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Studying the Arctic Battleground

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The Arctic is turning into a potential theater of combat operations

Studying the Arctic Battleground

Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Carpatho-Russian exclusively for SouthFront

The Russian Aerospace forces are increasing their potential in the Arctic, and providing the country reliable protection against aggressive actions at the most distant boundaries of our Homeland. Their enhanced combat readiness is a contribution to the stability of strategic nuclear forces, and a pledge of restraining the opponent and preventing war.

The Arctic is an inexhaustible natural storeroom, where the region is little developed, hence invaluable for business. The one who gets access to its territories and water areas will ensure for itself an advantage in economic development.

The absence of a comprehensive regulatory and legal framework and precisely designated borders has made the northern crown of Earth a zone of international conflicts. When it is not possible to resolve them politically, the states rely on military arguments. A similar game of muscles brings a military threat to Russia, which is claiming the biggest share of the Arctic pie.

The difficult climatic conditions and poorly developed infrastructure limit the presence of land forces in the region — developing neither a front, nor an army, nor even a unit. And indeed there is no need if the opponent has even worse conditions for this. It will accomplish its plans via sea and aerospace. This is cheaper and more effective and quicker.

Counter-measures from Russia must be not only firm, but also timely. However it is fruitless to look for them in the arsenal of the Russian Federation Armed Forces land groups and traditional methods. The crucial role will belong to the Aerospace Forces (ASF) in armed protection of the Russian Arctic .

The sphere of our interests

To estimate the scale and importance of this task, we shall consider the factors that determine the national interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic zone.

The first group of factors is historical and geographical. Development of the Arctic water areas and territories began long ago. There is mention in Nestor’s Chronicle about the northern campaigns of the Novgorodians. In the times of the Muscovite state, Russian coast-dwellers departed for the Northern Arctic Ocean through the tributaries of the Siberian rivers. And in 1648, the merchant Fedot Popov and Ataman Simeon Dezhnev with their crew rounded Chukotka on a galley vessel and came out on the Pacific Ocean. Subsequent expeditions are associated with the names of Yakov Permyakov, Vitus Bering, Simeon Chelyuskin, Khariton Laptev, and Feodor Litke.

In the Soviet period, state significance was attached to development of the Arctic. Polar radio meteorological stations were constructed since 1923, and stations on drifting ices were equipped since 1937.

In the pre-war period, the ice breakers G. Sedov, Krasin, Sibiryakov, and Litke plowed the northern seas. Heroic air flights were made to the North Pole. Development of the Northern Sea Route (SMP) began. Research on the Arctic did not stop, either in the days of the Great Patriotic War or afterwards. Only from 1991 to 2001 was work here suspended in connection with the difficult economic situation of the Russian Federation.

In the third millennium, the study and development of the region has received a new impetus. The Russian Federation has become the first Arctic state, and has applied to the United Nations to establish the external boundary of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean.

Polar expeditions will be organized to collect information about the Lomonosov and Mendeleyev underwater ridges. If it is proved that they are a continuation of the Siberian continental platform, Russia can declare the rights to an immense area of the ocean.

The second group of factors is economic.

Development and rational use of natural resources in the Arctic seas are included in the area of state interests of Russia. Up to 80 percent of explored reserves pertain to the Far North. Approximately one fourth of world resources of oil and gas which still are not open are located here.

The seas of the northern basin have been areas of industrial fishery since ancient times. Here algae and invertebrate stocks are significant, and the population of the Kamchatka crab is quickly increasing.

The European North of Russia is exceptionally rich in mineral and fuel and energy resources. There are very large reserves of diamonds, bauxites, gold, and copper-nickel ores In the region. The geographical position of the region creates favorable conditions for their transportation to Europe, the USA, Canada, Japan, and Asian-Oceanian countries.

The third group of factors is natural and ecological.

For a long time, these store rooms of minerals were not developed because of extremely difficult access to them. However according to expert forecasts, by 2040 because of global warming a significant part of the Arctic Ocean will be released from ice, and this will substantially facilitate the extraction of natural riches from the bottom and will reduce the price of transportation on the Northern Sea Route. This will provoke the interest of developed countries to the region.

