In the wake of Russia’s higher military activity ever since Moscow took the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Norway is slowly growing into a US stronghold in the defence of Scandinavia. A conclusion drawn by Airheadsfly.com based on recent political and military deals, that include the possible basing of up to four US Air Force F-22 Raptors on the threshold of Oslo.
It seems like reading pages of a Cold War book, but the reinforcement of Norway as a base of US military operations in Scandinavia is slowly progressing for real – on the ground and in the air. Key seems to keep Southern Norway at all times under NATO air, ground, sea and cyberspace control. The area we talk about is roughly 500 square kilometres (320 sq miles) and includes Norway’s primary air force base of Ørland, the nearby reserve air base of Vaernes/Trondheim, NATO’s main tanker and transport reserve base of Sola (Stavanger), the reserve air base of Rygge (Moss) near the capital of Oslo, plus the main civilian airports of Olso-Gardermoen, Sondefjord/Skien and Florø. At the same time, the US is projecting its wings at the Norwegian outpost of Andøya in the Polar Circle.
Quite unexpected Washington has asked Norway to make space at the no longer air-active Rygge Airbase/Moss Airport for four of its combat aircraft, and the US is willing to pay for the necessary infrastructure and support. According to Pentagon documents the top military brass wishes to be able to place at least four Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor stealthy air superiority fighters on Rygge. “Yes, the basing of these aircraft is one possibility, but it can be other types of aircraft as well,” Norwegian Minister of Defence Frank Bakke-Jensen confirmed to the Norwegian newspaper of Aftenposten on June 13th.
Rygge Air Base
Rygge was once a proud operating base for Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 jets, before 330 (Fighter) Squadron moved to Bodø in the north. For a long time the three RNoAF DA-20 Falcon reconnaissance and intelligence gathering aircraft of 717 Squadron operated from Rygge, before moving to Oslo-Gardermoen.
Six Bell 412SPs ground support and assault choppers from 720 Squadron and the Westland Sea King SAR detachment of 330 Squadron flew from Rygge until the mother Rygge unit of 137 Air Wing was decommissioned in 2014. With regular air ops gone, the base did not fall asleep. The Air Operations Inspection, the Air Force’s Development and Competence Center, the Armed Forces Logistic Organisation, the Flight School Selection Center, the Oslofjord’s Home Guard (HV-01) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation are still holding their offices on Rygge. Add the US Air Force with combat aircraft in the near future.
Marines Division in Norwegian caves
Further north the US Marines are progressing on their establishment. A new political deal between Washington and Olso allows the sea soldiers to grow from the current level of 330 to 700 troops at Camp Vaernes. From there they are protecting up to a Marines division (23,000 troops) worth of tanks, armoured and soft vehicles, ammunition, food, water and other supplies stored in caves on at least five locations in the area around Norway’s third largest city in population.
C-5 Galaxy at Vaernes
The marines unit is a semi-permanent one, officially rotating its personnel every few months through the adjacent Vaernes/Trondheim International Airport. The airfield is a main reinforcement hub in case of war and can handle up to six giant Lockheed C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifters plus loads of smaller aircraft at any time. Much of the military infrastructure of Cold War times is still intact and the army/marine barracks of the camp can accommodate up to 1,200 troops, both from the US Marines and the Trøndelag Home Guard (HV-12).
Ørland Main Operating Base
Vaernes is no longer an active military airbase for many decades, but it is still very well protected even without the USMC on site. It is situated deeply in a fjord, surrounded by mountains and has the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s primary airbase of Ørland just 50 km (43 miles) away. From there the RNoAF not only operates its core F-16 squadron, but also its brand-new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealthy jets.
During the last week of May the F-35s doubled to six aircraft when a new batch of three arrived from the other side of the Atlantic. Another seven RNoAF F-35s are flying training missions from Luke AFB in Arizona, USA, and three more will arrive on Ørland this Autumn. Final plans call for 52 RNoAF Lightning II jets by 2024. Most of them will fly from Ørland, with Evenes near Harstand/Narvik in the north serving as a forward operating base.
Andøya Naval Air Base
While Evenes will also be home to the Royal Norwegian Air Force maritime patrol aircraft moving from Andøya, the US Navy is just starting operations from this very northern air base with its new Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft. The first of five USN P-8s landed at Andøya on June 8th, from where they will take over the defence and patrol of NATO’s northern flank from the aging six RNoAF P-3 Orion propeller aircraft. Even a USN C-40A Clipper was seen landing there, in support of the operations.
Oslo doesn’t want to say how long the US Navy presence on Andøya will be, but in the near future the RNoAF will fly five similar P-8s from Evenes Airbase further south. Norway ordered the pack to replace its six P-3s and three Dassault DA-20 Falcons in the years 2022 and 2023. The RNoAF 333 Squadron operating the P-3s has huge problems with fulfilling its task, both because the aircraft are not airworthy while repairs and maintenance are being slow, and because there is lack of key and supporting personnel in the unit. According to local newspapers 30 to 50 people quited or will quit working for the unit after the move from Andøya to Evenes was announced.
While Norwegian armed forces readiness is partly failing the US seems eager to step in. Washington is even establishing closer ties with the non-NATO countries of Sweden and Finland, with both the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki signing deals recently for more military cooperation with the USA and more frequent joint military exercises. In case it ever comes to war in Northern Europe, the US seems to be better prepared and better military established than it has been there for 20 years.
© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: One of four F-22A Raptors the Pentagon wishes to be able to base on Rygge AB near Olso, Norway (Image © Elmer van Hest)