March 1, 2012:
Russia has threatened Norway with unspecified retaliation if Norway goes along with American suggestions that five Norwegian Nansen class frigates, equipped with the Aegis radar system, are upgraded to use the Aegis BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) system. Norway has gotten this kind of abuse from Russia in the past, which was the main reason Norway joined NATO (as one of the founding members, in 1949). Norway does not like giving in to these threats, especially since they recently concluded 40 years of negotiations to settle a maritime border dispute with Russia. This enables both countries to proceed with oil and natural gas exploration. But ballistic missile defenses in neighboring nations have come to be seen as a threat to the Russians (or at least the current Russian leaders).
The last of five Norwegian Nansen class frigates, the Thor Heyerdahl completed its sea trials and entered service a year ago. The 5,200 ton Nansen class ships were built in Spain and cost $600 million each. The 134 meter (433 foot long) Nansens have a top speed of 48 kilometers an hour. Weapons include eight NSM anti-ship missiles, 32 Evolved Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles (in an eight cell launcher), one 76mm gun, four 12.7mm machine-guns, four torpedo tubes, depth charges, and one helicopter. The highly automated ships have radar, sonar, electronic countermeasures, and a crew of 120. These ships are equipped with American Aegis radar systems and their design is based on the the Spanish Alvaro de Bazán class Aegis ships. The U.S. guards it Aegis radar technology closely and only five navies have ships using this AESA type radar and its powerful software.
The Norwegians like the idea of having such a powerful anti-aircraft ship to deal with any mischief the Russians might be up to in the future. But the Norwegians bought the Aegis radar system not for its ability to be upgraded to fire anti-missile missiles but because of its capabilities in detecting and tracking aircraft and anti-ship missiles. Converting Aegis ships to fire anti-missile missiles costs about $12 million a ship (mainly for new software and a few new hardware items). But the Nansens use an older version of Aegis that is more expensive to upgrade and require some modifications of its VLS cells to handle the anti-missile version of the Standard missile. Normally, the Nansens don't carry Standard missiles but the smaller Evolved Sea Sparrow.