The first-ever deployment of B-1 Lancer bombers to Norway is allowing U.S. airmen to train in Arctic conditions and NATO ally Norway to test its defences, “This is the first time 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 U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, said during a telephone press briefing held with the chief of Norwegian Joint Headquarters, Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo.
Working with the Americans helps Norway, which shares a 122-mile northeastern border with Russia and is a founding member of NATO, to “ensure our defense plans work,” Odlo said.
The U.S. bombers’ presence in Norway is not intended as a threat to Russia, but as a demonstration that “the alliance is working,” he said.
“Being a neighbour to Russia, I think Russia understands quite clearly what we are doing,” he said.
More than 200 Air Force personnel from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and four B-1B bombers deployed last month to Orland, a Norwegian air base some 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle out of which Norway operates F-35A Lightning II fighters.
The Americans are getting to know the “unique terrain and environment” of the High North region, Basham said, noting the bombers would remain in the region for several more weeks.
The training was timely, considering the security situation in Europe in recent years, Odlo said, referring to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the invasion of eastern Ukraine by the Russians in 2014.
NATO has strengthened defenses along its eastern flank and stepped up multinational exercises in the past seven years.
Basham said the two NATO allies have been “extremely clear about the training we’re doing” and stressed that “the message we’re communicating is how two very close allies work together to not only learn in the air but learn on the ground.”
The bombers are training with the Norwegian navy, the country’s special forces and joint terminal air controllers, and flying with Norway’s F-35s.
They’ve dropped inert weapons on a training range in Norway, Basham said. They’ve also flown over the North and Baltic seas alongside combat aircraft from Denmark, Poland, Germany and Italy, the Air Force has said.
The bombers have held up well in the north European climate, said Basham, who began his career flying B-1s out of Grand Forks, N.D.
While “the aircraft doesn’t mind the cold,” the Norwegian military is helping the Dyess airmen adapt “to the rigors of the cold,” he said.
Below is a full rush transcript of the press conference by Special Briefing via Telephone with Lieutenant General Yngve Odlo Chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters And Lieutenant General Steven Basham Deputy Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.
Lieutenant General Odlo: Thank you. It’s a special area, and our main intent is to keep this as stable as possible and also where the activity is regulated by intent and law. For Norway, the recent defense policy are based on three fundamental rights: the national force structure, the bilateral cooperations, and the NATO membership.
Norway has been a NATO member since the start in 1949, and for Norway, this alliance is highly important. Within the alliance, the bilateral agreement and partnership, Norway is able to maintain a stable and robust defense culture and claim sovereign rights in our own territory. To receive and host allied reinforcement to Norway, we must train to ensure that our defense plans work. The host nation support concept has proven to be efficient, latest in the large scale at Trident Juncture in 2018, which was a big NATO exercise.
However, we must continue to refine and maintain the high level to perform as planned when we need it. The current training with the U.S. Bomber Task Force will increase the level of our own forces to integrate and operate with our nearest allies. And during this period, we will exercise and train together with the forces from the Norwegian Navy, the Norwegian Air Force, the Norwegian Army, and the Norwegian Special Forces, and also link up with the Iceland Air Policing which we have deployed F-35 during this period.
It’s natural for our forces to continuously train and exercise within the different warfighting domains. This is not a new concept – in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which the forces operate closely with U.S. and allied bombers and other forces. The effects achieved are based on long-term training and exercising, both internationally but also back in Norway with cold-weather climate over several years before.
After this training period of Norway, the U.S., our allies, and the regional actors in the High North can experience that Norwegian and U.S. forces operate closely and safely together, this under conditions also challenged by COVID-19 virus. Thank you.
Lieutenant General Basham: I’d like to start off by thanking General Odlo for the time he’s provided today as well and remarks, and not only the great support that has been provided to the Bomber Task Force. This truly is a great opportunity for us to discuss the first-ever deployment of U.S. bombers to Norway as well as how our alliance allows us to jointly project power across not only this region but, as was just touched on, across the globe. And again, I’d also like to again thank you and the Department of State for hosting this event and all those that have dialed in today.
This Bomber Task Force rotation is truly historic, as I said. While we have maintained a constant presence throughout Europe, over the past three years by flying primarily out of the United Kingdom, training really across all of Europe, certainly in the – from the Baltics to the Straits of Gibraltar, this is the first time that we are generating flights in partnership with our close ally, Norway, as well as operating from Norwegian soil. As more countries are drawn to the Arctic region, some with competing interests, it’s imperative that we maintain free, fair access for all nations. And we will continue to work diligently with our NATO allies and partners to ensure that stability.
