The US Navy’s top sub-hunting plane conducted a first-of-its-kind missile launch in Europe’s high north

Navy P-8A Poseidon Harpoon missile
A US Navy P-8A during At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield, May 31, 2021.

  • US Navy P-8A Poseidons launched Harpoon missiles in Europe for the first time last month.
  • The launches, part of an exercise off northern Norway, are the latest military activity in the increasingly busy waters of the Arctic.
  • Officials stressed the defensive focus and said it wasn’t conducted with a specific foe in mind.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US Navy P-8A Poseidons launched AGM-84D Harpoon missiles in Europe for the first time last month during an exercise off of northern Norway, another sign of the increasing military focus on the strategically important region.

The P-8s, widely considered the best maritime patrol planes in operation, launched the missiles at a target barge near the Andøya Space Defense facility in northern Norway during the exercise At-Sea Demonstration/Formidable Shield.

The exercise focused on missile defense and most used during it were surface-to-air interceptors, but the Harpoons – so named because they were first designed to target surfaced submarines, or “whales” – were air-to-surface variants.

As an anti-ship missile, the Harpoon gives the P-8 “the ability to challenge enemy naval movements, either in support of offensive operations or in order to defend friendly forces,” the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet said in a release.

Navy P-8A Poseidon Harpoon missile
A P-8 Poseidon conducts the first successful coordinated P-8 Harpoon launch in Sixth Fleet history, May 31, 2021.

“At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield provided a realistic opportunity to exercise” the Poseidon’s ability to “project lethal fires,” Cmdr. Kyle Raines, Sixth Fleet public affairs officer, told Insider in a statement.

At a briefing before the exercise, which is held every other year, officials stressed the defensive focus and said it wasn’t conducted with a specific foe in mind.

US Navy Capt. Jonathan Lipps, who directed the exercise, said it wasn’t “targeted against a specific country or threat” but had evolved in response to state and non-state actors’ use of drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles.

“It’s about protecting both maritime units and the land environment from the missile threat, not about, if you like, offensive missile capabilities. It’s about defensive missile capability,” said British Royal Navy Rear Adm. James Morley, deputy commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, which conducted the exercise.

This year’s iteration was “the most complex joint and combined integrated air- and missile-defense exercise ever conducted at sea,” Lipps said.

Norway Norwegian Navy frigate Evolved Sea-Sparrow-Missiles
Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen launched Evolved Sea-Sparrow-Missiles during At-Sea-Demo/Formidable Shield 2021, May 21, 2021.

The missiles used during the exercise were “a good example of a growing recognition” that successful combat operations in the future will “require close coordination of offensive and defensive systems,” said Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“There are a lot of efficiencies that can be gained by integrating strike and defense, particularly in sensors, to detect enemy missiles and to locate and neutralize the shooter,” Williams told Insider in an email.

There are also more practical reasons to fire Harpoons from P-8s.

Like its predecessor, the P-3 Orion, the Poseidon “has an anti-surface-warfare mission, and the Harpoon missile is the current armament that meets that requirement, so it is not a surprise that the aircraft is exercising that capability,” said Steve Wills, a military historian and expert on US Navy strategy.

“Every naval platform has live-fire exercise requirements, so this firing could be one of those,” Wills added in an email.

‘Credible threats’

Royal Navy French navy FS Forbin
A British Royal Navy aircraft above French frigate FS Forbin during At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield 2021, May 27, 2021.

Morley and Lipps both emphasized that At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield – which began near Scotland and concluded around Andøya – was long-planned and preceded by notice about where it would take place, but comes as military activity in the region increases significantly.

In late 2018, NATO conducted exercise Trident Juncture in and around Norway. Some 50,000 personnel took part in the exercise, which saw a US aircraft carrier sail into the Arctic for the first time since the early 1990s. The US military has been more active in Norway in recent months.

NATO navies have also conducted exercises in the Barents Sea, close to major Russian military installations, for the first time in decades.

Russia, which has the world’s longest Arctic coastline, has been increasing its presence in the region, refurbishing bases and deploying more forces. Its Nordic neighbors have been concerned by its military tests in the region, particularly with weapons like the Kalibr cruise missile.

Navy destroyer SM-3 missile
US Navy destroyer USS Paul Ignatius fired a Standard Missile-3 interceptor during At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield, May 26, 2021.

The Kalibr gives Russian ships and subs a land-attack capability that worries NATO. The Kalibr and other Russian weapons fired from the Barents Sea would be able to reach targets in Norway.

Russian submarine activity around the Norwegian Sea has also concerned NATO countries, particularly Norway and the UK, which have both purchased P-8s to patrol their waters.

