Amid heightening tensions between Russia and Norway, a formation of 11 Russian-flagged Su-24 “Fencer” fighters staged a mock attack last year against a Norwegian radar installation that plays a vital role in America’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Defense strategy. The details of the incident were not revealed until now.
According to recent revelations, the formation took off from a Russian military airbase on the Kola Peninsula in February of 2018. The 11 aircraft were tracked by radar as they swooped out over the Barents Sea, before suddenly going supersonic and re-orienting into an attack formation, closing rapidly on a Norwegian military outpost housed in Norway’s northern-most town of Vardo. That installation, Russian military officials know, houses a powerful radar array purpose-built to identify and track rockets that could potentially be offensive nuclear weapons launches.
The bevy of fighters closed with the installation on what, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be a legitimate attack run before breaking off the approach at the last minute, according to Norwegian officials. There is no doubt the Russian military was aware Norway was tracking the flight path of the fighter aircraft, suggesting this mock attack was meant to serve as a message to Norwegian officials. Russia has repeatedly warned Norway about its recent focus on military readiness thanks, in no small part, to Russian aggression throughout the region. U.S. Marines have begun cold weather training in Norway in recent years as well. It’s a move both the U.S. and Norway claim has nothing to do with the proximity to Russian borders.
“Obviously, the Russians know that their fighter jets are being tracked by radar when they operate in this region and when they approach Norwegian installations, bases or naval exercise areas in attack formation,” Norwegian defense analyst Kristian Atland told the Barents Observer. “Such behavior does not exactly contribute to an atmosphere of trust and predictability at the regional level.”
Russia’s Sukhoi Su-24 is a variable-sweep wing, supersonic attack aircraft that’s been in service since the early 1970s. While the fighter itself may not represent much of a threat to even a capable fourth-generation fighter like the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet or the Air Force‘s F-15 Strike Eagle, it still packs a formidable punch. It’s designed to be equipped with a wide array of weapons that include a variety of missiles and bombs across nine hard points. According to Norwegian officials, Su-24s as well as MiG-31s have played a role in multiple mock attacks on Norwegian military installations in recent months.
These mock attacks aren’t the only ways Russia has been attempting to provoke Norway in recent months. Repeated reports from northern Norway suggest Russian military equipment is being used to jam or block the use of GPS satellites. It’s a complaint also levied about Russian forces during their Zapad drills held at Europe’s eastern border in 2017.
“It’s important to say clearly that this is unacceptable,” Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde of the Norwegian Intelligence Service told reporters. “Jamming is also a threat to, among others, civilian air traffic and police and health operations in peacetime.”
Finland also accuses Russia of using GPS jamming equipment to interfere with its use of the global positioning system, though Russia has repeatedly rejected such allegations.