Norwegian MoD Stresses Importance of Enough People in Northern Norway

Forsvarsminister Bjørn Arild Gram
Norwegian MoD Bjørn Arild Gram started the week in Bodø in connection with the preparedness exercise Øvelse Nord at Nord University. (Photo: Marie Staberg).

Bodø (High North News): The Norwegian government wants to strengthen defense in the far north and establish the Finnmark Brigade. According to the MoD, securing settlement in this region is high on the agenda. "If things get really serious, we are dependent on civilian society and the function of total defense," he says.

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"There is construction activity nearly wherever you turn in Porsangmoen in Finnmark county. The development is very positive. This was a garrison close to decommission a few years ago," says MoD Bjørn Arild Gram (Center) in an interview with High North News. 

The government's new long-term plan for the Norwegian Armed Forces places great emphasis on strengthening the Army and building a brand new Finnmark Brigade in Norway's northernmost county.

"The government is strengthening the Armed Forces in general. We need a greater defense with more modern capabilities. We build from what we have, and a build-up of the Finnmark land defense is already taking place," says Gram.

New military land structure

The Finnmark land defense consists of the garrison in Sør-Varanger, Porsanger Batallion, and Finnmark Home Guard District (HV-17).

"We see the potential in developing the Finnmark land defense to brigade size, which will allow this complex force to operate more independently," says Gram.

A brigade typically consists of about 3000 to 5000 soldiers. Today, Brigade Nord, with its focal point in Inner Troms, is the only brigade in the Norwegian Armed Forces.

The MoD explains that the major investment in the Finnmark Brigade involves a new infantry battalion, artillery battalion, and a number of new elements connected to military police, management, and logistics. The Home Guard will also be strengthened in the North, with anti-tank warfare and air force capacities.

"This is a collective investment based on what is already under construction."

Forsvarsminister Bjørn Arild Gram
The High North is of great significance to Russia, and Norway's allies have also been more concerned with the region, Gram points out. "We want more allied presence and activity in the North, but we also want that activity to be 'calibrated.' That means we are concerned with stability and predictability in the North," he says. (Photo: Marie Staberg)

Over NOK 17 billion in investment

The plan is to build up the Finnmark Brigade until 2032. The investments are made in construction and materials.

According to the MoD, this entails NOK 12 billion in the shape of investment in vehicles, weapons, and equipment. The construction costs come in addition.

"The total will be about 17 to 18 billion. This is a significant strengthening," he says.

"Important that people live in Finnmark"

One of Finnmark's significant challenges today is that people move away. What are your thoughts about the challenges of getting people to take these new jobs in the Armed Forces in the far north of the country?

"We now emphasize on getting enough people to Northern Troms, Finnmark, and the Armed Forces in general. This includes everything from expanding educational opportunities so that more people are educated – to getting better at keeping people there. We are investing in housing, and good housing has already been developed in Porsanger. We must do more of this."

Gram elaborates that other measures include various schemes and personal policy measures in the Armed Forces, among other things.

"There are processes with labor organizations regarding pension matters, salary incentives, and special age limits. Many processes must be landed in a good way so that the Armed Forces is an attractive place to be," he says and maintains:

"In regard to population numbers, it is very important that people live in Finnmark and that this is a county with growth, development, and activity. Due to strategic reasons for Norway, it is important that these are not depopulated areas. If things get really serious, we are dependent on the civilian society and the function of the total defense."

Grensejegere, Garnisonen i Sør-Varanger
Border rangers belonging to the Quick Reaction Force in the Pasvik company of the Jaeger Batallion GSV. (Photo: Ole-Sverre Haugli / the Norwegian Armed Forces)

Good US response

Before the visit to Bodø, Gram was in the US to meet MoD Lloyd Austin in the Pentagon and senators in the Congress. Gram explains that one of the objectives of the trip was to present Norway's new defense plan.

"It was very well received in the US," says the MoD and adds:

"The long-term plan is noticed and receives good response. The US has long been concerned, rightly so, that European allies must take their share of the insurance premium and increase their defense budgets. The fact that we will reach the two percent target already this year is important. And we will almost double the defense budget until 2036."

Excerpts from the Armed Forces' long-term plan

The Army will be developed from one to three brigades: one in Finnmark, one in Troms, and a new Brigade Sør.

The Finnmark land defense will be strengthened with air defense capacity, an artillery battalion, a light infantry battalion, an engineering company, an intelligence company, and strengthened management. The land defense will be further developed into the Finnmark brigade.

The government will facilitate a significant boost in personnel and expertise in the Armed Forces.

The government will take several steps to make the personnel and expertise boost possible. The strengthening of the Armed Forces educational institutions is being stepped up.

Changes to the defense sector's wage conditions and incentives are also being made to make it a more attractive employer.

To succeed with the government's personnel and expertise boost, measures must be taken to facilitate a longer military professional career.

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