At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield concluded on June 4 and navies involved touted several achievements during it.

A US destroyer and a Dutch frigate worked together to “negate” a ballistic missile threat in what the US Navy called “a groundbreaking cooperative engagement.” Norway’s navy said one of its frigates used a missile to down a target moving at supersonic speed for the first time. The British navy tested artificial intelligence against live missiles at sea, also for the first time.

The exercise “unquestionably demonstrates” NATO’s ability to defend its “integrity and resolve against credible threats from the ocean depths to low-earth orbit,” Lipps said in a statement.

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With ‘historic’ bomber flights on opposite sides of the planet, the US Air Force is sending a message to friends and foes

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
A B-1B bomber at Ørland airport to train with Norwegian forces, March 13, 2021.

  • US Air Force bombers landed in Norway and India in February for history-making deployments.
  • Those operations reflect the increasing frequency and reach of the Air Force’s bomber operations.
  • Some observers are skeptical that the message the Air Force is trying to send is being received.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

February was a historic month for US Air Force bombers, with two first-of-their-kind operations on opposite sides of the globe.

On February 3, a B-1 bomber and 40 airmen deployed to the Aero India trade show in southern India. A US bomber was last in India in 1945, when it was still under British rule, making this a first for of the Republic of India.

The event included the first US bomber flyover with an Indian fighter jet – “a very significant moment” in US-India military ties, Lt. Col. Michael Fessler, lead US demonstration pilot at Aero India, said in a release.

Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of US Pacific Air Forces, echoed that sentiment later in February, telling Insider it was “very exciting to see.”

The “value” of being on the ground is the “collaboration and just the ability to talk in person with those that have mutual interests,” Wilsbach said during a press conference at the Air Force Association air-warfare symposium.

Air Force B-1B bomber India
A B-1B taxis at Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru, India, February 3, 2021.

US-India ties tightened in recent months, spurred on by rising tensions with China. India only recently disengaged from a standoff with China – the deadliest in decades – on their disputed border in the western Himalayas.

The US increased its support for India during that months-long confrontation by delivering cold-weather gear and through “intelligence-sharing,” Wilsbach said in November.

“The ability to partner up with India to the max extent that we can is really important to us,” Wilsbach told Insider in February.

Wilsbach visited Indian Air Force leaders in early March to discuss “ways to further strengthen” bilateral ties.

On February 22, four B-1s landed in Norway for the first US bomber deployment to that country. Since then, they’ve operated around the region, including first-ever landings in Poland and in the Norwegian Arctic.

Their activities “have really been a great demonstration of partnership with our Norwegians friends and an ability to work through the interoperability that is so important,” Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, told Insider at another AFA press conference.

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
A B-1B in dense snow drifts at Ørland airport in Norway, March 7, 2021.

Tensions between NATO and Russia have been elevated since Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea. Norway shares a border with Russia and has in the past been cautious about NATO exercises near that boundary.

Heightened tensions have led to more military activity in the European Arctic, however, and Norway has worked closely with its NATO allies as they have increased operations there.

“The Arctic is a very important area for the cooperation between the United States and Norway,” Frank Bakke-Jensen, Norway’s minister of defense, said at a recent think-tank event.

“This deployment represents a unique opportunity for cooperation and joint training with” Norwegian forces, Bakke-Jensen added. “At the same time, the scope of Allied activities must be measured to avoid unnecessary escalation and misunderstandings.”

‘Part of the competitive space’

Air Force B-1B bomber India
US airmen perform post-flight maintenance on a B-1B after a flyover at Aero India 2021 in Bengaluru, February 3, 2021.

US bombers have kept a high pace of operations around the world, including the Middle East. In early March, B-52s flew “a multinational patrol mission” across that region, the fourth this year.

“A great deal of what we’re doing now with our bomber task forces is part of the competitive space,” Gen. Timothy Ray, who oversees bomber operations as head of Air Force Global Strike Command, told Insider at a separate AFA press conference.

“So my ability to quickly get to places around the globe and to show presence and support for partners and allies to augment the forces that are forward, I think, is a very powerful thing,” Ray added.

Like the rest of the US military, the bomber force has embraced dynamic force employment, aiming to be “strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable.” Ray also said his command has “completed work” on “bomber agile combat employment,” another concept focused on more dispersed operations.

As a result, US bombers have been doing more round-trip flights from the US, which “have a bit of an unpredictability that gives us some opportunities,” and more short-term overseas deployments known as bomber task forces, which “give us a different set of opportunities,” Ray said.

