Norway Explores Cooperation With the US and UK on Maritime Surveillance in the High North

maritime patruljefly
One of the new maritime patrol aircraft of the type P-8A Poseidon at Evenes Air Station in Nordland county, Northern Norway. Norway has ordered five of these from the US. (Photo: Philip Lunder/the Norwegian Armed Forces)

In June, the Northern Norwegian military bases on Evenes and in Ramsund became "agreed areas" with the US after a new defense agreement. Airborne maritime surveillance and maritime logistics cooperation at the bases is on the horizon, says Norwegian MoD.

After the Norwegian Parliament's approval, Norway's additional agreement with the US on defense cooperation entered into force in June 2022.

With this, the US gained the right to unimpeded access to and use of four "agreed areas" (military bases) in Norway, two of which are located in the north: Evenes Air Station and Ramsund Naval Base.

The agreement also allows the US to be granted exclusive access and the right to use parts of the areas by separate agreements, as well as for extensive American authority over Norwegian citizens who may come into contact with these areas.

Eight months later, High North News checks the status of the process of making the two bases into agreed areas in practice.

"Work is still underway to facilitate the practical implementation of the agreement," says Norwegian MoD Bjørn Arild Gram (Center) to HNN and continues:

"At Evenes, the aim is to develop cooperation between Norwegian, British, and American P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft – in accordance with the investments that are made in the Norwegian Armed Forces' long-term plan.

Norwegian MoD Bjørn Arild Gram together with UK's MoD Ben Wallace (Conservatives) after a meeting in the Northern European Defence Policy Forum (the Northern Group) in November. This took place on the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in Oslo Port, where the British procurement of Norwegian anti-ship missiles was also announced. (Photo: the Norwegian Ministry of Defense)  

An eye on Russian activity

Evenes Air Station is the Norwegian Air Force's advanced base for the F-35 fighter jets and NATO's fighter jet preparedness, as well as the main base for the new P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft – which Norway purchases from the US.

The first P-8A Poseidon aircraft arrived in Evenes last winter and spring. The final two will be in place during 2023. The aircraft can cover large areas of sea in a short amount of time – and has the ability to discover, identify, follow, and hit underwater targets, i.e. submarines. 

Cooperation with the US on maritime patrol aircraft on Evenes has been mentioned before, while British participation in this is new. However, it is not surprising. Last winter, the UK announced the use of its P-8A Poseidon in the Arctic to keep an eye on Russian submarine activity, as part of its Arctic strategy. 

Norway and the UK also cooperate closely on defense and British forces, as well as American, regularly train in Northern Norway.

In November, not only the US but also the UK led various air operations during training activity in the north of Nordland and the south of Troms in Northern Norway. According to the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, Norwegian F-35 fighter jets participated in the British-led operation.

Logistics hub

Ramsund Naval Base, for its part, is intended as a logistics hub for Norwegian, American, and other allied maritime vessels. This is the Norwegian Navy's main base in Northern Norway and it has supply services and a maintenance workshop.

"In Ramsund, the aim is to develop maritime logistics cooperation. In the current long-term plan for the defense sector, it is planned that the Ramsund Naval Base will have an expanded role as the Navy's base in the North – and that the base is further developed to support the Navy and allies, including expanded quay facilities, storage of ammunition, logistics, and maintenance. This further development can also be seen in the context of the development of the Evenes Air Station," says Gram and continues:

"Our NATO allies train and exercise regularly in Norway, something that may also involve periodical presence in connection with logistics support. Increased cooperation with the US and other allies at Evenes and Ramsund is desired and will provide economies of scale and increased operative effect."

Ramsund Naval Base is located in a town with the same name in Tjeldsund municipality in southern Troms, Northern Norway. The base is intended as an advanced base for new Norwegian submarines. These were to be delivered from 2029, but have been delayed. However, work on upgrading the base's facilities is ongoing and its sea area is desired to be expanded. (Photo: the Norwegian Armed Forces)

Specification remains

The new defense agreement between Norway and the US came about on American initiative – and the conclusion of the agreement was made an "invariably requirement" for new infrastructure investments in Norway.

With regard to American investments in infrastructure at Evenes and Ramsund, the Norwegian MoD states the following:

"Future American infrastructure projects require planning processes on the American side, as well as the allocation of funds from the US defense budget. It is therefore too early in the process to say anything about specific projects at Ramsund and Evenes at the time."

So far, it seems that American submarines and other maritime vessels use Grøtsund Harbor in Tromsø for new supplies and crew changes. This fall, the nuclear submarines USS Newport News and USS New Hampshire called at this port, according to the US Navy.

Incidentally, the Andøya Air Station, also in Nordland county, was used for the above-mentioned American air exercise.

Autumn visit to the US

Perhaps questions about the design of the cooperation on the two military bases, including possible American infrastructure investment, was something Gram and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor) discussed when they visited the US in September.

The further development of the defense cooperation was then on the agenda and the two met Secretary Of The Navy Carlos Del Toro and leaders of NATO's Joint Force Command Norfolk.

"That the US has re-established the Navy's second fleet and established a NATO headquarters in Norfolk is a clear expression of the fact that the North Atlantic and the High North are becoming increasingly more important. For Norway, these areas are central and our cooperation on the maritime activity in the North means a lot to our common security. We agree that we need a good overview and understanding of what is happening in our immediate areas, said the MoD during the visit.

Gram also met the US MoD Lloyd Austin (D) and congress representatives, who are respectively responsible for designing and adopting the defense budget.

"Meeting central parliamentarians of the American Congress is important. The bilateral relationship with the US is very good, but it is important to continue exchanging viewpoints, not least on the developments in the North," he commented.

There are many indications that one can expect more American military activity in the High North in the future. Recently, at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Northern Norway, a high-ranking official of the US Department of State also maintained that more deterrence of Russia in the Arctic is needed.

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