Finland and its Baltijsk base in Kaliningrad (exclave).

In total, the exercise activity includes around 5000 persons and 23 warships, service and support vessels, and transport boats (as well as coastal and land units). The number of participating aircraft is not stated, but on the agenda for the Finnish Air Force is operations with fighters of the type F-18 Hornet and Hawk.

Freezing Winds includes units from all branches in the Finnish Armed Forces, as well as many international partners.

International participation in Freezing Winds 2022

– Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) is participating with three vessels from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, respectively the frigate HDMS Esbern Snare, the frigate HNLMS Tromp, and the logistics and supply vessel KNM Maud. The French frigate Chevalier Paul sailed together with these.

– Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) also participates with four vessels from Germany and the Netherlands.

– The US participates with its 2nd Marine Logistics Group, the submarine destroyer USS Paul Ignatius and a maritime surveillance aircraft of the type P-8 Poseidon.

– Three corvettes are involved from the Swedish side: HMS Härnösand, HMS Helsingborg and HMS Gävle.  

The aim of the Freezing Winds exercise is to carry out joint operations off the Finnish coast during the late fall's demanding weather conditions, as well as provide Finnish naval forces training in giving and receiving international aid. 

This is an annual exercise series in the Finnish Navy, but the 2022 edition is the first of its kind in layout and extent, according to Yle.

"Our yearly naval exercise provides a unique opportunity to practice demanding combat tasks in the Baltic Sea under the conditions which prevail in November. The participation of our international partners is a very welcome addition for the Navy. Our joint exercises increase stability and security in the entire Baltic Sea area," says Chief of Staff in the Finnish Navy, Admiral Jukka Anteroinen.

With great NATO participation, it is a relevant point that the direct line for rapid communication and de-escalation between the alliance's top military leaders and Russia is reportedly broken. This was said by the chair of NATO's military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, to CBC last week.

Freezing Winds 2022: The Finnish Navy with the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1. (Film: the Finnish Navy)

The article has been updated.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.