The Russian threat we'll never see coming
A TINY stretch of Arctic water has become a hotbed of military activity amid fears it could become the next flashpoint in a global conflict between the US and Russia.
Locals on the tiny Norwegian island of Vardo have seen an increase in military action through the upgrade of a critical radar system, Globus III, due to be completed by 2020.
The windswept outpost is just 30 kilometres from Russia's Kola Peninsula, from where a fleet of nuclear-armed submarines operates, in a bid to strengthen Russian presence in the Arctic region.
Norwegian author Bard Wormdal, who wrote The Satellite War, about the close and secretive military and intelligence alliance between Norway and the US, said there has been significant uptick in activity recently from both sides.
"This is connected to the tension [between] east west but it is also connected to the modernisation of Russian submarines. They do a lot of modernisation of this equipment," he told news.com.au.
He said Russian submarine activity in the "neighbourhood" has spurred the development of new Norwegian ships including the Marjata IV, described as the "most sophisticated military intelligence ship in the world".
"The foremost task for this ship is following Russian submarines and I'm quite sure this is the main reason why US in recent years has been more interested to follow this area," he said.
"There have been quite a lot of occasions that Russian nuclear attack submarines have been close to the coast of US and they come from this area and they want to know how they are moving."
'HONE THEIR SKILLS'
The $US120 billion Globus III project will improve monitoring capabilities for the US, but has been downplayed by intelligence officials in Norway, who simply say it will be used in the national interest. Russian media claim "eavesdropping Norway" has become paranoid about a Russian "threat" that doesn't exist.
However it comes against a backdrop of increasing tension following Russian intervention in Crimea and the Ukraine leading to fears among Baltic States they could be next.
NATO has moved to bolster its defences and meet spending targets following chiding from US President Trump. In 2018 the military alliance will conduct a major exercise called Trident Juncture, involving 35,000 personnel from 30 countries to test ground, air and sea troops on a large scale.
Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General Denis Mercier said it's one of the "best places to train in Europe" with a cold climate for officers that "hones their skills".
Norway, France and the UK will also conduct submarine rescue training throughout 2017 to practice saving their troops from disabled submarines 600 metres below the surface.
Former Vardo Mayor Lasse Haughom, who is also a veteran of the Norwegian intelligence service, said Norway and Vardo in particular is hugely important so the US can "keep an eye on what the Russians are doing."
"Russia wants to look into our secrets, and the United States and Norway want to look into their business," Mr. Haughom told The New York Times. "That is the way the game is played."
Russia has criticised Norway for siding with the US, with Russia ambassador to Oslo, Teimuraz Ramishvili, saying the country "has to understand" it could become a target.
"Norway has to understand that after becoming an outpost of NATO, it will have to face head-on Russia and Russian military might," he told Norway's state broadcaster, NRK.
"Therefore, there will be no peaceful Arctic anymore."