“We’ve put a lot of focus on the Pacific and on Europe,” Ray added.

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
US airmen greet US and Norwegian officials at Ørland Air Force Station in Norway, March 9, 2021.

“Norway and India have been strategically quite significant,” Ray said. “Now we’re kind of just hitting our stride, and I think expanding beyond the normal” locations – such as the UK, Diego Garcia, or Guam – “has really been effective.”

“A lot more options are on the table,” Ray added. “We’re going to continue work them.”

US officials are careful with how they describe those operations, saying they’re meant as messages to friends and foes but not as threats, but observers question whether that messaging will have the desired impact.

In the Middle East, Iran is used to US military displays, and former officials have argued they aren’t worth the strain they put on the aircraft.

The Biden administration is still working on a broader strategy for Asia, and the fact that bomber flights there have continued apace suggests “bureaucratic inertia” and comes with a “risk of misperception,” Van Jackson, a senior lecturer in international relations at New Zealand’s Victoria University, told Insider in February.

Russia is getting the message, “but there is so far no indication that it is causing them to back down,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Insider.

Bomber flights, particularly in sensitive areas of the Arctic, “probably” reinforce Moscow’s “perception that NATO is a threat, and a growing one, that requires Russia to counter-posture and continue to modernize their capabilities,” Kristensen said. “As such, this resembles the action-reaction dynamic we remember from the Cold War.”

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SEALs, Marines, and Norwegian soldiers teamed up with B-1B bombers to practice dropping bombs on new terrain

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway
A US Air Force B-1B takes off from Bodø Air Station in Norway, March 8, 2021.

  • US Air Force bombers deployed to Norway for the first time ever in late February.
  • This week, those bombers trained with troops on the ground to conduct close air support.
  • The deployment, and increased Arctic activity in general, comes amid high tensions between NATO and Russia.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers that deployed to Norway in late February have already demonstrated their reach in the air around Europe, and this week they tested their ability to put bombs on target in new surroundings.

On March 8, a bomber conducted Joint Terminal Attack Controller training with US Navy SEALs, US Marines, and Norwegian soldiers near Setermoen in the Norwegian Arctic.

JTACs, as they’re known, direct aircraft during close-air-support missions. For this training, US and Norwegian JTACs took position “on top of a mountain and quickly established communications” with the bomber to call in targets, a Marine Corps release said.

The exercise comes as NATO militaries have increased their focus on the European Arctic, conducting more ground, air, and naval operations there.

Joint JTAC training “demonstrates our commitment to building interoperability across military services and NATO allies,” Capt. Joe Roberts, a JTAC instructor, said in the release.

‘A little bit different’

Marines Norway JTAC Arctic
Norwegian soldiers and US Marines during Joint Terminal Attack Controller training in Setermoen, Norway, March 8, 2021.

US bombers deploy to Europe and train with Norwegian aircraft regularly, but the four B-1Bs that arrived in Norway on February 22 are the first US bombers to deploy there.

“There’s always something that’s just a little bit different” at a new airfield, Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, said during a March 5 briefing.

Changing scenery is particularly important for close air support, as working with JTACs or special-operations forces on the ground “allows that sensor on the ground to connect with the shooter, and in this case the bombers, to be able to practice dropping weapons in different environments,” Basham said.

“I can tell you, as a B-1 pilot, that not all terrain looks the same; it has a different look on radar,” Basham added. “Working with different individuals, there are always the unique challenges of accent or just the ability to make sure that we understand exactly what we’re doing.”

Marines rotated through Norway for on-the-ground training – including familiarization with the language barrier – from 2017 to late 2020, when the Corps said that training would move to an “episodic” model.

Marines Norway Arctic
US Marines and Norwegian soldiers during JTAC training in Setermoen, March 8, 2021.

The Marines’ training focused on preparing for harsh Arctic conditions, which is also a goal of the B-1B deployment and of the JTAC training.

“Operating from Norway gives a very unique opportunity to operate in a cold-weather environment,” Basham said.

During the JTAC exercise, the B-1B landed at Bodo Air Force Station in the Norwegian Arctic for “warm-pit refueling,” in which the crew stays in the cockpit during refueling, allowing the bomber to get back in the air faster.

Operations like warm-pit refueling are central to the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment concept, which is meant to prepare aircraft and crews for more dispersed operations.

The bomber “does just fine in the cold weather,” Basham said. “It’s our great aviators and maintainers and support personnel who might not be as familiar with the rigors of the cold. Our Norwegian partners are helping us along in that.”

