Royal Danish Navy inspection vessel P570 Knud Rasmussen in the Greenland area (Photo: Christian Aasted Rothly/Forsvaret)

Problems with its navy vessels, and limited winter operability of its reconnaissance planes. The Danish armed forces are not up for the military protection of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. While Russian establishment in the Arctic region and Atlantic is just growing. So, what is going on?

Featured photo: Royal Danish Navy inspection vessel P570 Knud Rasmussen in the Greenland area
(Photo: Christian Aasted Rothly/Forsvaret)

As Danish Radio and TV reported last week, the two patrol and inspection vessels that the Royal Danish Navy has allocated to protect Greenland are lying idle in the harbour of Nuuk. P571 Ejnar Mikkelsen and P572 Lauge Koch both have machinery on board that has partly or completely broken down to the extend there is a lack or no power at all. According to Danish defence sources it will take many months for both vessels to float back into service.

But even once they do, they can hardly act when things get hot. Despite sporting a 76-millimetre M/85 gun on the front deck since the first ship entered service 15 years ago, they are useless. The Danish military did not install the necessary fire control systems on board. Without it, targeting and using the guns is impossible. According to January reports the systems were green-lighted by parliament, but the money agreed was never used.

Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen has now promised to look into it, leaving the crew of the patrol vessels to small calibre weapons only. The location of the third patrol vessel, the class name-giver P570 Knud Rasmussen is unknown, but it might likely be patrolling local seas of the Faroe Islands or is in maintenance as well.

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“Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has increased Greenland’s need to sharpen its insight into security policy matters.” (Opens at

Steady patrol between the Faroe Islands and Greenland

To improve the situation in Greenland, Copenhagen has ordered the frigate F360 Hvidbjørnen to move from its steady patrol of the North Atlantic and the Arctic water between the Faroe Islands and Greenland, leaving this area more exposed. The Danish Navy has tasked two of its four Thetis-class frigates – dubbed inspection ship – with this patrol. But even they meet technical issues. In the autumn of 2022, both tasked frigates broke down at almost the same time as well. The two remaining frigates of the 30-year old class are normally deployed during the other half of the year. To give time for maintenance and repairs.

The two Absalon-class anti-submarine frigates and three of the Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates of the Danish Navy are tasked with jobs for NATO, patrol of the Baltic Sea and North Sea, and the protection of merchant ships in the Red Sea. Those not sailing are normally undergoing maintenance at Korsør Naval Base.

Dog-sled patrol and reconnaissance plane on Greenland

There are two other main ingredients of the permanent defence by the Danish Arctic Command on Greenland. A small “nomadizing” elite outfit of 12 naval infantrymen and two radio operators plus dogs called the Sirius Dog-sled Patrol operates in the far north-east (where its Daneborg base needs rebuilding after a recent tsunami). The other asset is a single, unarmed Bombardier Challenger 604 reconnaissance plane out of four of the type that the Danish Air Force operates. But as these planes are ageing fast, the one based on Greenland is available only half of the 365 days of the year, according to statistics by the Danish defence ministry.

A Danish Air Force Challenger 604 reconaissance plane (Photo: Flyvevåbnet Fototjeneste / Forsvaret)
A Danish Air Force Challenger 604 reconnaissance plane (Photo: Flyvevåbnet Fototjeneste / Forsvaret)

With such limited resources available the defence of the Danish North Atlantic and Arctic interests, as well as that of NATO, is far from what it needs to be. The minor permanent US detachment at Pituffik Air Base (former Thule Air Base) will not help much either, as they are there to support US space and missile warning operations only. | © 2024 Marcel Burger,