Innsikt: A New Normal. The Long-Term Plan For Defense Sector, 2021-2024

On the 8th of October 2019 the Chief of Defense published the Military Advice of 2019. The Advisory Opinion proposes a new long-term plan (LTP) for 2021-2024. The LTP is given every four years, yet this one is especially important as the NATO-goal of spending at least 2 % of GDP will apply for all member states from 2024 and onward. The new LTP includes a proposal of four structural alternatives that stretch from A to D.

Each structural alternative build upon the other, where alternative D is the least extensive and alternative A the most extensive. Chief of Defense, Admiral Bruun-Hanssen, argues that the Norwegian security situation has become “more unpredictable and demanding” than before, and thus encourages the Norwegian Government to adopt the most extensive plan – alternative A. On the 16th of October, Minister of Defense stated we are facing “a new normal, not the new normal. A different normal is thinkable, but a new normal is what we see around us.” 

This article will argue that for Norway to be fully prepared for what Frank Bakke-Jensen referred to as “a new normal” in our security situation, the Norwegian Government must apply alternative A. This is due to the fact that alternative A has been promoted as the only option that appropriately meets the new security situation. 

The four structural alternatives and their main priorities

Alternative A is promoted as the alternative that meets the security situation today, while alternative B suggests strengthening selective domains. Alternative C would strengthen NATO’s collective defense, and alternative D focuses on national defense. Additionally, alternative B has two versions, prioritizing a strengthening of either the maritime or the ground-based areas. All the alternatives suggest 52 combat aircrafts of the F35s. Implementing the F35 aircrafts has been the first upgrade to our current LTP, and these will replace the F-16 by 2025. The current defense budget has exceeded its costs for increasement in staff and conscription, resulting in an additional NOK 2,4 billion to the current LTP. 

While the biggest difference from D to A is the number of tactical and maritime helicopters. Alternative D proposes 14 maritime and 18 tactical helicopters, in comparison to alternative A, in which suggests 24 maritime and 34 tactical helicopters. The numbers for alternative A are the same for alternative B, but only for each prioritized version in either maritime or ground-based areas. The total difference in budget is an addition of NOK 13 billion from the highest to lowest budget. This makes the best option in alternative A, more than twice as costly as the lowest option in alternative D.

The new LTP transforms the budget either way with an increasement of at least NOK 12 billion higher than the 2019 budget. The year before that, there was only a NOK 4 billion increase, making the lowest budget in alternative D, still three times as high as the previous budget increase. Alternative A requires a gradual increase until 2028, which is a NOK 25 billion higher than the 2020 budget. Making this new LTP a historical investment in our national defense.

This Spring 2020, the Government will propose the LTP to Parliament. Here is former Minister of Defense, Ine Eriksen Søreide presenting it in 2016. Photo: The Media Archive of Norwegian Defense

The air force and maritime priorities in structural A and B

A crucial part to highlight, is the rise of tension in maritime areas in Northern Norway. An increase in Norwegian military presence in Northern maritime areas, is nothing but expected, but an increase in NATO-presence is not. Research Scientist at The Naval Academy, Ståle Ulriksen, said relying too much on our allies would be “a giant dilemma” arguing that “the more we depend on our allies, the less room for action we would have. And our interests don´t always overlap with those of our allies”. As American surveillance in the Norwegian and Barents Sea would only cause more tension, it would also lead to increased Russian activity and threats. 

Earlier this year, Russia claimed Norway is breaking the Svalbard treaty with illegal military activity. During last fall of 2019, ten Russian submarines were spotted making their way from the Kola Peninsula, across the Norwegian Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean, undoubtedly trying to move unnoticed toward the US. This security dilemma has caused disruptive effects over a period of time. Therefor, Norway would be better suited investing in one of the alternatives with a high priority in maritime or ground-based alternatives, such as option A or any version of preference in B. 

Each of the alternatives suggest an increase in maritime and ground-based terrain, but they hold a relatively low priority in tactical investments for the Norwegian Coastal Guard. This concerns coast guard vessels, frigates, mine-clearing systems and submarines. Even in alternative A, and in the maritime version of alternative B, these investments are seemingly not of a high priority, nor sufficient for a national defense strategy. One of the reasons is that frigates, and other radars and sensors are not developed for usage in fjords and archipelagos along the Norwegian Coast. Ulriksen states, that cold glazier ice comes together with warm saltwater from the Gulfstream, resulting in a temperature difference and salt contents hindering radars and sonars in finding enemy hidden submarines. Another reason is how aircrafts have become more and more important in reconnaissance and surveillance, and will enhance national readiness and efficiency, and is therefore more prioritized in the new LTP. 

