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As melting ice bringing Arctic into geostrategic prominence, Russia quickly establishes its military dominance over it

The Arctic is currently a staggering 36 degrees warmer than normal at this time of year, according to information from the Danish Meteorological Institute. NASA report also shows that a vast region in the Arctic Ocean has gone missing and people from NASA think that the polar ice caps are now more vulnerable than ever. “What we’ve seen over the years is that the older ice is disappearing,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be.

 

The Arctic region encompasses the seas and land north of latitude 66.33° N. The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world’s oceans but is transforming due to its melting ice. Eight countries possess territories there: Canada, Denmark (through possession of Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.

 

The diminishment of Arctic ice could lead in coming years to increased commercial shipping on two trans-Arctic sea routes—the Northern Sea Route close to Russia, and the Northwest Passage;  more exploration for oil, gas, and minerals and  increased tourism (cruise ships) in the Arctic. The NSR extends from the Bering Strait in the east to the Kara Gate in the west, covering approximately 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers).

 

As the Global warming is melting the Arctic ice, and opening up new shipping trade routes and real estate, intense resource competition over an estimated $1 trillion untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals has started. Human activities have grown in the Arctic by almost 400 percent in the last decade, the U.S. board estimated, in terms of shipping, mining, energy exploration, fishing and tourism. Considering its geostrategic importance many countries including Russia and US  are planning military presence to protect their interests.

 

The search for a shorter route from the Atlantic to Asia has been the quest of maritime powers since the Middle Ages. The melting of Arctic ice raises the possibility of saving several thousands of miles and several days of sailing between major trading blocs. If the Arctic were to become a viable shipping route, the ramifications could extend far beyond the Arctic. For example, lower shipping costs could be advantageous for China (at least its northeast region), Japan, and South Korea because their manufactured products exported to Europe or North America could become less expensive relative to other emerging manufacturing centers in Southeast Asia, such as India,  says Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress.

 

Although there is significant international cooperation on Arctic issues, the Arctic is increasingly being viewed by some observers as a potential emerging security issue. Russia views the NSR as an internal waterway, whereas the majority of the international community views it as an international passage. The recent escalation in Russia’s level of control over the NSR is indicative of its ambitions in the Arctic and a warning sign of Russia’s desire to monitor and control economic developments in the region.

 

Some of the Arctic coastal states, particularly Russia, have announced an intention or taken actions to enhance their military presences in the high north. U.S. military forces, particularly the Navy and Coast Guard, have begun to pay more attention to the region in their planning and operations, says Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress.

 

Moscow seeks to leverage its geographical and economic advantages in the Arctic to enhance its international power and influence. The Arctic is central to this Russian worldview. The Arctic, President Putin told a meeting of the State Security Council was a region of “concentration of practically all aspects of national security — military, political, economic, technological, environment and that of resources.” He told an international forum of Arctic leaders meeting in St. Petersburg in April 2019 that shipping through the Northern Sea Route would dramatically increase from 20 million metric tonnes shipped today to 80 million tonnes by 2035. Russia also sees it a region to  to project power, primarily in the North Atlantic.

 

Russia is acting quickly to become dominating Geostrategic and Military power in the Arctic. Russia has been carrying out rapid Arctic militarization by building New airbases, icebreakers, ground forces, missiles and and carrying out military exercises there. Russia’s new military doctrine signed into effect on December 26, 2014, identified Arctic as one of three geopolitical arenas that Moscow has deemed vital to national security.

 

US Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft warned that Russia was militarizing the Arctic and accused Moscow of “saber-rattling” by conducting unannounced military drills in the Arctic area involving thousands of troops. Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, expressed similar concerns about aggressive Russian activity in the Arctic, noting that Russian submarine activity was at its highest point in 20 years. Russia is upgrading its military capabilities with new fighter jets and navy vessels, and its submarines are pushing farther into the North Atlantic.

 

Russia isn’t alone in its Arctic ambition. The United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland all lay claim to the area and its abundant natural resources.

 

Norwegian military officials say Russia is also carrying out cruise missile tests and live-fire military exercises. That is forcing its neighbor, Norway, and other NATO members to rethink their military strategy in the region. NATO  has reestablished an Arctic command, now out of Norfolk, Va., and the U.S. Navy recommissioned the 2nd Fleet to counter Russian activity in the North Atlantic.

