Last year alone, 660 service personnel disappeared from the Norwegian Army, Navy and Air Force, which previously had a combined force of 16,000. Severe understaffing, along with poor defense preparedness, are among five problems the Nordic nation's armed forces must address, according to recent reports.
The Norwegian Armed Forces' preparedness to deal with crises and conflicts as well as its ability to deter advancing enemy powers is well below the expected level and will remain so at least until the mid-2020s, when new defense equipment becomes fully operational, according to an annual report published by the Norwegian defense.
While Defense Chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen praised his fellow Norwegian soldiers and officers for doing a solid job and earning international recognition for their missions abroad, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, he also stressed drastic domestic problems, in which he was supported by Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, the daily newspaper Aftenposten reported.
According to the newspaper, the Norwegian Armed Forces currently have five main problems to deal with.
-- Deficient submarine-hunting capacity:
According to Aftenposten, the Orion surveillance aircraft, currently tasked with submarine detection, are becoming outdated. Additionally, a lack of personnel left the aircraft grounded during Easter. Furthermore, the NH90 helicopters, which should have entered service a decade ago, are still a long way from becoming fully operational. To make matters worse, each flight hour was found to cost a sensational NOK 175,000 ($22,400), while the helicopters, dubbed "Norway's worst military procurement," also require a lot of maintenance.
-- Shortage of tanks:
The Leopard 2A tanks currently in service in Norway are becoming outdated. Many of them have long remained inactive due to perennial maintenance problems. While the long-term plan was to address the problem by leasing German tanks, a fresh report by the Defense Ministry indicated it wasn't an option, as Germany was struggling with tanks of its own.
-- An army with almost no helicopters:
Unlike Russia and many of Norway's NATO allies, the Norwegian Armed Forces totally lack large freight helicopters, and are thus limited to carrying only tiny groups of soldiers or light military equipment. An internal report assessing the Armed Forces' technical support found helicopters to be an indispensable resource, suggesting that a lack thereof would "seriously weaken" Norway's capacity, the AldriMer website reported earlier this year.
At present there is an ongoing debate as to whether all of the Bell 412 helicopters procured shall be reserved for the special forces or if some shall be retained for the army to cover its transportation needs or demand of medical evacuation. The extent of the problem has even triggered talks about leasing civilian helicopters, which under no circumstances can be used in a combat situation.
-- May lose only combat brigade
The Norwegian Armed Forces agreed to replace one of the three battalions that make up Brigade 2 with civilians who have recently completed their compulsory military service in a plan called "annual repetition exercise." According to Aftenposten, with only two battalions left, Norway will have no brigades in the true sense of the word. Torbjørn Bongo, the head of Norway's Officer Union, said that he didn't "even for a moment" think that this system would work.
-- Ineffective cost cuts and personnel loss:
The Armed Forces' optimization efforts have resulted in fewer people being drafted in all service branches. All in all, the Norwegian Defense lost 660 soldiers and officers in the 2017 alone. Despite the cost-cutting efforts, however, only NOK million 202 ($26 million) was saved in 2017 compare with the target goal of NOK 274 million ($35 million).
The Norwegian Army is conscription-based and has a full mobilization force of about 60,000, including permanent staff, conscripts and the Home Guard.