The US is quietly stashing new military tanks and artillery in "classified caves" in Norway to ensure it has more equipment close at hand in the event of a confrontation with Russia. Caching of the equipment comes as tensions continue to mount between NATO and Russia.
RAF jets were recently scrambled to intercept a pair of Russian bombers heading for UK airspace. "Any gear that is forward-deployed both reduces cost and speeds up our ability to support operations in crisis," said Colonel William Bentley, operations officer for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. "We're able to fall in on gear that is ready-to-go and respond to whatever that crisis may be."
In October 2015 Norway's Chief of Defense Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen ominously told reporters that Russia has "shown that they are willing to use military force to achieve political ambitions." Some 6,500 pieces of the equipment in the cave complex will be used in an upcoming training exercise, Cold Response 16, which will take place later in February, CNN reports. The exercise will include 12 NATO allies and partners, and more than 16,000 troops.
"Now that we have a very new security context with Russia, it makes sense to rethink what is needed," Heather Conley, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Europe Program, told CNN. Conley said the new military exercises were critical to ensuring that NATO could test its equipment and personnel in cold weather. Russia's Northern Fleet conducted unannounced military drills in March 2015 involving 38,000 troops.
Russia shares a 121.6-mile long border with Norway. The border was heavily militarized during the Cold War, and the caves were used intensively beginning in 1981. The Russian navy's Northern Fleet is in Murmansk, about 100 miles from the border.
The classified caves are climate controlled to protect equipment and personnel, and are located throughout central Norway. The secured cave complex is staffed by about 100 Norwegian and US personnel, and contains enough equipment to support 15,000 Marines. The equipment in the caves has been used to support operations in Iraq.
The US has also announced that the Air Force will send six F-15s to Norway's neighbor, Finland, in spring for exercises that will operate out of a base about 100 miles from the border with Russia. Conley noted: "We have to look at Northern Europe, the Northern Atlantic, the Baltics and Eastern Europe as one theater of operations."