The fourth group of factors is political.

In “Foundations of the state policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the period until 2020, and further prospects”, national interests, goals, tasks, and measures are defined. Including in the sphere of military security, defense, and protection of the state border.

This document treats the national interests of Russia in the seas of the Arctic region as ensuring guaranteed access to resources and spaces, and elimination of discriminatory actions concerning our country from separate states or military-political blocs, as well as their domination in the areas important for the Russian Federation.

The fifth group of factors is regulatory.

The efficiency of diplomacy with respect to issues of the Arctic is determined by the ability of the states of the region to agree. The beginning of the formation of Russian possessions here was the contract of 1867 between Russia and the USA. It has been repeatedly broken by the countries of the West.

Already in the 1920s, the USSR, Norway, Denmark, the USA, and Canada put forward the concept of polar sectors. A polar sector is understood as the space based on the northern border of the state, whose top is the North Pole, with lateral borders being the meridians connecting the North Pole to the extreme points of the northern border of this state. Water areas of the polar sector are considered as a zone of internal state waters. Each coastal state has the sovereign rights to economic activity in these areas. The USSR received the largest sector, about a third of the entire area of the Arctic shelf.

These external borders of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation are not recognized today by many states and international organizations, which generates territorial disputes and conflicts. At a certain stage, political disagreements can develop into a military conflict phase.

The Western military presence

After evaluating its own national interests, the western powers began to actively emphasize a military presence in the region being examined.

For the last three years, NATO countries — Norway, Canada and Denmark – have conducted a number of large-scale military exercises, showing readiness for power rivalry for control over Arctic resources. Under certain conditions China, Japan, and South Korea will show their muscles. But the American military presence is the is most notable in the Arctic. On Alaska some Army and Air Force bases are deployed, not counting parts of the Coast Guard and logistics. The military-political leadership of the USA considers, that this is not enough. The [military] doctrine documents of the USA name, among the interests pursued in the Arctic region:

  • placement of ABM and early warning systems;
  • growth of the military satellite group directed at the Arctic;
  • expansion of land and sea infrastructure for strategic transfer of forces to the region;
  • strategic control of the probable opponent;
  • presence of navies and conduct of maritime operations;
  • freedom of navigation and flights for the USA.

Declaration is also made about the problem of preserving global mobility of American military and civilian ships and aircraft throughout the Arctic region. With this goal, the Naval Forces of the USA have already begun expanding an advanced basing naval base. To prove the need for additional financing of military programs, the Pentagon models its operations in the region. The results of these evaluations are always unequivocal – the armies and forces for protecting national interests are insufficient.

The Arctic states are modernizing their armed forces at an accelerated tempo, adapting them for actions in northern latitudes.

Russia is basing itself on aerospace. When in the 1960s and 70s the armed forces of of opposing military blocs appeared saturated both with nuclear weapons and the means to delivery them, the USA developed an essentially new form of conducting military hostilities — global aerospace operations. All strategic objectives were achieved from air and through outer space. The main flight routes for aerospace attack forces (SVKN) were placed through the North Pole. The trajectory over the Arctic Ocean is the shortest way to connect the territories of the USA and our country. On these routes (the so-called Great Circle), strategic bombers were targeted on important administrative and political centers and industrial regions of the USSR. Since the 1960s, flight trajectories for flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) of the USA have passed over the Arctic.

At that time, the aerospace threats were able to be neutralized, at the expense of the creation of a uniform system of antiaircraft defense of the country. In practice it is possible to call it an aerospace defense system, since its subsystems include not only antiaircraft missile fire, fighter aviation cover, and radar-tracking reconnaissance, but also prevention of missile attack as well as monitoring outer space and antimissile defense. The planned strategic operations to repulse aerospace attack were an adequate countermeasure to the global aerospace operations of the armed forces of the USA and NATO. The northern was considered the main strategic aerospace sector.

Combat positions were constructed for units of the Air Defense forces beyond the Polar Circle, and operational airfields for the Air Forces. Here strategic bombers could be refueled before flight across the pole for strikes on the continental part of the USA.

