Even though the focus is upon Ukraine, the Northern and Southern flanks of NATO are deeply affected by the crisis.
The Belarus takeover by Moscow and the virtual permanent deployment of Russian force there with the Kaliningrad enclave not far way poses a direct threat to the Nordics, the Balts and Poland which makes up the 21st century version of the NATO’s Northern Flanks or better put as the defense arc from the Nordics through to Poland.
In a recent article posted on the website Eye on the Arctic, Thomas Nilsen underscored what the Russians are about in the Northern waters. The Russians have issued a Notice to Airmen or NOTAM with regard to an area of high risk to civilians.
The Bear Gap is a military term for the strategically important waters from the North Cape, via the Bear Island and north to Svalbard. It is here the Barents Sea meets the deeper Norwegian Sea, and by that access to the North Atlantic.
In a conflict scenario, keeping control of the Bear Gap would be important for the Russian Northern Fleet to protect its strategic missile submarines in the eastern Barents Sea from NATO forces.
The Russian NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) is aimed at alerting civilian aviation to stay away as military missiles shootings will take place. The alert does not specify which missiles might come. However, the Northern Fleet’s largest warship “Pyotr Velikiy” sailed out from Severomorsk this weekend to the Barents Sea. The nuclear-powered battle cruiser is armed with Kalibr cruise missiles, among other weapons.
There are also other multi-purpose submarines and surface navy ships in the area that are armed with cruise missiles. Launching cruise missiles from east of the Varanger fjord against potential targets in the western Barents Sea is a scenario Russia’s Northern Fleet also drilled last February. However, last year’s NOTAM-alert near Bear Island covered a much smaller area.
At the same time, Norway is hosting a large NATO exercise.
This is how the Norwegian Ministry of Defense highlighted the exercise in a January 26, 2022 press release:
Exercise Cold Response 2022 (CR22) is a national Norwegian exercise.
The Cold Response exercise series are held every other year, with invited international participants.
The exercise was notified according to the Vienna Document 2011 § 61 on the 12th of November 2021, as well as in November 2020 – as the exercise could be over 40 000 personnel.
Cold Response 22 is the largest planned exercise conducted within NATO in 2022.
A significant part of exercise Cold Response 22 will take place in international waters adjacent to Norwegian territory with a large maritime and air presence. The Field Training Exercise will take place between 23 March‐ 30 March. A total force of 35 000 personnel from 25 nations are taking part in the exercise. Due to the pandemic, there are ongoing changes, so this number might change until the start of the exercise.
The Officer in charge of the Exercise is the Chief of the Norwegian Joint HQ in Bodø.
The objective of CR 22 is to exercise reinforcement of Norway in order to enhance the readiness of the participating forces and demonstrate Alliance and Partner cohesion under challenging climatic and topographic conditions.
- The scenario of the exercise is artificial and will mainly provide a framework to portray the road to crisis with peer adversary in all domains (North vs South forces).
- Depicted on this map, you can see the planned phases for the exercise. Phase1 – is starting with naval operations in the Atlantic in order to gain access,
- Phase 2 – constitutes of Air heavy operations in order to enable landing.
- Phase 3 – Is the amphibious landing and land battle in order to restore national integrity.
- There will be two exercise areas, one in the north and one in the south, marked in green.
- Important to notice is that a significant part of exercise Cold
Response 22 will take place in international waters with large
maritime and air presence, and not on land.
- At the moment it is foreseen a participation of approximately 16000 forces on land, these numbers might change before the start of the exercise due to the pandemic and necessary precautions in this regard.
Command and control.
There are two operational commands in the exercise.
- Norwegian Joint Headquarter (NJHQ) – is the Exercise HQ and
will command the North forces.
- NATO Joint Force Command Brunsum (JFCBS) will lead the
During the exercise, the participating forces will be deployed to different locations as depicted on the map. The largest participating states in the exercise are Norway, the USA, France, and the United Kingdom.
