Will NATO save important air base in Norwegian Arctic?

F-16 fighter jets and a P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft over Northern Norway. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)
The Norwegian government planned to abandon the Air Force base in Andøya, located in the North. But NATO might want it otherwise.

The decision to close the Andenes base created an outcry from local authorities in Northern Norway when it was announced late 2016. Air defense capacities in the region will suffer, critics said. Andøya has until now been the base for Norway’s fleet of P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft. It had a key position in Norwegian national air defense during the Cold War.

The Norwegian parliament, the Storting, decided that the base will be closed when the country’s fleet of new P-8 Poseidon air surveillance aircraft is introduced in 2021-2022. The new aircraft will be operated from Evenes, the base located slightly further south, near the towns of Narvik and Harstad. It will allow the Armed Forces to save up to 2.9 billion Norwegian kroner over a 20-year time span, the government planners say.

Other plans

However, the future of Andøya might still not look that grim.

According to newspaper Klassekampen, Norwegian Defense authorities have other plans for Andøya. In a classified memo obtained by the newspaper, the Norwegian Joint Headquarters argue that Andøya must remain operational as base for allied aircraft in cases of crisis and conflict.

“After the re-organization of the military infrastructure at the Bodø Airport and because of the limited capacities at Evenes and Bardufoss, the Andøya will in the future be the most important support base for allied reinforcements on Nato’s northern flank”, the document reads.

It also states that the operational preparedness procedures of the base need to be enhanced, Klassekampen reports.

If the plans become reality, the base will become a key NATO stronghold for operations in the North Atlantic.

Still important

The continued importance of Andøya is indicated also in an announcement from the Ministry of Defense made in mid-April. In the statement, the Ministry explains that the capacity to conduct allied air operations will not be reduced with the moving of the P-8 Poseidon air surveillance aircraft to Evenes.

“Allied reinforcement plans are in change and national plans are being updated and adjusted, including the plan for national and allied exploitation of both military base structure and civilian infrastructure”, the Ministry says.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: NATO wants to keep the Arctic an area of low tensions, Radio Canada International

Finland: In crisis, would Finland’s supplies be safe on Arctic rail near Russian border?, YLE News

Norway: How vulnerable is Norway to hybrid warfare?, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s Northern Fleet drills submarine hunt in Barents Sea, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish military wants to double in size, Radio Sweden

United States: Trump signs defense bill to allow more missile interceptors in Alaska, Alaska Public Media

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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