Our Norwegian friends have been working to maintain a safe and stable environment up in the High North for centuries, and their highly agile, expeditionary force[s] are experts at generating combat power in a short notice. And it’s with great pride that we are – have an opportunity to learn from them, to familiarize our pilots with the region’s unique terrain as well as environment, our maintainers operating from new locations, new air fields, and certainly work to introduce new technology and capabilities to the collective defense effort.
By introducing large-scale missions like the Bomber Task Force in Europe, we’ve become more interoperable with our allies and partners, ensuring that we are prepared for competition at any level. Norway’s recent acquisition of the F-35 is just one more example of how our continued collaboration is allowing us to be more integrated than ever before.
I’d also like to add that our focus on combined, joint all-domain command-and-control makes this level of integration possible by connecting sensors to shooters and leveraging our vast framework of air and space assets to stay ahead of potential threats, again training and operating with allies and partners, is essential to ensuring we can quickly respond to a variety of challenges. Yet our main goal is always to preserve peace. Our forward-deployed airmen stand watch 24/7 to honor our commitment to our friends in Europe, and our commitment is very tangible. We are here training shoulder to shoulder with our allies to ensure stability and to send a clear message that we are poised and ready to ensure a stable region, to include the Arctic, for generations to come.
In our current security environment, maybe one of the most diverse and uncertain we have faced in recent memory, during this Bomber Task Force deployment, our joint multinational team is becoming even more flexible, capable, and responsive to the shifting landscape. Our ironclad commitment will ensure a stable, prosperous future.
Question: I just wanted to ask you about the B-1 operating in the cooler climate right now. Have you had to make any adjustments or modifications to the airframe to sustain it in the cooler weather? And just in general, how have the airframes been holding up?
Lieutenant General Basham: Jennifer, that’s a very good question and I’m a perfect person to ask that, having flown B-1s in my history. I started out flying B-1s in Grand Forks, North Dakota, probably one of the coldest places in the United States. These aircraft are actually out of Dyess Air Force Base, which is down in Texas. So while the aircraft does just fine in the cold weather – as a matter of fact, I gained my greatest number of flying hours flying the B-1 out of North Dakota – the aircraft doesn’t mind. 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. But I would offer to you, the aircraft has performed exceptionally well, and we’ve been able to operate in many different environments. This just adds to the full list for the B-1.
Question: Firstly, for General Odlo, I wanted to ask why make the decision to host U.S. bombers now, for the first time? Have there been any changes to the security situation that Norway faces that made this training more useful now? And for General Basham, you mentioned the benefit of training and flying out of new locations. Can you elaborate on that? What’s the benefit of flying out of Ørland rather than just going to like Fairford again?
Lieutenant General Odlo: I think you have to understand, since 2014, the security situation in Europe has changed and NATO has made a decision to redefine the Article 5 and also to work out how do we defend our own territory, being abroad for decades. So this is a natural part of that, to be able to operate and defend our own territory. And then it’s, for the Norwegian Army or Norwegian defense forces, important to more regularly exercise and train together with our close allies. The Bomber Task Force is an important asset to be able to conduct high intensity combined joint operations. So to do this under Arctic conditions is timely and according to what has happened the last seven or eight years, I think. Over.
Lieutenant General Basham: I’ll expand on what I’m confident our aviators are learning right now. And I’ll start with, of course, again, the ability to operate from a different airfield than you typically operate from. There’s always something that’s just a little bit different, and 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.
We’re very good at Fairford as well as many other locations. But operating from Norway gives a very unique opportunity to operate in a cold weather environment. But I’m going to – and certainly the training that we’re able to conduct on a day-to-day basis with the joint terminal air controllers, the special forces in Norway, integrating probably a little bit more often than we might from other locations with their fighters, their navy. I would offer that being on the ground with them before we operate and after we operate also creates a unique opportunity to learn from our Norwegian counterparts.
So while the flying out of UK is great, if we don’t expand our horizon and look for other opportunities to work with other allies, other partners, then we miss true training opportunities to continue to develop ourselves, and even more so, I would say, to learn from others. Over.
Question: What should Russia read into the deployment of B-1 bombers to Norway for the first time?
Lieutenant General Odlo: I can start with that to give an answer, being a neighbor to Russia. I think Russia understands quite clearly what we are doing. What we are doing now and what they should read is that the alliance is working. We are working quite closely together with our armed forces, and that’s natural, really. Nation-states do that. And I think we will make sure that we will not make any unreadable actions. So I think what Russia will read out of this is a normal military activity between two close allies. Over.
Lieutenant General Basham: No, I’ll just add a couple of comments here, and I think General Odlo said that very well. There is no doubt that Russia probably looks at this as just what they would do. 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, and in this particular case, to work so close but alongside an ally. I think as professional militaries, we fully understand that this is a part of the competition that takes place every single day so that we can all continue to learn from each other. So I imagine there is no surprise whatsoever. And again, we appreciate the opportunity.