 

In September, the U.S. flew a B-2 stealth bomber over the Arctic. James Townsend, who spent two decades working on NATO policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, says the mission helped send a signal to the Russians. “The B-2 was showing that we can fly up there and showing the Russians that we will fly up there,” he says. “It was a training thing on the one hand, but it’s also a deterrent message to the Russians too.”

 

Norway has went on a buying spree, acquiring submarines from Germany and dozens of F-35 fighter jets from the United States. Norway is also rebuilding and rearming some of its own bases. One of those is Porsangermoen, the world’s northernmost military camp, set among rolling hills and ponds in the county of Finnmark. In October, about 1,400 Norwegian troops carried out military exercises at the camp. There was snow on the ground, and a cold wind sliced through layers of clothing. Part of their training was how to fight under winter conditions. The U.S. has hundreds of service members, mainly Marines, stationed farther south in Norway. Like Norway, Canada has invested heavily in its Arctic defence and security capabilities.

 

China is the latest entry to have arctic ambitions. US has intensified its intelligence activities in Arctic, through U.S. spy satellites orbiting overhead and Navy sensors deep in the frigid waters. Most of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have assigned analysts to work full time on the Arctic. The U.S. intelligence focus is chiefly aimed at Russia’s military buildup in the far north under President Vladimir Putin.

 

Despite being more than 7,000 kilometres away from the Arctic Circle, In January 2018, China released a white paper on “China’s Arctic Policy,” that declared China to be “a near Arctic State” and “an important stakeholder in Arctic affairs.”

 

China has outlined its ambitions to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming. China said it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages, paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that would form a “Polar Silk Road”.

 

China had carried out eight scientific expeditions in the Arctic Ocean and built the Arctic Yellow River Station in Ny-Ålesund in the Spitsbergen archipelago. A second heavy icebreaker, Xuelong 2, joined its fleet in December 2017. In the same year, China’s other heavy icebreaker, the Xuelong, transited the Northwest Passage. There are reports that China has recently requested tenders for the construction of a nuclear icebreaker, potentially joining Russia in having elite Arctic capabilities. Although China’s ice-cutters and other capabilities have primarily civilian purposes, they could build the foundation for Chinese military activities in the region under the cloak of supporting non-military objectives.

 

China recently installed its first unmanned ice station in arctic. The main task is to observe the formation and ablation of the ice. Thë data is being transmitted via satellite,”said Yang Huigen, head of the polar research institute.

Threat of  future war  in Arctic

Kyle Mizokami writes in The Week, “It would be two wars: one against the human enemy, which would often be hundreds of miles away and seldom seen, and another, constant war against the elements. Both would be trying to kill you. War would mostly be conducted by aircraft and submarine, the better to avoid actually operating on the ice.”

 

“The weather and the flat, featureless terrain would mean long-range subs and planes that pack plenty of firepower would play decisive roles. Unmanned, autonomous drones that can survive the harsh weather would be particularly useful. Large numbers of ground forces would be difficult to manage, so small Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine units trained to parachute, ski, or infiltrate by submarine would be used to attack and defend isolated Arctic bases. Search and rescue, to recover pilots shot down in such a bleak, hostile environment, would be a must,” he further says

 

Russia dominating military power in Arctic

Russia is trying to claim 460,000 square miles of the Arctic Ocean as its national territory — an area that includes the North Pole. Russian divers even planted a national flag on the North Pole seabed in a symbolic claim to the region’s energy riches. Ninety percent of Russia’s natural gas exports come from Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic.

 

The Russian military has restored Soviet-era facilities, strengthened its Northern Fleet, and recently established new bases in the Arctic that include advanced air- and sea-defence systems to support Moscow’s Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, which extends around Russia’s periphery to include the Baltic and Black seas.

 

Russia’s military posture in the Arctic emphasizes air and maritime early warning and defense, highlighted by the reopening of 50 previously closed Soviet-era military posts. This includes the refurbishment of 13 air bases, 10 radar stations, 20 border outposts, and 10 integrated emergency rescue stations. Russian special forces units are also part of an Arctic Brigade and have deployed to the region for exercises and training.