The bomber circled the airfield for 45 minutes as “dense snow” was cleared so it could land, and for ground troops, Norway’s Arctic “also poses many obstacles,” including frostbite and mountainous terrain, “which can cause electronic communications issues,” the Corps release said.

Sending a message

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway Arctic
A B-1B bomber lands at Bodø Air Station for the first time, March 8, 2021.

US and NATO activity in the Arctic comes amid heightened tensions with Russia, which has the world’s longest Arctic coastline and extensive economic interests there. Moscow has also increased its military activity in the Arctic.

The Norway deployment reflects several shifts in US strategy, including increased support for NATO in response to Russia’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine, which has led to “a gradual increase of bombers deploying to the UK at higher tempo and flying farther east and north,” Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told Insider.

Another shift is in Air Force bomber operations overseas, moving away from longer deployments in one place and toward shorter, more frequent deployments at more bases, which in Europe “has resulted in bomber operations to Iceland and now Norway, locations where the US did not deploy bombers even during the Cold War,” Kristensen said.

Russia has major military installations in the Arctic, where aerial attack has long been a major concern.

Air Force B-1B bomber Norway Arctic
A B-1B bomber is refueled at Bodø Air Station, March 8, 2021.

Moscow has already demonstrated its dismay about the B-1B deployment. On Friday, its Northern Fleet said carrier-based MiG-29K fighter jets had for the first time gone on “experimental combat duty” on the nearby Novaya Zemlya archipelago.

The Russians “seem to get the message” behind the increased US bomber deployments, Kristensen told Insider, “but there is so far no indication that it is causing them to back down.”

“It’s a lot more controversial in Norway, where officials have been busy explaining that the operations should not be seen as an increased threat to Russia,” Kristensen added.

Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, stressed that point during the March 5 briefing.

“The communication is quite clear that this is what it is and it’s not an offensive operation at all,” Odlo said. “It’s normal military activity between two close allies. The only special thing is the new asset being deployed to Norway.”

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There’s no evidence yet that AstraZeneca’s vaccine causes blood clots, and experts say any risks are outweighed by the shot’s benefits

GettyImages 1231181187
A vaccinator administers an injection of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at a vaccination centre in Chester, northwest England, on February 15, 2021.

  • Denmark and Norway suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot Thursday as a “precautionary measure”.
  • The Danish Health authorities cited concerns about blood clots in people that had received the shot.
  • Data suggests that the risk of clots is no greater than in the population at large.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Denmark, Norway, and Iceland suspended their roll out of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine as a “precautionary” step Thursday, citing concerns about blood clots in people who had received the shot.

One person in Denmark who was immunized with the vaccine died from a blood clot, the Danish Health Authority said in a statement Thursday. At this point, it’s not known whether there is a link between the vaccine and blood clots, it said.

This follows Austrian authorities saying Sunday that a 49-year-old woman had died as a result of severe coagulation disorders after taking the shot.

The Danish Health authorities said officials “have to react” to reports of possible serious side effects, although there was “good evidence” that the vaccine was both safe and effective.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) OK’d the shot on January 29, having looked extensively at all its safety and efficacy data, but individual countries can ultimately decide whether they give it to their citizens.

AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots: the stats so far

There have been a total of four reported cases in Europe of people getting vaccinated with a specific batch of AstraZeneca’s shot and then developing blood clots afterwards, according to the EMA. The batch of 1 million doses had been sent to 17 EU countries, including Denmark.

At least five countries – Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Latvia – have suspended the use of this particular batch. Norway, Denmark, and Iceland suspended the vaccine completely.

The EMA said Wednesday that one person in Europe had been diagnosed with multiple blood clots in vessels 10 days after vaccination. It was unclear whether this was the Danish case, although by that time Austrian authorities had already reported a death.

Insider contacted the Danish health authority for clarification, and a spokesperson said that they were “not at liberty to inform on the data that we receive from other authorities, national or international.”

Another person in Europe was hospitalized with a blood clot in the lung after being vaccinated, who was “now recovering,” the EMA said.

The time-frame between getting the vaccine and developing the clot for this person was not documented.

There were two other reports of blood clots, the EMA said. No further details were provided such as age, or whether they had medical conditions that made their blood more likely to clot.

No more blood clots than in general population

The EMA said in a press release that overall, as of Thursday, there had been 30 cases amongst more than 5 million who had been vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s shot overall. There was no indication that the vaccine caused blood clots, and this wasn’t a known side effect, they said.

Professor Jon Gibbons, director of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research at the University of Reading, said in a statement that blood clots in the general population were relatively common, and affected an average of between one and two people per 1,000 – a higher proportion than 30 in 5 million.

