A U.S. bomber jet flew a loop around Svalbard and Franz Josef Land last week as part of a series of NATO training exercises in the Norwegian Arctic, which was followed by two Russian bombers conducting a simulated attack along the Norwegian coast on Thursday, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency and the military news website AldriMer.
The fights, while part of accelerating tensions between Russia and Western countries in recent years, do not appear to have broken any laws. But AldriMer states Norwegian officials are being secretive about the flights.
“Outwardly, Norwegian defense authorities have tried to pretend that the events have not taken place,” an article by Kjetil Stormark posted at the website Saturday states. “No messages have been posted.”
An e-mail inquiry by AldriMer to the Norwegian Armed Forces’ Operational Headquarters (FOH) received a reply that did not refer to the specific alleged exercises.
“In recent years, FOH has seen regular flights of the types of aircraft you mention in the waters you describe,” Ivar Moen, an FOH spokesman, wrote in the reply Friday night. “In addition, FOH does not comment on other countries’ material or activities. I would like to point out that the aircraft operate from other countries’ bases and fly in international airspace.”
A Twitter message posted Sept. 15 by MilRadar, a blog that tracks military air and sea activity, states a U.S.B-52 departed from the United Kingdom, flew around the Norwegian and Russian archipelagos, and returned to its base in the U.K.
15 SEP: USAF B52 61-0015 CHAOS43 full Oceanic route passing through Bodø Oceanic, Murmansk Oceanic and Iceland Radio HF ATC sectors pic.twitter.com/mkjAdMzsok
— Mil Radar (@MIL_Radar) September 15, 2018
“During the flight, an American bomber had not violated the Russian border, while all the time in the air space over international waters of the Arctic ocean,” an article by Interfax notes. “To ensure the duration of the flight after departure from an air base in England, it was refueled in the air by plane-the tanker USAF KC-135.”
It is unknown if Russia’s test flights by two Tu-160 bombers along the Norwegian Coast were a response to the U.S. flight or part of normal training exercises, AldriMer’s report stated.
20 SEP: The approximate routing of 2x Tu-22M3 aircraft – RNoAF F16s EG01 flight and Icelandic Air Policing USAF F-15s scrambled to intercept pic.twitter.com/Po5a54JbYo
— Mil Radar (@MIL_Radar) September 21, 2017
The website got widespread notoriety for a report in October of 2017 stating Russia staged a full-scale invasion of Svalbard that reportedly resulted in NATO officials participating in “crisis meetings after Norway’s total collapse.” Morten Haga Lunde, head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, told NRK at the time “it’s not often I read a story in Norwegian media that has so many mistakes…there was no such activity.”
Norway has consistency called Svalbard one of its top strategic assets and Russia the top military threat to the archipelago. In 2016 the Norwegian Armed Forces published a “Battle for Svalbard 2030” study that showed Norway is indeed at a poor state of readiness for an attack.
There have been numerous Svalbard-related incidents involving Norway and Russia in recent years that have resulted in accusations of being illegal or unnecessarily provocative.