 

The center of Russia’s Arctic military activities is the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of the country, next to Norway. “[The Russians] are rebuilding the Northern Fleet, building new submarines; they’re flying more; they are exercising more in the northwest of Russia with their battalions,” Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen tells NPR. “There’s a lot more activity and more new equipment. And we also see that the tactics are becoming more advanced.”

 

The heavily militarized Kola Peninsula is also a base for the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet, says Thomas Nilsen, a journalist. “This is the home of the nuclear-powered submarines. This is the home of the [Russian] Spetsnaz special marine forces,” Nilsen says. He says the Kola Peninsula is also a key training area for Russia’s new weapons such as nuclear-powered cruise missiles and the nuclear-powered underwater drone.

 

The Northern Fleet is composed of nuclear-powered missile and torpedo submarines; missile-carrying and anti-submarine aircraft; surface ships with missiles, aircraft-carrying, and anti-submarine capabilities; coastal troops; combined independent force; the Russian Air Force and Air Defense Force; and the army corps of the Ground Forces.

 

Russia’s western Arctic houses its most advanced defensive capabilities as well as potential offensive capabilities. Remote locations like Alexandra Land are equipped with air, sea, and land capabilities that reinforce Russia’s multilayered maritime and air denial power. The focus of these defenses is to safeguard Russia’s nuclear arsenal and second-strike capabilities commanded by the powerful Northern Fleet.

Russia equipped six military bases in the Arctic - Business Insider

Arctic Joint Strategic Command

It has created a new Arctic Joint Strategic Command, tasked to protect Russian interests in its Arctic territories. Moscow is training two Arctic warfare brigades in addition to constructing 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and ten air-defense radar stations in the region. A shipyard in northern Russia also is constructing four nuclear-powered submarines.

 

Moscow formed the 45th Air Force and Air Defense Army as part of its Northern Fleet in December 2015. Shoigu said that modern military technology was “necessary for guarding borders” in the Arctic. Russian officials have previously said that the air base facilities are essential for protecting shipping routes that link Europe with the Pacific region across the Arctic Ocean.

 

Russia plans to develop a “self-sufficient” standing military force, based in the territory it owns in the Arctic, according to a report. The military force will include Air Force and air defense subunits. Russia will also create a new training center in the Arctic.

 

Permanent Military bases

Moscow launched its latest Arctic military base in April 2017 on one of the northernmost points of its remote Franz Josef Land archipelago. The base can comfortably support 150 staff for up to 18 months, establishing the mold for Russia’s post-Soviet military strategy. The Russian government announced plans in March 2014 to reopen 10 former Soviet-era military bases along the Arctic seaboard, including 14 airfields, that were closed after the end of the Cold War.  Shoigu also said four were completed in 2015, a base on the Franz Josef Land archipelago is nearly complete. “We are not hiding this from anyone: we are have practically finished building bases on the Novosibirsk Archipelago and on Kotelny island.” .

 

Shoigu said Russian troops will be stationed in the Arctic on a permanent basis, with a focus on increasing the Kremlin’s control over the region’s airspace. “We are creating comfortable living conditions for our military personnel who will serve in the Arctic on a permanent basis,” Nikolai Yevmenov, the fleet’s chief of staff, said.

 

The new base on Franz Josef’s northern Alexandra Land has limited conventional combat capabilities and is primarily focusing on radar and surveillance. “The problem with Russian defense is that until recently the Russian military had a huge gap in its radar coverage on its Arctic coast,” Igor Sutyagin, a  Russian military expert at London’s Royal United Services Institute,  says, noting that Moscow had few facilities along the Northern Sea Route that spans the majority of the country’s length. “It meant that virtually everybody could enter the waters without notice. Now you need radar so you are just aware of what passes through.” Sutyagin estimates that the base will have standard self-defense capabilities, such as Russia’s surface-to-air missile system Pantsir, for air defense, and a cruise missile battery with up to 400 kilometers in range.

 

Novaya Zemlya is home to Russia’s Rogachevo air base. Upgrades occurred during the 2018-2019 timeframe and included the deployment of additional radar, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence forces and related equipment. Most notably, during the July-August 2019 timeframe, the S-400 system was deployed to Rogachevo.

