Denmark: Big Ideas Despite Cuts

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Despite its small size, both in term of country and population size, Denmark has always been a heavyweight player in coalition military operations.

In recent years, Danish troops have served in Iraq and are currently serving in Afghanistan, with 570 personnel working alongside British, U.S. and Georgian soldiers in Helmand Province. Denmark supported Operation Unified Protector over Libya and was one of the first countries after the U.K. to lend a hand to Operation Serval, the ongoing French-led actions in Mali.

At the same time, it has ships and patrol aircraft supporting the NATO anti-piracy mission, Ocean Shield.

Photo: Tony Osborne/AW

Now Denmark is planning to extend its Afghan mission further by sending helicopters to support its troops there for the first time. The Air Force’s Helicopter Wing wants to send a pair of EH101 Merlins, known as Danish Multi-Role Helicopters (DMRHs), into the front line in Helmand in 2014 working alongside their British counterparts in the Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan).

It’s an impressive plan when you consider Denmark's other taskings. The Danes plan to prepare their crews by sending them on a training exercise in the U.K. and to El Centro in California where they will conduct brown-out landings in the desert, so they can be ready for the deployment in July 2014.

Several Danish pilots have already experienced life on the front line, flying U.K. Royal Air Force EH101s in Afghanistan as part of an enlarged exchange program signed when the U.K. purchased six Merlins from Denmark back in 2007.

Plans for the deployment come at a challenging time. Denmark’s defense budget faces cuts of 15% and new priorities are emerging.

The Danish Armed Forces have a responsibility for the defense of Greenland, the world’s largest island and least densely populated territory. At a time when resources are becoming scarce, Greenland offers many opportunities in terms particularly of mining. But defending such a vast area represents a huge and costly challenge.

The Danish armed forces have a constant presence with a frigate and a helicopter and there are occasional deployments of Challenger maritime patrol aircraft looking for pollution and illegal fishing, but these are limited in their coverage. Denmark has just three Challengers and the fleet spends hundreds of hours a year patrolling just Denmark’s territorial waters. To patrol Greenland’s waters to the same degree would require thousands of flight hours with a larger fleet of aircraft.

But the advent of global warming may well demand that. Denmark also has responsibility for Greenland’s search and rescue region, a vast area of sea, which in previous years has been iced over. But in the future, it is possible that during the summer ships will be able to make use of these waters en route to Asia, and tourism could increase with cruise liners skirting the coast, but currently there are few assets available that could come to their rescue.

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