Chief of Defence gives Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide the choice between increasing the defense budget by 9 billion krone a year or losing the ability to defend Norway against armed attack.
Later this week, on Oct. 1, Norwegian Chief of Defense Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen will deliver his “Professional Military Advice” to the defence minister. This document will be an important foundation for the Parliamentary debate on the future of the Norwegian armed forces over the next 20 years. Parliament is to issue a long-term report of the subject next year.
The Devil's Alternative
NRK, Norway’s public broadcaster, has obtained the latest draft of the "Chief of Defence Professional Military Advice in 2015" report, which is still classified and confidential. It presents the chief of the government with a dramatic choice.
Defence Chief Bruun-Hansen writes that Norway must spend an additional 180 billion kroner ($21.1 billion) on defense over the next 20 years compared to current plans if it is to maintain and modernize its defense at today’s level.
On average, this means an additional 9 billion kroner each year, but in fact the amount will increase gradually. The defense budget is currently set at about 43 billion kroner per year.
Without such an increase, deep capability cuts will be unavoidable - and defense will lack essential equipment to fight a modern war.
Below are some of the most important consequences if the cheapest of the two funding models to be presented by the Chief of Defence. This proposal is based on continuing the current defense funding for the next 20 years - adjusted only for inflation and higher personnel pay:
-- The army would cut two battle-ready battalions – to the lowest capability level since Norway became independent in 1905. Most dramatically, we would have to retire all our heavy tanks and artillery. Two battalions would not get any antiaircraft weapons.
-- The navy will lose all of its submarines and corvettes. The Coast Guard would be reduced by two vessels, from 15 to 13. The only ships that the Navy would retain are the five new frigates that have just been put into service, plus logistics vessels and container based demining equipment.
-- The air force would get only 38 new F-35 fighters, as well as four more used for training. This is 10 fewer than the 48 currently planned. The P-3 Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft would be retired, and long-range anti-aircraft defense would not be acquired
-- The King's Guard, as we know it today, would be reduced to a small force, concentrating on guarding the royal castle, parades and marching band activities.
-- The Home Guard would be cut by 12,000 soldiers. One Home Guard district and the Naval Home Guard would be shut down.
A large number of smaller departments and installations would also disappear in this proposal.
The document confirms a number of leaks that appeared earlier this summer, and reported by NRK and the website aldrimer.no.
A "very real risk"
In his report, Chief of Defence warns that this "will leave obvious weaknesses in Norway's defense capability. Military strategies and tactics are most often based on exploiting such weaknesses in opponents. We must therefore assume that the risk borne by reducing defense capability is very real. "
Defense expert and former Chief of Staff of the Navy, Jacob Børresen, read NRK’s copy of the Chief of Defence’s draft report. He says he is not surprised by the contents.
“We who have followed this all know that the consequences of continuing the current budget framework is to liquidate defense over a period of 10 to 15 years. The Chief of Defense’s low-end proposal confirms precisely that,” he says.
Several key defense sources told NRK that they believe the Chief of Defence’s low-cost option will be so devastating for Norway's ability to defend itself that it will be politically impossible for Defence Minister Eriksen Søreide to accept.
Unable to Carry Out the Mission
“I cannot understand the defense chief's recommendations other than as a warning. He cannot believe that his proposal, based on a continuation of current defense spending levels, will really be implemented,” says Børresen.
Will the defense be able to do the job they are set to do at that level?
“Absolutely not. This defense will be completely unable to carry out all the missions that the Armed Forces today are required to by Parliament. So, if Parliament were to adopt this structure, it would also have to simultaneously adopt an entirely new defense concept. We would no longer have any credible defense against an armed attack.”
That leaves the second proposal made by defense chief Bruun-Hanssen, and which recommends a substantial increase in the defense budget - an increase which must be continued for the next 20 years.
The reason for this proposal is a longstanding, serious concern –- tinged with irritation -- in the armed forces leadership because they believe that politicians for years have allowed the real value of the defense budgets to fall. Central defense experts spearheaded by former defense chief Sverre Diesen have long argued that politicians have decided defense capabilities that they have not been willing to pay for.
Even if we spend as much on defense as we have done since the Cold War, they believe that the price of military equipment has increased so much that much more money is needed to pay for it. But this is not the case: When the Cold War ended Norway spent almost 3 percent of gross domestic product on defense, while today we have about 1.4 percent.