“Therefore if there is any association between the vaccine and clotting, the risk is likely to be very low indeed,” he said.

Dr. Phil Bryan, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) safety lead, said in a statement that the number of reports of blood clots received so far in the UK – where more than 11 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have been given – were not greater than what would have occurred usually in a population that size.

The UK did not receive the batch from which the four most recent reports of clots arose.

Denmark’s approach ‘super’ cautious

Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a statement that the Danish approach was “super” cautious.

“Since we know with great certainty that the vaccine prevents COVID-19, and we are almost totally uncertain that the vaccine can have caused this problem, the risk and benefit balance is still very much in favour of the vaccine in my view,” he said.

Evans said that it was difficult to distinguish between coincidence and the vaccine’s side effects.

“This is especially true when we know that COVID-19 disease is very strongly associated with blood clotting and there have been hundreds if not many thousands of deaths caused by blood clotting as a result of COVID-19 disease,” he said.

Professor Anthony Harnden, Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the organization that advises the UK’s vaccine strategy – said in a statement that the public should have “confidence” that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was “safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease, including the prevention of blood clots caused by COVID-19.”

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US Air Force bombers are on an ‘historic’ mission to Norway to let allies know they’ll be ‘on target, first time’

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Dyess
A B-1B prepares to take off from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, February 21, 2021.

  • US B-1B bombers arrived in Norway on February 22 for the first bomber deployment ever to that country.
  • NATO officials said the deployment shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but the bombers’ capabilities should be clear.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Four US Air Force B-1B bombers arrived at Ørland Air Station in central Norway on February 22 for what officials say is a “historic” deployment meant to familiarize US airmen with new terrain.

While US bombers regularly train with Norwegian aircraft, they usually fly out of another major base in the region.

“This is the first time that we are generating flights in partnership with our close ally, Norway, as well as operating from Norwegian soil,” Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, told reporters Friday.

“There’s always something that’s just a little bit different” at a new airfield, Basham said.

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Norway
US airmen unload a B-1B at Ørland Air Force Station in Norway, February 22, 2021.

“Under our newest concept of Agile Combat Employment, we have got to maintain the level of agility and flexibility to operate from many different places,” Basham added, referring to an operational concept in which aircraft and airmen train to deploy from main “hub” bases to a variety of “spoke” airfields.

Operating from Norway is also a chance to acclimate to a colder environment – a concern more for airmen than aircraft, Basham said – and to train more with their Norwegian counterparts.

The location allows “integrating probably a little bit more often than we might from other locations with their fighters [and] their navy,” Basham added. “Being on the ground with them before we operate and after we operate also creates a unique opportunity to learn.”

Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, which oversees the country’s military operations, said the deployment is “an important part” of ensuring the US and Norway can work together in that region and its conditions.

US bombers are “a strategic asset, and it is highly important to both of us … to be able to have the right processes” to use them, “if needed,” Odlo said.

On target

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Norway
Two crew chiefs by a B-1B at Ørland Air Force Station, February 26, 2021.

The B-1Bs in Norway flew their first Bomber Task Force mission on February 26, conducting “tactical integration” with a Norwegian F-35 and naval assets over the Norwegian Sea. (An initial press release said they trained in the eastern Barents Sea, much closer to Russia, but a spokesperson told Insider that was “a brief miscommunication.”)

In early March, two B-1Bs trained with Danish, Polish, Italian, and German fighters over the Baltic Sea and flew over the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – “a testament to the unmatched strength and capability of the NATO alliance,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa.

The US bomber crews’ training will also include working with joint terminal air controllers and special-operations forces to drop inert munitions, which “allows that sensor on the ground to connect with the shooter, and in this case the bombers, to be able to practice dropping weapons in different environments,” Basham said.

“I can tell you, as a B-1 pilot, that not all terrain looks the same,” Basham added. “It has a different look on radar, and working with different individuals, there are always the unique challenges of accent or just the ability to make sure that we understand exactly what we’re doing.”

The deployment has several weeks left, and the training doing is important not only for US airmen but also as a signal to allies, Basham said.

“The one thing you’re always thinking about if you’re ever required to employ in a location such as this … you typically don’t get a first chance to practice and then a second chance to succeed,” Basham said. “That’s why it’s so important to exercise every aspect of, in this particular case, what our B-1s can do, and certainly not just with Norway but many other countries so that if ever called upon, our allies are assured that we will be on target, first time.”

‘Some reverberations’

Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber Norway
An Air Force public-affairs specialist documents a B-1B landing at Ørland Air Force Station, March 3, 2021.

