Friday, 29 August 2014

“Defence of the Norwegian territory is no longer our dominating task. Today, our missions are more diverse, complex, unpredictable, and intertwined."

Rear Admiral Lars Saunes, Chief of Staff Royal Norwegian Navy: “We have a strong commitment to NATO, and continue to provide relevant maritime contributions for participating in international coalition crises management and peace support operations under the auspices of the UN or NATO.”
(Photo: Courtesy of Guy Toremans)

’Skjold’ is the Norwegian word for ‘Shield’. For most of us, it is a word synonymous with a large, superfast, stealth missile craft that is unique in the world. The Royal Norwegian Navy that commissioned six units of this type of highly seaworthy craft between 1999 and 2011 describes them as corvettes. Rear Admiral Lars Saunes, Chief of Staff Royal Norwegian Navy, said in an interview with NAVAL FORCES’ Special Correspondent Guy Toremans that the “Skjold” class are amongst the fleet’s most flexible assets.
“Due to their unique seagoing capabilities, advanced technology, and their crews’ expertise in littoral operations, these units are much more than traditional fast patrol boats”, he noted.
Amongst the most recent additions to the Navy are the five “Fridtjof Nansen” class frigates. Both warship classes are definitely fulfilling the Navy’s expectations, providing it with an increased operational capability in their respective fields of use. “The capabilities offered by the “Nansen” class extends beyond air defence. Their impressive sensor, weapon, and comprehensive C4I suites give us quite a few capabilities not found on other frigates. Steps are being taken to further improve their interoperability. In the near term, the frigates’ roadmap includes the installation of Link 16, integration of a high-bandwidth secure SATCOM capability replacing the current temporary SATCOM system, and the planning area for embarked staff located adjacent to the combat information centre […]. We’re also waiting for the new helicopters, the NH-90 NFH”, Rear Admiral Saunes noted.
Questioned about the priorities in terms of upgrading the Royal Norwegian Navy, Rear Admiral Saunes noted that the Navy’s more mobile operational concept required commensurately more flexible logistic elements, hence the acquisition of the new logistic support vessel. This ship, based on a variant of BMT Defence Service’s AEGIR type support vessel, is currently under construction at South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME). According to him, the ship is expected to join the fleet end-2017, and will represent a totally new and enhanced logistical capability.
Another priority is the acquisition of a new class of Coast Guard vessels to replace the current three “Nordkapp” class patrol vessels in order to meet the future challenges Norway is facing in its high North. “The Coast Guard – as an integral part of the Navy – shoulders the responsibility for surveillance and control of Norway’s [EEZ] and fishing grounds around Svalbard and Jan Mayen islands, SAR operations, support of civilian maritime activities, and environmental protection operations”, he said.
Speaking of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s underwater warfare capabilities, Rear Admiral Saunes stated that “our main project is the replacement of our six “Ula” class boats, commissioned between 1989 and 1992. They have reached the age where decisions must be made on how to renew the sub-surface fleet, whether we give them a further life extension or to acquire new submarines. In case we opt for new constructions, we are looking to other Navies with similar requirements, the Swedish Navy being the privileged, but not necessarily exclusive, partner.”
“We are also looking into the replacement of our mine countermeasure assets. The “Oksøy” and “Alta” class units, built in the 1990s, have been used far more than originally expected, both in terms of operational hours and distances covered. Therefore a life extension is not envisaged.” The growing desire “to take the man out of the minefield” is prompting the investment for remotely-controlled systems that could be based on different types of platforms that have other primary tasks, yet have the capacity to operate as a MCM mothership, according to Rear Admiral Saunes. “One option is the use of a support ship for control of MCM autonomous underwater vehicles [AUV], or unmanned systems could be embarked in other platforms – including frigates – to provide an organic MCM capability. And we are also upgrading our command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems [C4I].”
The Royal Norwegian Navy regularly deploys assets in support of international operations. With Norway hosting a wide range of maritime infrastructures and a world class commercial fleet, it is necessary to maintain a naval capability that can be used where and when national interests are challenged. The balance between national tasks and international contribution is mainly a political issue though, and varies with the relative importance of the national tasks at hand. “Our role is to ensure that we have capable units available for international tasking, when and where deemed necessary”, Rear Admiral Saunes said. “For us, international operations are seen as important and useful engagements were one very often see the result right away and give evidence that we have crews and platforms of high standards.”
According to him, there are three emerging trends that may influence the future development of the Royal Norwegian Navy. The first is the climate change. Rising sea temperatures result in an increased melting of ice in the Arctic, making new substantial areas available for commercial exploitation. This implies that Norway’s area of operations/responsibility will expand. The second trend is the effect of globalisation, resulting increased reliance on seaborne trade. “Norway is deeply involved and is one of the main transporters in the world. Therefore, we have a vested interest in keeping the global trade safe and secure”, Rear Admiral Saunes said. According to him, the third trend is the ever- increasing complexity of naval warfare. This tendency is particularly challenging for small Navies, because the capacity and competence within the organisation always will be limited.
“Obviously, these trends will imply more missions and a higher operational tempo, thus necessitating a greater need to train and develop our Navy”, he concluded.

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