Logistics - DEFENCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, Issue 51
DMJ sheds light on the Norwegian Ministry of Defence's strides in procuring medevac as well as weather response equipment for troops battling extreme conditions…
In spite of the global economic climate, the Norwegian government has declared that it will continue to invest in its armed forces in 2011. The defence budget will see a substantial increase, which will no doubt impact heavily on the future of the armed forces in Norway.
"This is a good, but tight, budget with clear priorities," says Defence Minister Grete Faremo. "We are giving priority to receiving and bringing into service new aircraft, helicopters and naval vessels. And Norway's military presence in the North – the armed forces' contribution to the government's High North Strategy – will be strongly maintained."
The MoD's priorities for the year ahead include the procurement of new materials, increasing security in the High North, improving naval activity and increasing army personnel. Norway will also continue to preserve good links and contribute to international operations aimed at maintaining peace and stability.
"The financial crisis means that a number of our closest and most important allies have had to cut – in some cases to the bone – their defence budgets," adds Faremo. "Thus the situation in which the global economy now finds itself will inevitably have direct implications for NATO cooperation."
Working with NATO member states is an area that the MoD in Norway is certainly interested in maintaining, and since 2006, the Norwegian armed forces has run Cold Response, a biennial joint and multinational exercise aimed at improving training and preparing soldiers for operations in cold weather.
Cold Response 2010 saw the participation of 8,500 soldiers from across 14 nations across NATO member states. Soldiers from the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Lithuania, Romania and Spain descended upon the Norwegian area of Narvik in February to take part in the high intensity training session. 1,000 of those soldiers were Special Forces.
The two week training session focuses on crisis response and is designed to throw troops into a cold weather environment and teach them how to survive. The exercise is run jointly by the Norwegian National Joint Headquarters and Commander United Kingdom Amphibious Forces Headquarters to prepare forces for operations in harsh conditions, and instruct them on how to recognise natural dangers, such as avalanches, how to deal with the cold, and how to get to grips with the equipment used in these areas.
Coping with the elements is an important part of armed forces training. Often, troops can be stationed in areas that have extreme weather patterns, and, as such, must be able to adapt to these changes. The Norwegian Defence Command's 'Guide to Cold Weather Operations' states that: 'Fear of the snow, the cold and exposure can have a stronger effect on the untrained and the inexperienced than fear of the enemy's weapons.' For this reason, exercises such as Cold Response are vital.
"The exercise is intended to enhance interoperability between multinational force structures that could be part of NATO and/or UN operations in a challenging arctic climate where seconds count and can be the difference between life and death," says Major General Howes OBE, Commander United Kingdom Amphibious Forces Headquarters, the Maritime Component Commander for the Multi-National Task Force. "Put simply, if you can soldier here, you can soldier anywhere."
The Norwegian Defence Command also advises troops during the training on what they need to wear, what equipment they need, how to treat and recognise cold related health problems, and how to identify the signs of an impending avalanche. Much of this equipment can be life saving, and the MoD has recently signed a contract award to procure avalanche rescue equipment.
These resources are required primarily in the event of rescuing people trapped under the snow, a real risk in cold regions. The contract includes 9,000 snow shovels, 9,000 probes and 7,600 avalanche detectors – essential in winter operations, particularly where the risk of sliding snow is high. Procurement opportunities such as this are key to keeping costs low, and in the current economic climate, this is becoming more important than ever.
The Norwegian armed forces utilises the Avalanche Forecasting Group, a unit of soldiers trained to assess the risk of an avalanche for the troops training during Cold Response. The Group uses a number of tests to determine if there is a risk from snow slides, including checking the snow wall to see if there are any weak spots, tapping the top of the snow pack to see if there is any movement, and testing for fracture initiation.
"We are looking and listening at indicators in the snow," says Major Morton Bie, a member of the Avalanche Forecast Group. "For example, when we're riding and one of us stops next to the other on the skidoo and we hear a 'whoomp' sound, it's because the pressure is too much on the snow pack and you hear all the air compressed. You could be in a danger zone."
Among the equipment procured by the MoD's contract award for rescue materials are avalanche detectors.
These small machines transmit the location of someone buried under the snow, enabling the person to be rescued quickly. When undertaking winter operations, it is important that the troops understand the risks and are aware of how to survive such an event.
"When an avalanche comes to a stop, 93% of buried people are alive for the first 15 minutes," says Major Tor-Martin Larsen, a commanding officer at the Norwegian School of Infantry and Winter Warfare. "After 45 minutes, 25% are alive. So the first 15 minutes are very important. You have a short period of time. After 45 minutes, you are mainly looking for dead bodies." This makes the avalanche rescue equipment even more essential, as knowing how to use the equipment successfully could be the difference between life and death.
However, it is not just training scenarios where the Norwegians are excelling in defence initiatives. Following the tsunami disaster in Indonesia, Norway discovered that, alongside many other countries, it was ill equipped to handle the number of casualties for mass evacuations. In response to this, the Norwegian MoD looked at how it could improve medevac services, and what would be needed in the future to support such operations.
Work began on Project 9343 to develop more efficient medevac services, and the MoD recently announced the procurement of Medevac Role Change modification equipment, enabling passenger aircraft to be changed into an air ambulance or mobile intensive care unit within a four hour period.
"We are now able to transform a civilian aircraft into a large air ambulance in less than 24 hours," said Defence Minister Faremo, speaking about the project. "This has significantly strengthened the armed forces medical evacuation capacity. This is not only important for our troops in Afghanistan; it's a good example of how the military can also be used in the event of major accidents and natural disasters all over the world."
The medevac systems can be fitted into civilian airlines, such as a Boeing 737 or 700, and the Norwegian armed forces has an arrangement with Scandinavian airlines to provide one aircraft within 24 hours' notice, and a second at 36 hours. The plane would be piloted by SAS staff, but the Norwegian armed forces would provide the medical care. This will ensure that during future disasters, the armed forces are able to quickly evacuate casualties and treat severe injuries effectively and safely in the onboard medical facility.
The Norwegian armed forces will train its medical teams to use this equipment and it will be incorporated into initial exercises in December, before receiving the declaration of Operational Capability early in early 2011.
Medevac Role Change modification equipment is particularly useful as it provides the ability for medics to be flexible in their approach to operations. They can choose how many intensive or intermediate care beds to put in, whether more seating is needed for able-bodied patients, and also allows complicated equipment to be used on the plane, such as suction units, respirators and infusion kits. This means emergency treatment can be delivered as soon as possible.
The Norwegian MoD is committed to strengthening its relationship with NATO and improving its capabilities globally.
"Increasing interdependence will bring the world ever closer, but not necessarily make people more inclined to live in peace," says Faremo. "From a security point of view, the most prominent aspect of our era is that events in one part of the world are far more likely than in the past to have repercussions elsewhere. Anarchy in one country can create an opportunity for terrorists to find a safe haven from which to operate across any border. A cyber attack that leads to chaos in one city, may inspire criminals in another."
Initiatives and joint training schemes like Cold Response are a step towards further collaboration with armed forces from other nations, while improvements and innovation in areas such as medevacs means that the Norwegian armed forces can improve its services and response capabilities.
"NATO must find its place within a less centralised and more complicated international order," he says. "Its new role will be influenced by the emergence of specific threats from a diverse spectrum of possibilities."