Broader tensions between NATO and Russia, heightened after Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, loom over the bomber deployment.

Norway is NATO’s northernmost European member, and its border with Russia is adjacent to sensitive Russian military installations in the Arctic, where both NATO and Russia are more active. Norway also looks over important sea lanes through which Russian warships must pass to reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Norway takes its neighbor’s concerns about military activity into account, but Moscow still watches NATO operations in the region, especially bomber flights, warily.

Two weeks before the bombers arrived, Russia released footage of Russian Tu-160 bombers on “a planned flight” over the Barents, Greenland, and Norwegian seas. Days later, Russia said it would conduct missile tests in waters between the Barents and Norwegian seas, which was seen as a sign of displeasure over the bombers’ impending arrival.

On Friday, Odlo and Basham stressed that the deployment was normal military activity.

There are always “some reverberations from the political side of the house,” when Norway invites “close allies” to operate there, “which is normal,” Odlo said.

“There is no doubt that Russia probably looks at this as just what they would do,” Basham said. “As you’re looking to continue to improve your readiness, you want to make sure that you’re pushing to the limits of your capability.”

Basham reiterated that the deployment shouldn’t be seen as a threat but said it was a reflection of US capabilities.

“If someone were to take a message that you’re not restricted to one particular location, that would be a good message for them to perceive,” Basham said.

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How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

Norway Nazi Germany World War II WWII
  • In late February 1943, nine commandos set out of daring raid against the Germans in the Norwegian wilderness.
  • Their mission, to destroy a plant producing heavy water, would fulfill one of the Allies’ most important goals: Prevent the Nazis from building an atomic bomb.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

At 8:00 p.m. on February 27, 1943, nine Norwegian commandos trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) left their hideout in the Norwegian wilderness and skied several miles to Norsk Hydro’s Vemork hydroelectric power plant.

All the men knew about their mission was the objective: Destroy Vemork’s “heavy water” production capabilities.

Each man carried a cyanide capsule to take if they were captured and wore a British Army uniform so if they were killed and their bodies found, the Germans might spare the local civilians from reprisal killings.

Their mission would be one of the most successful in special-operations history, and it contributed to one of the Allies’ most important goals in World War II: Preventing Nazi Germany from developing nuclear weapons.

The race for an atomic bomb

Nazi Germany nuclear bomb weapons lab
The German experimental nuclear pile at Haigerloch, southwest of Stuttgart, being dismantled in April 1945.

Within months of the discovery of nuclear fission on December 17, 1938, the military potential of nuclear power became clear, and the race for an atomic weapon was on.

In April 1939, Germany started its nuclear-bomb effort, known informally as the Uranverein, or “uranium club.” It included some of the best scientists in the field, including the men who discovered nuclear fission and Nobel Prize-winner Werner Heisenberg.

During their research for a nuclear reactor, the scientists discovered that deuterium oxide, known commonly as “heavy water” because it has a heavier molecular weight than regular water, performed well as a moderator, enabling control over the fission process.

There was only one place in the world capable of producing heavy water on an industrial scale: Norsk Hydro’s Vemork hydroelectric power plant in southern Norway. The plant’s main purpose was to produce ammonia for nitrogen fertilizer; heavy water was actually a byproduct.

In January 1940, German officials asked to buy all of Norsk Hydro’s heavy water stock and if it was possible to increase the plant’s monthly output 10-fold to meet German demand.

This caught the attention of the French, who were experimenting with nuclear physics themselves and pursuing heavy water. Worried about German intentions, agents from the Deuxième Bureau, France’s military-intelligence agency, secured all of Norsk Hydro’s heavy water for France on March 9.

It was only a temporary setback for the Nazis. Exactly a month later, Germany invaded Norway and occupied it by early June. Vemork, now under German control, was forced to increase heavy-water production.

Operations Grouse and Freshman

Vemork Tinn Norway nuclear lab
The Vemork hydroelectric power plant, February 24, 2011.

The Allies, unaware of the German nuclear program’s progress, were increasingly worried that Germany may be ahead in the race. Vemork’s heavy-water production was known to be important to the program, and that alone was a good enough reason to take action against it.

Working with the Norwegian Resistance, the SOE created a plan for two teams to be dropped into Norway.

The first, codenamed Operation Grouse, was made up of four SOE-trained Norwegian commandos who would parachute into Norway, conduct reconnaissance, and secure a landing zone for a 34-man team of British commandos, codenamed Operation Freshman, who would land in two gliders and then assault the plant and destroy the 18 electrolysis cells that made heavy water.

