In operation

Air Defence for the future

To an aggressor, NASAMS must seem like an invisible monster with several heads. Even if you manage to cut off one head, the other eleven are still waiting to attack you.

  • Ove Ronny Haraldsen
    Group Communication Manager

The year is 1999 and we are watching the Battle Griffin drill in Trøndelag. Around 20,000 soldiers from eight NATO states are taking part. The purpose is to practice deployment in an area held by hostile forces. This provides Canadian F-18 pilots with the very first opportunity to face the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System.

NASAMS has been set up to defend the Norwegian troops whom the Canadian pilots have been ordered to attack. The pilots fly into an area hunting for traditional air defence stations – but find none. Back on the ground however, the pilots are informed that they have been shot down a total of 18 times – which they find very difficult to believe.

“We had to explain to them what NASAMS was before they accepted the 18 kills,” recalls Hans Christian Hagen, an officer in the Royal Air Force at that time.

Today, Hans Christian Hagen is head of the department in charge of marketing NASAMS. Several upgrades have been made to the system since it was first implemented in 1996, but the basic concept remains the same. 

“Before, traditional air defence was all set up at one site, where you would find the command/control centre, weapon radar, search radar and missile battery. With NASAMS, we can spread these installations over an area of several kilometres and at great distances, and have a decentralised command organisation. This makes it extremely difficult for hostile forces to locate and neutralise a site, because there is in fact no site to find. Even if they manage to hit one or more parts of the system, the remaining parts will still be operational,” explains Mr. Hagen.

Arild Jørgensen, programme manager for NASAMS, adds:

“NASAMS is different from a number of other systems because it does not make use of high radar effect to monitor the missile on its trajectory towards target. This would merely expose its own position. NASAMS has a rotating radar with low effect which guides the missile during the initial phase and until the missile’s own radar takes over. This combined with the use of passive sensor capacity and high mobility makes NASAMS a system which is mainly invisible to an opponent.”


NASAMS live fire. Photo Bjørn-Owe Holmberg.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force is now working on a new upgrade and life cycle extension for NASAMS. The system, which has originated from development work by KONGSBERG, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and the Air Force in cooperation, shall have increased mobility and strength. This is explained to us by Lieutenant Colonel John-Arild Bodding, Chief Advisor for air defence in the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

“Not only does this upgrade imply a necessary extension to the system’s lifetime, it will also pave the way for increased international cooperation. We now have components and software which are more similar to those used by other NASAMS users, for example Finland. This opens the doors to cooperation on operations, training and drills. What’s more, the new launchers will provide us with improved mobility on the ground and allow for smoother deployment of the system with a transport plane,” explains Mr. Bodding.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force is now fully benefiting from upgrades implemented for other customers. “This materiel development model is both cost-efficient and generates innovation,” confirms Mr. Bodding.

“When I talk about the development of NASAMS, I always underline the importance of the triangle of expertise, where the Armed Forces are the operative user and client, FFI contributes with analyses and KONGSBERG produces technical solutions. It is on this background that we now have the world’s most flexible air defence system within this category of weapon systems. If we had failed to fully exploit the triangle of expertise, NASAMS would not exist today, I’m sure of that.”

“How would you characterise your cooperation with KONGSBERG?”

“I would say that it has been excellent and very productive. We have presented ideas and suggestions for the further development of NASAMS, particularly in relation to integration and network-based philosophy, which KONGSBERG has applied to system development. We believe it is important to support ongoing NASAMS activities in the industry as these will eventually benefit us as operative users. The more nations implementing NASAMS, the better for us. This means that there are more parties to share development costs and make suggestions for further development. For me, NASAMS is a concept with very few limitations in relation to system integration. And that is why it is a system for the future,” concludes Lieutenant Colonel John-Arild Bodding.