In recent years, strategic important, maritime surveillance (MPA) have seen a decrease of Norwegian P-3 Orion aircrafts, while American P-8 Poseidon aircrafts have flown patrol out from Andøya instead. This will now shift with the 52 new combat F35 aircrafts, and the LTP suggest a heavy investment in tactical and maritime helicopters. Even though uncovering the enemy’s submarine activity is of great importance, none of the alternatives suggests an investment to ensure a total and limitless defense that could defend our entire nation from a Russian attack. This causes us to look at reasons from a broader, international perspective in gathering and strengthening our collectiveness as a credible NATO ally. 

NATO’s collective measures and hidden digital threats

In a different and broader perspective, the probability for several attacks from different corners of the world is much greater. Digital threats from overseas are a part of international geopolitical issues. As from 2015, major powers have mobilized their troops and weapons both on the grounds and in digital space. While demanding global power, they cause a dynamical change to the balance of power, and thus indirectly and directly affecting Norway’s security situation. 

Furthermore, the Annexation of Crimea has shifted the world focus to Russia´s involvement and offensive capability in protecting important territorial interest. A Ukrainian revolution would have had the potential to place Putin in a vulnerable geopolitical situation. The occupation of Crimea can therefore be seen as geographical security action to prevent a Ukrainian membership in NATO. The extent of Russian willingness is also shown in their involvement in the Syrian war. And their efforts in aiding Assad with military airstrikes since 2015 and up until 2020, give reason to see Russian effectiveness and mobilization as a potential threat to NATO. 

The smoldering Russian threat speaks for the implementation of alternative C if not one of the more extensive alternatives; A or B. Alternative C would strengthen our readiness and capacity as a NATO ally. Not the least, Russia is in our immediate proximity and is seen as one of our most unpredictable neighbors. Therefore, alternative C would be the favourable alternative compared to alternative D. An important argument made by Bruun-Hanssen is that Russia’s ability to mobilize military power to the degree they have, is a capacity not anticipated in the last LTP. 

Norway must be prepared to encounter new and asymmetrical ways for warfare, and continue to uphold our efforts in international operations. With a wider set of threats than can be expected in the future, a race for control and influence of global digital infrastructure is becoming more and more vital to national security. An attack can come from different corners of the world, and the stakes are higher during international operations with allies. Digital framing, hacking and jamming of our signals can open windows to espionage, manipulation and sabotage. 

The new race for control going into the decade of 2020, is a race for control and influence of the global digital infrastructure. Norway has already been facing new security issues, i.e. the interferences in Norwegian signals in the North of Norway. Minister of Defense Frank Bakke-Jensen, has highlighted this as a reason for concern. Technological advancements in digitalization is more widespread due to globalization, and makes it harder to recognize the location of a threat or the face behind an attack. Therefore, it can easily cause sinking Norwegian responsiveness and effectiveness. This is how “Russia has taken up a new posture” states Bakke-Jensen. 

While, a digitalized society like Norway is becoming more dependent on electronic communication, the risks stand higher for sabotage of critical infrastructure and could sooner than later become the reality. The Norwegian Intelligence Service has posted in the annual report, FOCUS for 2020, that the Chinese Huawei setup for 5G-telecom can be an impasse to interfere in Western communication systems. Prioritizing to uphold Norwegian efforts in international operations, as well as ensuring our national, digital security, is therefore the tangent line in all four alternatives. The Advisory Opinion states that today´s structure lacks the capacity to undertake these tasks simultaneously. With a wider set of threats these issues can be expected in the future. The new LTP will therefore prepare Norway´s interoperability in terms of multifactorly security dilemmas. 

The new LTP represents a national ability to cooperate with our allies while facing new challenges, and is the fundamental principle for all four alternatives. This is how the four alternatives are alike, and either way hold a realistic, national stance in the new LTP. Both China and Russia as commonly known as users of non-military instruments to achieve their political goals. The realization of great powers and their increased capability is recognized in the new LTP. The global power dynamics are shifting, and this is why interoperability is a mutual and prioritized element across the new LTP. 

To sum up, the most desirable upgrade would be the number of tactical and maritime helicopters for reconnaissance and surveillance in either alternative A or B, and therefore increasing national efficiency. The biggest challenge we face today, is maintaining a high-readiness, reducing the time for response with an earlier warning. These issues would be met in some degree in all the alternatives. Alternative D would be an increase three times as high as the last LTP budget increase, but it would still only ensure the strengthening of half of what the defense sector is in need of today. Adopting alternative C would be a more suitable option by strengthening our defense as a NATO ally. Whilst adopting alternative A or B would give the additional adequate responsiveness and robustness. Yet, only alternative A ensures all of this with an appropriate situational understanding and endurance, and that is why Bruun-Hanssen, recommends this alternative for facing “a new normal” in Norway’s security situation. 

The Minister of Defense, Bakke-Jensen will present the LTP for the Parliament after Easter.


This article is written by Elisabeth I. Orøy, board member of YATA Oslo. The views expressed in this article is entirely the views of the author, and does not necessarily represent the views of YATA Norway.