The Norwegian Defense Forces are reviewing options to improve general base infrastructure and capacity for the navy’s submarine fleet. The facilities’ review has come into focus in the wake of a government decision to favor an international partnership solution in any future delivery of a new submarine class to the navy.
The Norwegian Navy operates a fleet of six Ula-class submarines. Commissioned between 1989 and 1992, the aging subs are scheduled to be phased out in the 2020s.
The appraisal of the navy’s submarine base infrastructure is also expected to include port and housing capacity for “visiting” submarines from NATO countries.
Against a backdrop of military-strengthening and muscle flexing by Russia in the region, the Norwegian government supports an increased US and NATO naval presence in the waters in the Arctic High North.
In April, Norway’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) identified France’s Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) and the German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) as the strongest candidates should Norway decide to procure a new submarine-class.
The current fleet of Ula subs operate from the navy’s main base at Haakonsvern, near the west coast city of Bergen.
The navy’s submarine base infrastructure had included the Olavsvern facility near Tromsø in Northern Norway. This base, which cost US$500 million to construct and fit-out, was decommissioned in 2009.
The Olavsvern facility, which contains tunnels burrowed in to mountainside rock, is currently leased to research institutes funded by Russia and closely connected to the oil company Gazprom.
The base at Olavsvern was used extensively by US and British nuclear powered attack submarines patrolling Arctic waters during the Cold War. The facility was also used by NATO submarine commanders to rest crews and carry out repairs.
One possible recourse, as the MoD explores infrastructure base capacity options for the Navy’s future submarine fleet, is that the government may pursue a lease-back agreement on Olavsvern.
A lease-back would give the Norwegian Navy a strategic base in the High North for its own submarine fleet, and submarines from NATO nations. Olavsvern is located around 217 miles (350km) north of the Arctic Circle.