Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Saturday christened the Norwegian Intelligence Service’s (NIS) at the Vard Landsten shipyard on the west coast of the country. The vessel, which will be operational from 2016, will be the world’s most advanced surveillance ship of its kind, the Armed Forces say on their website.
The main area of operations for the new vessel will be the Barents Sea and the High North.
“The High North is a region of increased activity, development and priority. To keep control with this development is of strategic importance for Norway. The Parliament’s decision to invest in a new surveillance vessel is also an important signal that Norwegian presence in the High North is of high priority,” Head of NIS General Lieutenant Kjell Grandhagen says to the Armed Forces’ web site.
“Russia is more unpredictable than ever”
At the same day as the NIS christened its new vessel, Grandhagen gave a relatively open interview to a Norwegian newspaper, something that does not happened often.
According to Grandhagen, Russia is now ruled by a small circle of people around Vladimir Putin. Their line is more aggressive and more unpredictable than their predecessors.
“The Government of Russia has been marginalized and the real power has been moved to the people closest to Putin in the Presidential Administration. The country is in reality ruled by a small circle around Putin. It is a circle where most have the same background as him. There used to be liberal elements in the leadership, but now it consists of conservatives,” Grandhagen said to newspaper VG.
Grandhagen does not see Russia as a direct threat to Norway. “I don’t think Norway is very high on Putin’s agenda. He is more concerned with the relations to the US, NATO, EU and China.”
“On a general basis Russia has always been interested in stability and low tension in the High North,” Grandhagen said. Russia is interested in a commercial use of the region, to find ways to secure exploration of the resources and have oil and gas transported out to the markets, he explains.
“At the same time the Kola Peninsula is very important. This is where Russia keeps the main part of its nuclear weapons that will be used in a potential conflict with the US. It is our assessment that the Kola Peninsula will be the most important strategic base for Russia’s nuclear arsenal also in the future.”
First vessel openly belonging to NIS
Norway has had surveillance vessels in the Barents Sea since the 1960ies. The four last vessels have all had the name “Marjata”. With the launch of the new “Marjata”, NIS for the first time speaks openly about the vessel’s mission. The ship even has the NIS crest on its chimney, which is something new. The current “Marjata”, which has been operational since 1995, wears the emblem of the Norwegian Defence and Research Establishment and has always been referred to as a “research vessel”.
Watch video of the new and old “Marjata” here.
The new “Marjata” is substantially larger than the former; 126 meter long with a 23.5 meter beam.
“The vessel has a considerable better sensor capacity than its predecessor; it is larger and much faster. Together this will give us a better overview than before,” Grandhagen says to VG.
“Its task will be to systematically map all military and some civilian activity in areas close to Norway. When we have a complete picture, we can determine what the normal activity looks like. Then it will be easier to discover deviations from the norm. That is what we should discover. That is why we’re there,” he adds.
Nothing is said about where the new “Marjata” will have her homeport. The current vessel makes port call to Kirkenes near Norway’s border to Russia.