- Norway is committed to the Vienna Document obligations. We are strong supporters of confidence and security building measures. With reference to Chapter V (§47) of the Vienna Document 2011 we will invite all OSCE participating states to an observation of the exercise. The observation will take place from 23. till 30 March 2022. Should the number of forces drop below observation threshold, Norway will conduct the observation on a voluntary basis.
- The observation will cover both the northern and southern exercise area, all brigades and most of their subunits will be visited. Invitation will be sent out in early February.
- It is important for Norway to inform early and comprehensively about large military exercises to avoid potential for military tensions and misperceptions. Larger changes to this exercise will be notified accordingly the coming weeks. This to keep participating states who would like to plan a Vienna Document inspection and/or participate in the observation of CR 22, up to date on the developments in the planning.
- (In November this year (2022) we will notify the next Cold Response exercise, which will be conducted in 2024.)
- (We appreciate the Vienna Documents provisions regarding early notifications and observations as one of the Vienna Documents many measures to foster transparency, trust, and confidence.)
- (Press and public will also receive information on the exercise. This will be done through the local authorities on site, but also through official webpages, press releases and other media outreaches.)
Thomas Nilsen in a January 13, 2022 article notes:
Preparation for the long-time planned exercise is already well underway and is not directly linked to the current standoff between NATO and Moscow over Russia’s massive military buildup of troops at Ukraine’s border. However, a conflict in eastern Europe could spill over to the Arctic as the Kola Peninsula is home to some of Russia’s most powerful weapon systems, including hypersonic cruise missiles and the naval component of the strategic nuclear triad.
On December 24, President Vladimir Putin said his military forces successfully fired a simultaneous salvo of the Tsirkon hypersonic missile. The weapon is now ready for deployment with the Northern Fleet on both frigates and the 4th generation multi-purpose submarines of the Yasen-class.
Launched from the Russian sector of the Barents Sea, the Tsirkon missiles could reach targets in the Norwegian Sea in about 10 to 15 minutes if Moscow in a war conflict chose to activate its Bastion defense concept aimed at denying NATO forces control of the Norwegian and Greenland seas.
And in a February 11, 2022 NATO press release the exercises Brilliant Jump 2022 and Cold Response 2022 are highlighted:
On Monday, 28 February 2022, in Norway, NATO will launch one of its main exercises of the year, involving naval, air and land forces from across the Alliance. Under the command of NATO’s Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCBS), the long-planned Exercise BRILLIANT JUMP 2022 (BRJU 22) will demonstrate the readiness and mobility of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), the spearhead of the NATO Response Force (NRF). This rapid deployment will also enhance the interoperability of Allies and Partners.
Approximately 2,500 troops, mainly drawn from four NATO nations (France, Italy, Poland and Spain) will participate on the land. These forces will be supported by 10 warships from eight NATO nations (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway and The United Kingdom) with some 750 sailors operating off the coast of Norway and by air assets drawn from NATO member states.
This year, exercise BRILLIANT JUMP will lead directly into the bi-annual Norwegian-led exercise COLD RESPONSE 2022 (CR 22), which runs from 14 March to 1 April 2022. CR 22 is a defensive exercise under a NATO Article 5 scenario. The aim is to train the reinforcement of allies/partners under challenging climatic conditions, enhancing the readiness and capabilities of the participating forces. Up to 35,000 troops from some 28 nations will participate, including non-NATO partner nations, Finland and Sweden.
Norway and allies are committed to transparency and risk reduction. For that reason, Norway announced this long-planned exercise two years in advance in accordance with requirements of the Vienna Document. The Vienna Document obliges all host nations to notify the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) of major military exercises. For that reason, Norway has invited all OSCE member states – including Russia to send observers to Exercise COLD RESPONSE.
Both exercises are strictly defensive in character; all allies are committed to openness and transparency in full compliance with international obligations.