A lacking ability for allied reception is one key point in the latest Norwegian defense white paper. The former Bodø Air Base for fighters, which is to be converted to civilian use, will still have capacity for receiving and protecting military aircraft, says a spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces.
Although the Norwegian Air Force's Base in Bodø was closed in January 2022 – at the same time as the NATO mission of continuous combat aircraft preparedness was taken over by new F-35 fighters based in Evenes further north – the Norwegian Armed Forces will retain some infrastructure for fighter aircraft in the city.
"The decision to close down the Air Force's base in Bodø is firm, and as specified in the determined long-term defense plan, there are no prioritized funds for staffed emergency functions at the base. Bodø will, as all civilian airports, be able to be used in the event of a crisis or war," writes spokesperson for the Armed Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Vegard Finberg, in an e-mail to High North News.
However, as mentioned, there are plans for the preservation of certain capacities for facilitating the reception of NATO allies:
"Some funds have been set aside for necessary maintenance of critical infrastructure after the base has been shut down in order to better support and receive allied reinforcements. Some shelters [reinforced concrete bunkers, ed.note] will still be preserved for the protection of fighter aircraft also when the new airport in Bodø is completed. In addition, there will still be a capacity to receive large transport aircraft," he continues.
Weaknesses in allied reception
During the extensive military exercise Cold Response in March, there was a high level of Norwegian and allied activity at the air station in Bodø. Precisely in part because this air station is especially well suited to receive forces, according to the Norwegian Armed Forces' operational headquarters.
This spring, the Støre government pointed out, in a white paper about the defense sector, weaknesses in Norway's ability to receive allied reinforcements, especially air forces and particularly in the North.
The continuation of Andøya Air Station is among the government's immediate measures to increase capacity in the aforementioned field in Northern Norway, while Bodø is to become a new city with a new airport. This project is part of the proposal for next year's national budget.
In the absence of an air defense which could match Russia's state-of-the-art missiles, the Norwegian Air Force has put a proliferation concept on fighter aircraft on "steroids", reports NRK.
This fall has offered a more intensified security policy situation, which is also the basis for the new strengthening of the Armed Forces' preparedness.
For the Air Force, the final parts of cleaning and decommissioning the facilities remain.
Liquidation work remains
According to Finberg, the Air Force is in its final phase of terminating what is to be removed of fighter aircraft-related capacities.
"With the exception of the rescue helicopter service, the Air Force has discontinued its activity at Bodø Air Station. For the Air Force, only the final parts of cleaning and decommissioning the facilities they have had remain."
However, there is still considerable work to be done to end the system for the for now phased-out F-16 fighter jets, he clarifies.
"This work is happening under the auspices of the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency and the Norwegian Defense Logistics Organization and includes sorting, classifying, and registering a large amount of material. The process also involves assessing which materials are salable and which should be disposed of."
In the national budget proposal for 2023, NOK 577 million is allocated as a grant to Avinor for the purchase of the current airport site from the Norwegian Defense Estates Agency. Avinor is a wholly state-owned company responsible for state-owned airports. The grant is considered a corresponding income in the defense budget.
There are still departments that have various missions at the former Air Force Base Bodø.
Continued task resolution at the air station
At the same time, other military activities are taking place at the air station.
"In addition, there are still departments that have various missions at the Armed Force's base in Bodø, formerly the Air Force Base Bodø," writes Finberg and continues:
"These are missions that are not linked to the Air Force's previous activity. These departments include, among others, the Norwegian Defense Estates Agency, which still operates and manages properties, buildings, and facilities, as well as the Norwegian Cyber Defense Force, the Norwegian Defense Logistics Organization, and the Norwegian Joint Headquarters."
"So far, the military perimeter has not changed compared to before, and the military guard duty is maintained as before," he adds.
The Norwegian Joint Headquarters, together with the Norwegian Defense Estates Agency, the Norwegian Cyber Defense Force, and the Norwegian Air Operations Center (NAOC), has its central location in the mountain complex at Reitan, a circa 25 minutes long drive from the air station and the center of Bodø.
The military perimeter has not changed, and the military guard duty is maintained as before.
Relocation of the Air Force's chief
In the middle of October, the Norwegian government announced that it wants to move the chief of the Air Force to Reitan outside of Bodø. This involves a relocation of the chief and a staff element from Rygge, southeast of Norway, and it has been determined on the basis of a professional military recommendation from the Chief of Defense.
"We have listened and we assume that such a move will substantiate that Northern Norway is the Norwegian Armed Forces' most important strategic area, as well as contribute to strengthening the Armed Forces' presence and visibility in the North," said Minister of Defense Bjørn Arild Gram (Center).
A proposal on this will be presented to the parliament, Stortinget, this fall in connection with the new balancing of the budget for 2022, it was informed.
Such a move was also adopted by the Storting in 2012 but postponed by the former Solberg government with reference to the otherwise major restructuring of the Norwegian Air Force with the phase-in of new fighter aircraft and changes to the base structure.
Could you say anything else about the time horizon for this move?
"The government has stated that the proposal will be submitted to the Storting this fall. If the Storting approves relocation, it it natural that the Chief of Defense comes up with a plan for the follow-up of the personnel and a further plan for relocation, in line with the current rules of employment," answers Finberg.
About the air station in Bodø and relocation of the airport
- The air base in Bodø was closed as an operational base in January 2022. This was the Norwegian Air Force's main base for fighter aircraft from 1955, where the now phased-out F-16 fighters were on permanent NATO standby for several decades.
- The air station was also used during Cold Response in March, the largest Norwegian-led allied exercise held in Norway since the 80s. It was also central during the NATO-led exercise Trident Juncture 2018, for which Norway was the host nation and which was even larger than the aforementioned exercise.
- The closing of the station was approved by the Storting in 2012 in favor of new aircraft bases on Ørland (main base) and Evenes (advanced air base in the North), where the new F-35 fighters are now stationed.
- The urban development project "New City – New Airport": In its proposal for the national budget of 2023, the government proposes to allocate NOK 1007 million for the relocation of Bodø Airport, approved by the Storting in 2017.
- Within the said sum, NOK 450 million is directed towards Avinor's planning activities, both incurred costs in the period 2019-2022 and future costs in 2023.
- NOK 577 million is set aside as a grant to Avinor for the purchase of the current airport site from the Norwegian Defense Estates Agency and this sum is considered as income in the defense budget.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.