Question: I know Norway has pretty strict rules regulating foreign forces being based in Norway. Is this the result of a new agreement between the two countries to allow U.S. forces to base in Norway? And what do you get by basing bombers as opposed to F-16s or other fighter aircraft?
Lieutenant General Odlo: Yes, we had since the end of World War II, we have always had our national policy, how do we operate being a neighbor to Russia. And we have a quite good understanding of what we should do and what we not – should not do with regard to the – to being a neighbor to Russia both during the Cold War and also today. So we try to be transparent, open, and also communicate what we do, and not operate too close to the border, not go into certain limits, but we behave. And I think the most important part is that we are transparent and communicate whatever we do on a regular basis. So that’s the most important part and it’s also a part of policy which I will not go into here.
What do we get out of basing the Bomber Task Force? I think the Bomber Task Force is able, as mentioned by Basham, to operate in the Arctic conditions and also to operate out of Norwegian bases, and it is an important part making sure that both of us are able to do that. For us, also the host nation support and also the integration because this is a strategic asset and it is highly important to both of us, both the armed forces but also as a joint headquarters, to be able to underwrite processes and to use this as important assets, if needed. So I think it’s a lot of learning points doing this. Over.
Lieutenant General Basham: If I could just add a couple points, but I do think that was extremely well said by General Odlo. The one thing I might add, and certainly this is – we never from a U.S. standpoint, we certainly never want to look at this as permanent basing. It’s the ability to be able to operate from many different locations, and you have to be on the ground to understand some of the challenges that you might face.
But I would also offer – and I think that transparency is extremely important – but operating on the ground is really no different than operating in the air, and it’s the transparency that you provide by being respectful of established borders. And certainly, professional militaries have a way – and we’ve done this for many years – a way to interact with each other, to operate with each other, and that’s on all sides. In this particular case it gives us the opportunity to explore other areas in the short amount of time that we might be able to fly. So I think that’s a very good question. Thank you.
Question: Norway is imposing certain limitations when the – when foreign forces operate from, or allied forces operate from Norwegian soil. One of them is that allied planes should not operate east of the 24th longitude, which is in the Hammerfest region. So I want to ask General Basham how easy it is to impose a clear message, as you said, when you’re not able to fly closer than hundreds of miles away from the Russian border ?
Lieutenant General Odlo: This is Lieutenant General Odlo. Could you please say again the core of the questions? I read you about the limitations, but it was a sentence which I missed. Can you please say again?
Question: How easy or how difficult it is to send a clear message, as General Basham indicated that was part of the purpose with flying in the far north ? how easy is it to send a clear message to Russia when having this limitation which is , which prohibits flying hundreds of miles away from the Russian border ?
Lieutenant General Basham: Actually, I’m confident it doesn’t limit the training or the opportunity that we’ve been able to establish during this particular Bomber Task Force deployment. The opportunity to be able to fly with Norway as well as, as you’re going to see over several weeks, we’ve flown with many other countries, so there’s – I wouldn’t say that it’s as the – limiting the message that we’re sending because the reality is the message that we’re communicating is how two very close allies work together to not only learn in the air but to learn on the ground.
So we look forward to more opportunities with other allies and partners inside the European theater. And as was stated earlier, in the level of transparency it’s always important to make sure that we’re very clear about what we’re doing, and I think in this bomber task force we’ve been extremely clear about the training that we’re doing and the integration that’s actually occurring with a close ally. Thank you.
Lieutenant General Odlo: As you know, when we invite allies – close allies to operate or to exercise in Norway, it’s always – some reverberations from the political side of the house, which is normal. And I think the most important part is that we are able to exercise and train together. Obviously, it’s the perception, they say, it’s also communicated. We try to be quite open and communicate what we do and our intent when we do it, so I think it’s not a reason to be offensive at all. I think this is normal activity communicated quite well. Over.
Question: How long the deployment of the American bombers will last there in Norway? And the second question is another follow-up question on Russia, because one of the first reactions when this became announced was that Russia said they could see that deployment could pose a security threat. And based on your answers, I could say so Russia shouldn’t really see it like that. What is your opinion?
Lieutenant General Odlo: I said before, this is military exercising and training to exercise the cohesion within the alliance and our ability to operate together if that’s needed. So I think that’s what you should read out of this.
I think also the communication is quite clear that this is what it is and it’s not an offensive operation at all; it’s normal military activity between two close allies. The only special thing is that it’s the new asset being deployed to Norway, but it’s also a quite normal and important asset to be able to conduct high-intensity joint, combined operations, which we have done closely also in other areas of operation, like Afghanistan and Iraq. So I think that’s the basic. Over.