On October 18, 1942, Grouse was launched. The team spent the next few weeks trekking to Freshman’s designated landing site, reaching it on November 9. On November 19, Operation Freshman was launched.

But Freshman was a colossal failure. Mechanical difficulties and bad weather caused one of the bombers and the glider it was towing to crash, killing the flight crew and a number of commandos. The second glider’s cable snapped when the bomber towing it aborted the mission, causing it to crash as well.

Survivors from both gliders were found by the Germans and executed as per Hitler’s Commando Order. Forty-one men were lost, security at Vemork was increased, and the Grouse team was stranded and had to fend for itself.

Operation Gunnerside

Norway Nazi Germany Norwegian Heavy Water Sabotage
A reconstruction of the Operation Gunnerside team planting explosives to destroy electrolysis chambers in the Vemork heavy-water plant.

Vemork was still a priority target for the Allies, and a new plan, with a stealthier approach, was developed.

A team of six Norwegian commandos would be dropped into Norway to link up with members of the Grouse team. They would infiltrate the plant, destroy the heavy-water production room with explosives, and escape into the night.

Codenamed Operation Gunnerside, the team parachuted into Norway on February 16, 1943, and linked up with the Grouse team on February 22. On the night of February 27, nine members from both teams set out for Vemork, with one member remaining behind to communicate with the British.

Upon arrival on the outskirts of the plant, they saw that the bridge, the only direct way into the complex, was heavily guarded.

The team had to descend a 328-foot cliff, cross a frozen river, then climb an almost 500-foot cliff before arriving at a fenced railway gate that led into the rear of the complex. They got there at 11:45 p.m. but had to wait for the guards to change shift, eventually cutting their way through the fence after midnight.

Once inside, the team split into two groups. Five commandos took covering positions outside the barracks, bridge, and main gate, while the other four entered the plant. Inside, they encountered only a Norwegian employee, who didn’t resist or raise the alarm.

Explosives were set in the target room, which was in the basement. The team evacuated and waited for the explosion. Because the room was so far underground and the walls were so thick, there was hardly any noise when the bombs went off, allowing the whole team to escape before the Germans found out what had happened.


Joachim Ronneberg Norway Gunnerside
Joachim Ronneberg, leader of Operation Gunnerside, at a ceremony in his honor in London, April 25, 2013. Ronneberg died in 2018.

The operation was a resounding success. The commandos destroyed the electrolysis cells and over 500 kg of heavy water. They managed to escape without firing a single shot or taking any casualties.

The Germans repaired the damage by May, but subsequent Allied air raids prevented full-scale production. Eventually, the Germans ceased all production of heavy water and tried to move the remaining supply to Germany.

In a last act of sabotage, a Norwegian team led by one of the Gunnerside commandos sank the ferry transporting the remaining heavy water on February 20, 1944, although at the cost of 14 Norwegian civilians.

The operations helped foil Germany’s nuclear ambitions, and the Nazis never built an atomic bomb or a nuclear reactor. Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in early May 1945, two months before the US’s bigger and better-resourced Manhattan Project tested the first nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945.

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Marines training for harsh winter warfare in Norway also have to deal with ‘different military terms’

Marines Norway elbow bump
Marine Maj. Alex Puraty greets Maj. Gen. Lars Lervik, chief of the Norwegian Army, during Exercise Reindeer II at Setermoen, Norway, November 25, 2020.

  • Marines have become a common presence in Norway in recent years, as they train for combat in harsh Arctic conditions and on rough terrain.
  • During that training, Marines and Norwegian troops often work side by side, and they take special measures to avoid miscommunications that can foul up their operations.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

US Marines have been spending more time in Norway training for winter warfare, and in addition to harsh weather and rough terrain, they also have to navigate a language barrier.

In late November, they headed to the northern village of Setermoen for Exercise Reindeer II to train on extreme terrain and to “synchronize tactics, techniques and procedures” with their Norwegian counterparts

One particular area for alignment became obvious, according to Maj. Gen. Lars Lervik, chief of the Norwegian Army.

“One of the most important lessons we have learned is that we need a mutual understanding of what the different military terms mean, so that when an order is given, we can both act in the same way,” Lervik said.

Marines Norway
US Marines on a hike led by a Norwegian soldier during cold-weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020.

Lervik added that he had “never seen” integration between the two forces “this good before,” but like him, a Marine official acknowledged that extra steps are needed to make sure everybody knows what everybody else is doing.

“While communication among US and Norwegian forces takes place in English without any difficulty, small differences in units’ standard operating procedures, professional experiences, and, in some cases, doctrinal terminology do exist,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe-Africa, said in an email.

