With the Russian invasion of Ukraine ongoing, NATO is making efforts to enhance its readiness, an element of which requires member states to interoperate militarily through regular exercises as an integrated force.
For that reason, the Royal Navy will consolidate its presence in the High North with a new purpose-built base called Camp Viking in northern Norway, in the village of Øverbygd. Camp Viking will accommodate all personnel from the UK’s Littoral Response Group (LRG), the commando-led Royal Marines force which reacts to emerging crises in Europe.
The camp is strategically located next to a Norwegian Armed Forces base and near to the established air base at Bardufoss where the Commando Helicopter Force operates. The Commando Helicopter Force is the specialist aviation support for Royal Marines.
The Arctic is a crucial space: NATO’s northern flank. It has historically been an area of low tension and the UK Government say they wish it to remain so. However, melting sea ice in the Arctic brings threats as well as opportunities: Russia is taking an increasingly militarised approach to the region; and China is supporting its proposed Polar Silk Road with a range of infrastructure and capabilities that have dual-use potential.
As the region becomes increasingly accessible, threats from elsewhere around the globe could spill over into the Arctic. If left neglected, this region may serve as a resource-rich foothold for malign influences amid the current security crisis.
Where does the base come in?
Royal Marines Major Kirk Allen, officer commanding of the winter deployment, said: “As the UK Commando Forces’ ‘home’ in the High North for the next decade, ‘Camp Viking’ is the focal point for delivery of mountain and cold weather warfare training and is strategically placed as a Forward Operating Base to support NATO operations.
“Its use supports LRG regional persistent engagement with key allies and partners as a collective conventional deterrent to adversaries”. Allen added it is “capable of logistically sustaining an LRG of Royal Marines, sailors and soldiers, the location has great local training areas, is close to Sorreisa port for amphibious operations and can support the personnel, vehicles and equipment with its first-class facilities.”
Around 1,000 commandos have deployed to Camp Viking this winter as they exercise alongside Joint Expeditionary Force and NATO allies across the winter environment. The commandos deploy annually to Norway for winter training.
In fact, most recently on 20 March, Royal Marines joined the Norwegian-led Exercise Joint Viking 2023 (EJV). This is a winter deployment that sharpens commando’s Arctic warfare skills – surviving, moving and fighting – and is part of the wider Joint Exercise Warrior (JEF) training exercise.
The elite Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS) of 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group parachuted onto a frozen lake alongside Dutch counterparts as part of the EJV exercise.
The High North tilt
The UK Integrated Review Refresh (IRR) 2023 mentions the importance of the High North.
“The UK will make a particular contribution to northern European security… We are especially invested in the format provided by the JEF, which since 2022 has had three leader-level meetings and is an increasingly important vehicle for security in the High North, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea regions. The military, security and political challenges we face across these areas demand active management, across institutional boundaries, and in close cooperation,” the IRR states.
Establishing an Arctic base for UK commandos contributes toward the UK’s military strategy of relationship building with partners, like Norway and other NATO countries, as well as strengthening their military capability in a range of climates. It allows for a more integrated fighting force that is formulated on the premise of interdependent military deterrence.