“I think it will weigh heavily in favor of getting permanent budget increases for defense. But if it were to happen it must be done carefully and over time. To increase defense budget by 9 billion overnight will only lead to the new money not being absorbed by the military in a reasonable way,” says Jacob Børresen.
Stop the downsizing of the Armed Forces
If, over the next 20 years, the Armed Forces obtain 180 billion kroner on top of the current budget, writes the defense chief, we will get a "sober national defense that can carry out the most important and demanding missions."
But despite this extra money, according to Bruun-Hanssen, the Armed Forces will have "little or no resilience over time, and will depend on reinforcements arriving after a relatively short time." He believes that his proposal would halt the downsizing of the Armed Forces that has lasted since the Cold War ended.
SV Deputy Bård Vegar Solhjell, a member of Parliament’s Defense Committee, is one of those that is involved with the “professional military advice” of the Chief of Defence. He says he will be disappointed if the Chief of Defense delivers a report with only two sharply different alternatives.
“I have not seen the document, but I believe that it would be completely arbitrary to say to the politicians that they must choose between massive budget growth or disaster. I think reason lies somewhere in between. Developing good defense policy is choosing between the many individual proposals so the whole works. And we politicians must resist this attempt to put us under duress by using blackmail tactics,” he says.
Solhjell points out that Norway is one of the countries in NATO which spends the most money on defense per capita.
“I am concerned that Norway should have a good, modern defense that can safeguard our sovereignty. But given the situation in Europe’s economic crisis, with rising unemployment and social problems, we should concentrate on solving these problems rather than to compete to spend a lot on defense. It would also be good security policy,” he said.
Defence Chief Bruun-Hanssen also lists, by order of priority, the five things he would spend money on if the government allocates more money than he asks for. There is reason to believe that these are the things he thought were difficult to remove from the proposal:
-- Maritime patrol aircraft that can fight submarines. (The Orion aircraft disappear in the current proposal).
-- Six submarines instead of four. (Two submarines disappear in the current proposal).
-- An additional brigade of the Army.
-- New helicopters for the Army. (Army helicopters are transferred to southern Norway in the current proposal).
-- More precision weapons.
The document from the Chief of Defence is now circulating for consultation within the Armed Forces. There may still be changes as a result of last-minute inputs, but several sources told NRK that it would take a lot for the main lines to be significantly changed.
The document will be handed over to the defense minister on Thursday of next week, October 1.
Defense expert Jacob Børresen has little faith that the armed forces’ financial problems will be solved. “I'm afraid that politicians do not have the will to allocate more to defense - and that they do not have the courage or the stomach to take the necessary steps to bring the force structure into balance. And thus problems will just be pushed off into the future, while the military sinks lower and lower. That is my main fear,” he says.
A spokesperson for the Chief of Defence, Major Vegard Finberg, said he will wait until the Chief of Defense's report is handed over to the defense minister before saying anything about the contents.
“The military do not comment on details of the ongoing work for the Chief of Defence ‘professional military advice,’ but we will return to the overall professional military advice when it is completed 1 October 2015,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Norwegian ministry of defense claims the F-35 will cost 67.9 billion kroner for acquisition and 254.4 billion kroner in total lifetime costs.
This clearly understates costs as, since late 2012, the US dollar’s value has increased by about 40% compared to the Norwegian krone.
Despite claims by Lockheed Martin that F-35 costs are dropping each year, and the constant appreciation of the US dollar, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence maintains that F-35 acquisition costs (in green) are unchanged since 2008. (Norway MoD graphic)
This means that, at current values, Norway’s F-35s will cost 95.1 billion kroner to buy and 356 billion kroner to operate over its lifetime, for a total of 451 billion kroner ($55 billion) at the current exchange rate of 8.2 kroner to the dollar. Average unit procurement cost is thus 1.8 billion kroner, or $219 million.
In other words, the F-35 alone will cost 2.5 times as much to buy and operate as the additional 180 billion kroner package requested by the chief of defense. Clearly, the F-35 will smother Norway’s defense.
Brazil, for example, is paying only 39.3 billion Swedish krona to buy 36 Gripen NGs, including part of development costs. This contract came into effect on Sept. 10, and works out to $4.7 billion at current exchange rates, or $130 million per aircraft – 40% less than Norway will pay for each F-35.
Buying fewer F-35s, or a less expensive fighter, seems the only way to reconcile Norway’s defense ambitions with its finances.