Lieutenant General Basham: And this is Lieutenant General Basham. I think one of the questions also was how long this would last, if I got that question right. And we still have several weeks that we’re going to be operating in the theater. It gives us a chance to spend time in other locations working with other allies. And I would echo General Odlo’s comments to the – there should be no message of threat. This is, once again, how professional militaries increase their level of expertise, their level of capability, and ultimately for the United States, this is one more opportunity for us to be able to operate from the United States, come into an environment that maybe we’ve not been there before and to be able to integrate with another country, and then ultimately be able to prove that we have the ability to be able to operate from many different environments, many different locations.
And I guess 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 and we have been very clear about our agile combat employment. The fact that we are now not just with our smaller aircraft, our fighter-type aircraft, but our bombers as well as our tankers, our airlift aircraft, our intelligence aircraft are going to be able to operate from many different locations just to increase our level of readiness and our understanding of the environments that we’re going to face.
Question: Can you specify a little bit more what the exercise program is? is the plan, for example, to actually drop bombs with these bombers? With Russia being Norway’s neighbor, what are you observing on the Kola Peninsula, and specifically that gives you pause, and which may or may not be in the back of your minds during this exercise?
Lieutenant General Odlo: I think I would leave the questions about the exercise program to Lieutenant General Basham, and I could start with the Russian area. We are operating in the High North, I mean the North Atlantic, side by side by the Russian forces. We are neighboring countries and operate in the same environment on a daily basis, and what we see is that they do this quite professionally. They behave professionally and they do what they have to do and we do what we have to do, and that’s with huge, big respect from both nations.
So it’s also important, I think, to understand that after 2014, we sanctioned the military operations of Russia and we – that’s quite clear. At the same time, being a border nation to Russia, we have a quite good cooperation when it comes to the border control, to the search and rescue, and also the coast guard and resource management. That’s working excellent. And so – and we also have a bilateral agreement about how do we behave safely, how do we operate safely side by side. So I think we have – the military cooperation is sanctioned politically, and at the same time we behave professionally as neighboring countries. Over.
Lieutenant General Basham: The great thing about the B-1 and our bomber force write large is they bring an opportunity for a large payload and they’re extremely fast in what they’re able to do. And in this particular case, we did do some training on a range in Norway to drop some – we would call them “inert shapes.” But it gives us the opportunity to work with joint terminal air controllers or special operations forces that are on the ground, and it 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. And I can tell you as a B-1 pilot that not all terrain looks the same; 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.
We recognize – and of course, that goes for working with naval forces as well as working with army or ground forces, as well as airmen. And I would just offer that anytime you do training like this, the one thing you’re always thinking about if you’re ever required to employ in a location such as this, or the environment such as this, you typically don’t get a first chance to practice and then a second chance to succeed. You have to succeed on your first opportunity. And so 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. Over.
Lieutenant General Odlo: I’d like to start with that. I think – yes, you’re right about the Cold War ending. That’s ended about 1989. At the same time, the security situation has changed quite dramatically after 2014 and I will not try to explain what happened then. I think everyone understands what happened. And also NATO recognized that and said that we need to look into ourselves and how do we prepare for defending our own territories?
At the same time, the security perception has to double. We have the terrorist organization, we have the hybrid warfare. It’s totally different, so we are not going into a new Cold War, that’s for sure. This is totally different now. And I think this is more about the security policy and understanding what’s going on today.
But for sure, we have some threats against our society and our population which we need to be able to defend our interests and our population against. But you’re right, it’s not a Cold War; it’s totally different, but still the military force to be able to do that is very important both within the alliance, but also bilaterally.
Lieutenant General Basham: I’ll just maybe capture a couple of points here. There is no doubt – and I think I captured in my opening comments – our desire is actually for peace. And as all professional countries have professional militaries, it’s our responsibility to be, if called on by the nations, to be prepared to defend not only our own nation, our own interests, but those that we have closely allied with.
And once again, between professional militaries, that is our responsibility. In the end, the dialogue that occurs between alliance countries and nations in many ways is certainly bolstered by the ability of those nations to work closely together and have a level of assurance that should crisis come, that the militaries will be able to respond. But let’s make no mistake, the goal is always, always the peace, always peace and the avoidance of any type of crisis or conflict. Thank you.
Lieutenant General Odlo: This has been a quite interesting period. We are looking forward to further operations with the U.S., and we do that on a daily basis both in Norway and other both NATO and coalition nations abroad. So I think what we are doing now is fitting quite good into the whole perspective of what we are trying to achieve with our efforts. Thank you.
Lieutenant General Basham: Certainly to General Odlo and to everyone that was able to join us today, we value the wonderful partnership we have with Norway and appreciate any opportunity to operate bombers out of Ørland Air Force Station, in this particular case, as well as future opportunities but with maybe other aircraft.
We look forward again to the opportunity to be able to integrate with allies and partners across Europe and allowing us to improve readiness, responsiveness, and to preserve the peace through our shared expertise. So thank you very much.