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Exploding the boundaries in a Nordic NATO exercise

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Exploding the boundaries in a Nordic NATO exercise

LOW OVER BODØ: Fighter planes from Norway, Sweden, Finland and the USA appeared over the center of Bodø on Monday. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT Nyhetsbyrån / NTB

The air forces of four Nordic countries are literally pushing their limits this week. The large winter exercise “Nordic Response 2024” is underway in the north.

Reporting from Bodø and Luleå on Tuesday 5 March at 11:13

With up to 100 fighter jets on the wings over the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, Nato is testing the effect of combining joint air forces into a huge fist.

During the winter exercise “Nordic Response 2024”, the commander of the Norwegian Air Force, Major General Rolf Folland, has been given command of a force made up of aircraft and people from 13 NATO countries – and then we count Sweden, which is days away from its NATO membership.

– We are testing and demonstrating our ability and willingness to defend every inch of NATO’s territory, says Folland to VG.

VG was in Bodø on Monday, when the air forces from the NATO countries started their operations in the big NATO exercise. It took off with a drone over the center of Bodø, as fighter planes from several countries flew low over the city.

Unique to this exercise is that a joint air command is put together for Nato over the northern areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

More than 300 officers from a number of countries are now working from bases in Bodø and Sørreisa to train on how to secure air supremacy, borderlessly over the three countries’ northernmost parts.

THE CHIEF: Rolf Folland is in charge of air operations and about 100 combat aircraft in the large Nato exercise that will take place borderlessly between Norway, Sweden and Finland in the north for the next few weeks. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT Nyhetsbyrån / NTB

Led from the USA

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the American city of Norfolk, the leadership of NATO’s new operational headquarters Joint Force Command sits and directs it all.

– Norway has been given the responsibility under Norfolk to build up an air component command, Folland explains.

– What is the most important thing for you to practice during this exercise?

– The absolute highest priority is to prevent accidents, he says.

Nato and the countries participating in the exercise will by all means avoid what happened in March 2022. Then an American plane from the US Marine Corps crashed in Beiarn south of Bodø. Four people died.

Correction

In an earlier version of the case, it was stated that the plane crash in Beiarn happened in March last year. The correct thing is that it happened on 18 March 2022. The case was changed on 5 March 2024, at 11.11.

– In terms of practice, it is important for me to demonstrate that we are able to work shoulder to shoulder with our Nordic friends, American friends, British friends, that we are uniformly able to carry out safe air operations, says Folland.

The headquarters in Bodø will not only control aircraft movements, but also ensure that combat aircraft, helicopters and drones work together with the multinational forces from the other domains land, sea, cyber and space.

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Still waiting

The Swedish defense had hoped to achieve full membership in NATO when the exercise in the north started. But complications in Hungary have once again postponed Sweden’s formal entry into the alliance.

The hope is now that membership can be a few days away:

– We start the exercise as an applicant country, but we hope that we can end the exercise as a member of NATO, says the head of the Swedish Air Force, Major General Jonas Wikman.

WAITING FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP: Jonas Wikman is head of the Swedish Air Force. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT / TT Nyhetsbyrån / NTB

– Solid NATO support

Rear Admiral David Patchell is deputy commander of the US 2nd Fleet, and responsible for “Task Force North”, which has a heavy contribution to the “Nordic Response” exercise.

The US has sent around 5,500 soldiers to “Nordic Response 2024”. Patchell says they have 30 larger and smaller vessels in the area.

The commander of the USA’s 2nd fleet is also the supreme commander of NATO’s new headquarters in Norfolk. Vice Admiral Patchell is number three in the chain of command.

Later in the exercise, the US Marine Corps will put naval forces ashore along the fjord north of Alta. Several countries have sent special forces to the exercise.

– Why does it make sense that the defense of the Nordic countries should be led from a base in the USA in the future?

– We have an operational area that stretches from Florida to Finnmark. It is crucial to connect North America and Europe, to ensure that the trans-Atlantic link is open, that one can come to each other’s aid, says Patchell to VG.

– How vulnerable is this command structure if there were to be political changes in the USA’s view of NATO?

– From the US Navy and from our 2nd fleet force, the NATO commitment is rock solid. There is no doubt about that. And we must continue to build on this collaboration. What happens in Europe has significance for the United States. And vice versa, he says.

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