They have several methods to overcome those differences, including “nearly identical planning processes” and liaisons embedded at the brigade, battalion, and company level “to facilitate mutual understanding,” Rankine-Galloway said, adding that such liaisons have been present throughout the Marine rotations in Norway since 2017.

Marines and Norwegian soldiers also made sure that they had a mutual understanding of their tasks and procedures during planning meetings for Exercise Reindeer II.

Marines Norway
US Marines receive cold-weather survival instruction from a Norwegian soldier during preparations for Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020.

Rankine-Galloway cited as an example a series of forward passage of lines – “a complex maneuver that occurs when a unit passes through another unit’s positions while moving toward the enemy” – that the two forces conducted during the exercise.

The maneuver “involves transferring the responsibility for an area of operations between two commanders and requires clear communication between both forces to ensure their safety and ability to carry out their missions,” Rankine-Galloway said.

Understanding and interoperability

Marines and sailors taking part in the current deployment of Marine Rotational Force-Europe arrived in Norway in late October and went through a quarantine before beginning their training.

Theirs is first of what the Corps said in August will be shorter, “episodic” deployments of varying numbers of Marines rather than the months-long rotations of several hundred Marines that the Corps started doing in Norway in 2017.

Those shorter deployments will be aligned with Norwegian exercises, which the Corps says “will allow for increased operational flexibility.”

Marines Norway
US Marines discuss their route plan during Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, November 26, 2020.

Broader changes to the Corps’ force structure mean other adjustments to its presence in Norway, including the removal of tanks it has stored for decades in a secret cave complex.

Other US service branches are also increasing their interactions with NATO’s northernmost member. Russia, with which Norway shares an increasingly tense border, has watched that activity warily.

US Marines train all over the world with troops who speak many different languages. A Navy planner told Insider in 2019 that language barriers typically don’t impede planning for such operations, but communicating about communicating can sometimes lead to hiccups.

In mid-2019, it was reported that Australian troops had been told not to use their country’s many slang terms around visiting Marines in order to avoid confusion.

But an Australian military spokesperson told Stars and Stripes that the officer whose comments prompted those reports was only citing “the potential to misinterpret each nation’s everyday language as an example to highlight how training together improves understanding and interoperability.”

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The head of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund was forced out because his wife is Chinese

Jon Nicolaisen
Jon Nicolaisen, Deputy Governor of Norges Bank, waits for the start of the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming August 22, 2014.

  • Norwegian deputy central bank governor Jon Nicolaisen resigned on Friday after Norway’s security service rejected his security clearance.
  • Clearance was denied because Nicolaisen’s wife is Chinese and resides in China. The pair have been married for ten years.
  • As deputy governor Nicolaisen was in charge of the country’s $1.2 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the biggest in the world.
  • Norway has become stricter on ties to China and Russia in recent years, as its intelligence service says they are trying to find out information about the country’s petroleum industry.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Norwegian deputy central bank governor Jon Nicolaisen announced that he was resigning on Friday, saying his application for renewed security clearance had been rejected because he has a Chinese wife.

In addition to setting monetary policy, Nicolaisen had been in charge of overseeing Norway’s $1.2 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest.

“The Norwegian Civil Security Clearance Authority informs me that the reason that I will not receive a renewed security clearance is that my wife is a Chinese citizen and resides in China, where I support her financially,” Nicolaisen said.

“At the same time, they have determined that there are no circumstances regarding me personally that give rise to doubt about my suitability for obtaining a security clearance, but that this does not carry sufficient weight.”

“I have now had to take the consequences of this,” he said.

Nicolaisen’s resignation takes effect immediately, according to a statement released by the central bank. It was not immediately clear who would replace him.

Nicolaisen was not immediately available for further comment.

NATO-member Norway has become stricter in recent years regarding security clearances, making it difficult in many cases to get approval for anyone married to a person from a country with which Norway does not have security cooperation.

Nicolaisen was first appointed deputy governor in 2014 and was re-appointed to a second term in April of this year. The central bank said he and his wife had married in 2010.

The Chinese Embassy in Oslo was not aware of the resignation and its reasons, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

“I will miss Jon Nicolaisen in his post as deputy governor, where he performed his duties superbly as a close colleague and competent professional,” Central Bank Governor Oeystein Olsen said in a statement.

Norway’s PST intelligence service said that Russia, China, and other countries were using espionage to glean secrets of Norway’s petroleum industry and its government’s plans to cut or increase oil and gas production.

Norway is western Europe’s largest petroleum producer with daily oil and gas output of around 4 million oil-equivalent barrels.

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