With the disintegration of the USSR, the unified air defense system of the country collapsed, the military infrastructure in the Arctic zone seemed to be neglected, and they gradually relinquished strategic operations for repulsing aerospace attacks of the enemy.

Today, aerospace threats from the North have not disappeared. The means of attack are technically improved. Nuclear submarines equipped with ballistic missiles from the strategic offensive forces have learned how to travel under ice and launch missiles from underwater. Ships and strategic bombers are equipped with high-precision cruise missiles. The American concept of rapid global strike foresees the use of hypersonic aircraft. Their launch lines might likewise be positioned over the Arctic.

Gradual freeing of the Arctic Ocean from ice will create favorable conditions for using aircraft carrier battle groups of the USA in the region. Development of the Arctic water areas by ships of the People’s Republic of China and other countries is possible in the long term.

The consequences of activation of military activity of the NATO countries are negative for Russia.

By creating in the Arctic components of an ABM system, the United States will be successful in substantially neutralizing the maritime component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces. Here the means of interception will turn out to be most approximate to the locations of basing the Russian submarine missile carriers. Already for this reason the military and political value of the Arctic gains immense strategic importance. This is understood extremely well in the USA.

Showing the Russian flag

If there is a confrontation of the West with Russia, the northern strategic aerospace sector (taking into account flight time of the attack) might be the most threatening to the national security of Russia. The Arctic will be transformed into a potential theater of military operations.

In this regard, the leadership of the Russian Federation has begun systematic activities to strengthen its military presence in the region in order to show the Russian flag — in both the literal and figurative sense. In 2007, descending to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in the region of the North Pole, the well-known political figure and oceanologist Artur Chilingarov placed a titanic tricolor [Russian flag] on the Lomonosov Ridge. In the summer of 2013 the Gorizont [Horizon] hydrographic survey vessel and ocean-going tug MB-56 of the Northern Fleet made an expedition to the Franz Josef Land archipelago. A group of ten combat ships under the flagship nuclear cruiser Petr Veliky [Peter the Great], accompanied by nuclear ice breakers Yamal, Vaigach, 50 let Pobedy [50th Anniversary of the Victory], and Taimyr, carried out a 2000-mile passage through the Barents, Karsk, and Laptev Seas. The unit arrived at Novosibirsk Islands near the Lena delta, delivering to Kotelny more than 40 units of equipment, large-scale social / residential units, and more than one thousand tons of appliances, personal property, and fuels and lubricants. In 2014-2015 Russian strategic bombers have been regularly appearing in the air space of the Arctic.

The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has begun actively to position in the region a group of forces whose chief task is protection of national interests. The military infrastructure is reestablished for combat and daily activity of the units. Operations are conducted first of all with reference to the Northern Sea Route.

The Northern Fleet will form the basis of the Arctic group. But the units and detachments of the ASF will be the most maneuverable structure responsible for executing tasks in the aerospace realm. Creation of an aviation group and restoration of the corresponding infrastructure is the most costly matter and is being conducted in improbably difficult physical and geographical conditions.

Construction of 13 airfields, one land-based aviation proving ground, and 10 support areas for radar-tracking points is planned in the Arctic. Military presence of the Air Force will be organized in distant airfields — Rogachevo, Alykel, Ugolnye Koli, Graham-Bell, Temp, Amderma, Tiksi, and Cape Schmidt.

The Arctic group will be reinforced with upgraded and new fighters, bombers, and multipurpose machines. These will be primarily MiG-31, Su-30, Su-30SM, and Su-35 aircraft.

An aerospace defense is being reestablished along the entire northern coast of Russia is.

In 2015, Russia entered the Arctic with the Triumf. This is what the current samples of the S-400 surface-to-air missile system arriving in the force structure of the northern group of armies are called.

The Triumf is being positioned in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Its military advantages led to development of new weaponry and comprehension of the special features of using it in polar expanses. Now the majority of the aerospace defense divisions which are conducting military alert in the Arctic are armed with the S-300 complexes. This is an effective air defense missile system. However the new ADMS significantly surpasses its predecessor in technical characteristics and combat qualities. Other military equipment, for example the anti-aircraft missile and gun system Pantsir-S is also arriving.

