Norway hosted a joint air force exercise with its NATO partners on Wednesday 3 June, featuring four B-52s from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota as they carried out a long-range training mission that flew through the Arctic to Europe.
The Stratofortress bombers, from the 5th Bomb Wing, trained with F-16s and F-35s from the Norwegian Air Force during the Bomber Task Force mission, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said in a release. They flew over the Arctic Ocean and the Laptev Sea, off the northern coast of Siberia.
“The Arctic is a strategic region with growing geopolitical and global importance, and these Bomber Task Force missions demonstrate our commitment to our partners and allies and our capability to deter, assure, and defend together in an increasingly complex environment.” USAFE commander Gen. Jeff Harrigian said in the release. “The integration of our bombers across Europe and the Arctic is key to enhancing regional security.” LINK
The exercise follows an exercise on Russia’s southern borders during which USAF B-1 Lancers trained for launching the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile during their flight to Eastern Europe late last week, which included contingents from the Ukraine air force and Turkey, marking the Ukraine’s first participation in such exercises. (LINK)
KC-135 tankers from the 100th Air Refuelling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in England and 168th Air Refuelling Wing at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska refuelled the B-52s during their round-trip flight.
The Air Force has conducted multiple long-range training flights with all three types of bombers in its fleet to Europe in recent weeks, including training missions with the air forces of Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Sweden and other allied nations.
Last week a municipal port in Norway was ordered to receive nuclear-powered submarines from NATO after the only naval base in the area was sold and decommissioned – but local politicians and environmental activists are against the plan.
When the Olavsvern base in Tromso was sold to private investors in 2009, pressure mounted from NATO to find an alternative point of arrival for reactor-driven vessels, other than Haakonsvern in Bergen, which is currently the only approved port in the country.
Now it appears a “temporary solution” to the problem has been found at Grotsund in Tromso, where the country’s Armed Forces have been told to prepare for the arrival of US submarines, Klassekampen reported.
A U.S. Navy submarine’s port call to Tromsø in 2016 caused considerable controversy at the time. It was the first allied nuclear powered submarine to sail to port in northern Norway since October 2007 when the last nuclear powered vessel made port call to Olavsvern.
They have since become a regular event, though the submarines usually meet with other vessels offshore.
NATO nuclear powered submarines are much more frequently sailing inside Norwegian waters, surfacing for crew-exchange or other purposes; either to port or inshore waters along the coast.
In 2017 activity increased sharply with more than 40 voyages requiring permission in and out of Norwegian coastal waters.
“3 to 4 per month,” says Navy Captain Per-Thomas Bøe with the Ministry of Defense in Oslo when asked by Barents Observer about the 2017 numbers of allied nuclear powered submarines.
“The majority were in the north, three times more,” Bøe says about the geographical areas of allied nuclear-powered submarines. Typically, an American submarine on mission in the Norwegian Sea would not want to sail all way south to Haakonsvern (near Bergen) or to a naval base in the United Kingdom to put on shore a crew member or pick up some new devises or supply. Surfacing near the area where the cat-and-mouse hunt with the Russians takes place saves time.
Not all port-calls actually mean the vessel goes to port. Often, especially in northern Norway, a submarine typically surfaces inshore in a fjord and is met by another vessel that brings crewmembers to a nearby port. Since the early 1960s and throughout the Cold War, Norway’s policy was not to allow for allied warships to make port calls east of 24 degrees in peacetime. That is harbours in Finnmark on the Barents Sea coast.
Norway’s increasing involvement with NATO’s long range strategic offensive exercises and manoeuvres around Russia’s northern borders has not been well received by their Russian neighbours:
“Contrary to the historical traditions of neighbourly relations and cooperation in the Arctic, Oslo continues to escalate tension and increase the risk of military action. This will not be left without a response,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in 2019.
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