The Challenge of Shaping a 21st Century Integrated Force for the Extended Defense of Norway: The Perspective of Lt. General Rune Jakobsen


2017-02-16 By Robbin Laird

In the Fall of 2015, then Major General Rune Jakobsen became Lt. General Jakobsen and the Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters. According to the announcement at the time:

The new commander started his military career in July 1980 and has filled several key positions in the Norwegian Armed Forces.

He has been commanding officer for the Telemark Battalion, Chief of the Army Staff, National Contingent Commander in Afghanistan and Chief of Staff in the Norwegian Defence Staff.

The Norwegian Joint Headquarters is nothing new for Jakobsen. From 2010 to 2013, he served as Chief of Operations at the Headquarters.​

According to an article published on the Norwegian Ministry of Defence website, the Norwegian Joint Headquarters is the operational heart of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

It plans, conducts and leads the Armed Forces’ operations in times of peace, crisis and war.

The Norwegian Joint Headquarters (NJHQ) operates day and night, and has the overall command and control of all military activity in Norway. It also commands the Norwegian military personnel abroad. In Norway, it controls activities like the Coast Guard, the search and rescue service, military air traffic, and the Border Guard.

The Operations Room at the Joint Headquarters. Credit: Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

The Headquarters operates from its mountain complex outside the city of Bodø in Northern Norway. From its operation centre, experienced officers continuously monitor the activity in Norway’s vast land and sea territories.

This is possible thanks to our many sensors like radars, the Coast Guard and the maritime surveillance aircraft P-3 Orion. The Headquarters gathers all the information and makes a complete picture of the current situation. This picture is shared with other departments in the Armed Forces, and with NATO.

The NJHQ Chief is the Chief of Defence’s most important advisor in questions concerning military operations and activity. The current Chief is Lieutenant General Rune Jakobsen.​


  • Keep an eye with Norway’s vast sea and air territories, and have a current understanding of the overall situation.
  • Exercise sovereignty in Norway’s land, sea and air territories – and exercise national jurisdiction in these areas.
  • Be present, and be able to handle crisis of any kind.
  • Support civil society.
  • Plan and head military exercises.
  • Provide control and suppo​rt to Norwegian forces in international operations.

Lt. General Jakobsen spoke at the Norwegian Airpower Conference on 5th Gen and I had a chance to talk with him after the conference as well.

During his presentation, he underscored the crucial need to have a very credible and high threshold against any power that thought about attacking Norway.

Lt. General Jakobsen discussing the role of the F-35 in the evolution of Norwegian defense at the Norwegian Airpower Conference.

On the one hand, this meant better force integration of Norwegian forces, and within this effort F-35 integration with the total force was deemed a critical aspect of the way ahead.

On the other hand, shaping more capable and effective integration with allied forces operating in the North Atlantic was integral to shaping a very high threshold against any attack against Norway.

Reshaping C2 and working force integration at home and with allies are seen as key challenges facing the joint force.

According to Lt. General Jakobsen, Norway pursued a total defense concept during the Cold War, in terms of integrating defense with civil society, somewhat like Finland does today.

Norway is returning to such a concept but in 21st century terms, which means building out for new 21st century capabilities.

Lt. General Jakobsen discussing the way ahead with regard to force integration to provide for Norwegian defense at the Norwegian Airpower Conference.

“Together with Sweden during the Cold War, we were world champions in total defense concept, if you know that, I mean all governmental institutions linked together in not an organization but a network where all parts of society had a role in defense.

“We moved away from that after the Cold War.

“In the post Cold War period, we have focused on international operations much more than on national defense.

“Since 2014, we have re-shifted our focus to rebuild national defense capabilities.”

He then underscored the challenges in shaping the way ahead.

“We have a modern navy.

“We will have one of the most modern air forces in Europe when procurement projects have finished, but unfortunately we have put the land forces on hold.

“There is a study going on that will deliver a report in June what kind of land force we need in future. And I have great expectations too that that will fill in the missing pieces.

“We don’t think a conflict with Russia will occur on a bilateral basis between our two countries. If we will have a conflict in future it will be a spillover from tensions somewhere else in Europe.

“Of course, Russia relies heavily on the Kola Peninsula and is expanding its reach to defend the Peninsula and those poses challenges as well.”

He then spoke of the nature of the Russian-Norwegian relationship.

“The Norwegian relationship to Russia is different from the UK or especially the Baltic perspective.

“We have a common border that is more than 1,000-years-old, and it has never been contested. Lives have never been lost on Norwegian-Russian border except for in 1943 when the Nazis crossed it.

“Russia was the first country to acknowledge Norwegian sovereignty in 1905. Stalin pulled his generals out in 1945 when they wanted to stay in Norway, after liberating the northern part from the Nazis.

“And we see Russia behaving differently towards us than even towards Sweden or the Baltic States.

“We have, together over the years, developed cooperation about management of the fish stocks. We have common interests in the Barents Sea, and up to March 2014 there was decent cooperation on the exercise side, especially between the two navies.

“To date we see the Northern Fleet behaving professionally towards us. There are no border violations, no violations of Norwegian airspace. Their training activity is understandable given that they have modernized their armed forces.

“They have some pretty scary capabilities, and they have technological equality or parity with the West; that’s scary.

“But the intention to use it actively towards Norway, on a bilateral basis, we don’t see.

“But then again, we can’t be naïve. Modern Russia will protect her interests by every means and they will fill every power vacuum.

“Our national strategy towards Russia is to pursue both dialogue and deterrence hand in hand.”

Lt. General Jakobsen discussing the broad challenge facing extended Norwegian defense at the Norwegian Airpower Conference.

The Lt. General reinforced the point, which he made during his presentation to the conference about the central importance of having a high threshold for Norwegian defense and deterrence.

“We are creating the new national defense capabilities in order to create a threshold so that a violation of Norwegian territory will not be cost effective.

“And clearly we cannot do this alone, and hence our NATO membership and engagement with allies is crucial. And with the nuclear dimension, clearly the American relationship along with Britain and France is crucial as well.”

Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters Lieutenant General Rune Jakobsen in conversation with foreign colleagues during exercise Cold Response 2016 – Photo courtesy of Torbjørn Kjosvold/Forsvaret

He then highlighted the importance of the cold weather exercises held on Norwegian soil with the US Army, the USMC and the UK forces.

“To see American forces every second year on the Cold Response exercise is important. It is important that Allied units are capable of operating under cold weather conditions.

“We have two Allied Training Centers as of today: one in Finnmark and one also down in Harstad, where especially UK and Dutch units are training every year. Special forces units from other countries are training in Finnmark.

“That is part of increasing the threshold to provide for winter training to be capable of operating in the Arctic, but training together is crucial.”

(See the briefing below, regarding allied training with Norwegian forces:

We then closed by discussing the importance of allies working with similar platforms, in this case the F-35.

“When we fly the same platform, we have common solutions on maintenance, which makes the operating costs lower. That’s one good thing. But it also means we have to train together, and that gives us interoperability.

“And of course, a much more capable and integrated force from the ground up.”