One of the most important conditions for strengthening of the Russian military presence in the Arctic is restoration of the radar field. Radar-tracking companies and points of aircraft guidance control, such as on Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, are already set up on combat alert. Soon modern radar complexes, low-level radar stations, and beyond-the-horizon raadar stateions will arrive to equip the group of Aerospace Defense Forces.

By decision of the Supreme Commander dated December 1, 2014, a new strategic command (OSK) Sever wasa created. It includes military formations of various types of armed forces of the Russian Federation and types of troops, including ASF.

The list of tasks assigned to formations which will be a part of Sever group from the ASF, is extremely broad:

  • situational monitoring;
  • execution of combat alert using air defense, and monitoring the observance of rules for use of air space;
  • air traffic control in the Arctic zone;
  • timely prevention of violations and the provocations connected with the use of air space;
  • detection of the commencement of an aerospace attack and timely notification about it to agencies of the state and military administration of the Russian Federation;
  • detection of sudden aerospace attack on the Russian Federation from the northerly direction;
  • hitting cruise missiles in flight and their air carriers until cruise missile launch;
  • coverage of strategic nuclear forces of sea, land, and air basing within the borders of responsibility of the air defense group;
  • protection of state, economic, and military facilities of the Polar region;
  • support by forces of air defense of sea vessels and caravans along the Northern Sea Route;
  • provision by air defense forces of military transport planes along the routes of their combat and special flights;
  • attack on surface, submarine, and land forces of the enemy using Air Forces attack aircraft;
  • coverage of armies, forces and facilities of OSK Sever [Strategic Command North] in places of their location (basing) and areas of performance of fighting tasks from aerial attacks of the opponent;
  • providing search and rescue actions in peacetime and during operations.

The following scenarios of the development of a military conflict in the region under study are possible.

  1. Development of a private economic conflict into local armed conflict without subsequent escalation.
  2. Development of an economic conflict into local armed conflict with subsequent escalation to large-scale war.
  3. Sudden large-scale aggression with application of usual means of attack.
  4. Sudden large-scale aggression with use of nuclear weapons.

Methods for resolution of fighting tasks can be varied, depending on the scenario.

In the first case this is:

  • monitoring air space and outer space with radar tracking; air traffic control in the zone of responsibility of the Russian ASF;
  • interception by fighter aircraft of violators of air space for the purpose of suppressing their illegal actions, up to coercion to land in specially prepared airfields. (In the case of failure to follow the demands — adoption of force measures including the exceptional one of deadly force);
  • coverage by forces and anti-aircraft weapons of the main objects which have appeared in a zone stricken with military conflict;
  • destruction by attack and bombing aircraft forces of key military facilities of the enemy within the territory and in the water area stricken with military conflict.

In the second scenario:

  • methods 1-4 of the first scenario;
  • coverage by forces and anti-aircraft weapons of all objects of OSK Sever;
  • participation of aerospace forces in operations of OSK Sever on a uniform plan and the plan;
  • ensuring stability of sea-based strategic nuclear forces.

In the third scenario:

  • detection of the beginning of a sudden aerospace attack by the enemy on objects of the Russian Federation;
  • notification of the military-political leadership of the Russian Federation about the beginning of large-scale aerospace aggression;
  • response to large-scale aerospace aggression, following the plan for the corresponding strategic operations of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

In the fourth scenario:

  • methods 1-3 of the third scenario;
  • ensuring stability of sea-based strategic nuclear forces for the time required for their use (from the moment of detection of the beginning of an aerospace attack, until the launch of the last ballistic missile from launch module);
  • participation of aerospace forces in operations and operations of the post-nuclear period of war until its complete termination.

The capability of the ASF forces in executing the listed modes of action will ensure the guaranteed security of national interest of the Russian Federation in any possible scenario of development of a military-political situation.

Reserve Colonel, Kandidat of Military Sciences, Professor (VA Aerospace Defense, Tverskaya SVU),



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