 

The S-400 provides more advanced radar and electronic warfare systems capabilities, which expand the range of Novaya Zemlya’s air defenses. Russia’s deployment of the S-400 system on Rogachevo air base signals the Kremlin’s intent to secure its northwest Arctic territory through bastion defense, protect its most vital military assets on the Kola Peninsula, and plug potential gaps between Nagurskoye air base on Alexandra Land and radar stations on the Kola Peninsula. The S-400 poses a challenge to NATO in the region, potentially complicating freedom of operation in the North Atlantic and Norwegian and Barents Seas by expanding Russia’s defensive capabilities.

 

Naval Power

Most worrisome, Russia has tested new Arctic-based military capabilities such as hypersonic cruise missiles and nuclear-powered undersea drones. Senior U.S. military leaders have expressed growing concern about the prevalence of these Russian cruise missiles in the Arctic and their “avenue of approach” to the United States.

 

In terms of naval power in the Arctic region, Russia’s reliance on submarines as a means to achieve military superiority will continue to increase. Recently, the commander of the Northern Fleet, Nikolai Evmenov, confirmed the constant presence of Russian submarines in Arctic waters. Additionally, he stated that, when it comes to wielding the most modern equipment, “the Northern Fleet is not only in step with the times but, according to certain indicators, it is even ahead”

 

Russia’s nuclear-powered Yuri Dolgoruky submarine has successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in the Barents Sea in the Arctic, according to state news agency Itar-Tass. “The launch was carried out from an underwater position in accordance with the combat readiness plan,” a statement from the Ministry of Defense read, reported in Itar-Tass. The launch “hit the designated targets on the course.”

 

Russian icebreaker beats record for nuclear propulsion plant longevity

To support passage through the NSR as well as other civilian and military missions, Russia has undertaken a sustained build-up of its fleet of ice-cutters, including nuclear-powered ice-breakers that have more power and better endurance than conventionally powered vessels. Russian firms need them to support oil and gas transportation, and for rescuing distressed vessels and escorting other ships through the frozen waters of the High North. In the Arctic, these ships are the military equivalent of aircraft carriers in other oceans—the main symbol of national power projection and presence. Altogether, Russia has some 40 ice-breakers—more than the rest of the world combined.

 

Russia plans to add four nuclear icebreakers to its fleet so that by 2035, Russia will have a total of 13 heavy icebreakers, nine of them nuclear. In May 2019, Russia  launched a nuclear-powered icebreaker at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg in an apparent attempt to boost its ability to tap the Arctic’s commercial potential. The icebreaker, dubbed the Ural, designed to be crewed by 75 people, is one of a trio, codenamed Project 22220, that when completed will be the largest and most powerful icebreakers in the world.

 

The 144-by-30-meter facility holds two reactors with two 35-megawatt nuclear reactors that are similar to those used to power the new icebreakers. The floating power station, or as it is called the “Chernobyl on ice”, can produce enough electricity to power a town of 200,000 residents. He said that these ships were also equipped with a brand-new Russian-made electric propulsion system. “And the most important thing is a new turbine which will provide 40-year operation for the icebreaker,” Kadilov added at a presser on Saturday. The two other icebreakers, dubbed the Arktika and the Sibir vessels, are currently under construction at the Baltic Shipyards.

 

The advanced icebreakers are powered by a new module nuclear reactor, which is far more powerful than those mounted on previous vessels of Project 22220, said Baltic Shipyards Director General Alexei Kadilov. He said that these ships were also equipped with a brand-new Russian-made electric propulsion system. “And the most important thing is a new turbine which will provide 40-year operation for the icebreaker,” Kadilov added at a presser on Saturday. The two other icebreakers, dubbed the Arktika and the Sibir vessels, are currently under construction at the Baltic Shipyards.After being put into service, the trio will keep navigation in the Arctic open all year round, capable of breaking through ice up to three meters thick to make way for convoys of ships. They are also expected to help ensure transportation of hydrocarbons from the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas to Asia Pacific.

 

The nuclear-propelled icebreaker Vaygach is now distinguished as having the longest-operating power plant on a civilian ship, the operating company reported. The Vaygach was built in Finland in 1989 and was fitted with a KLT-40M nuclear reactor the same year at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The pressurized water reactor was initially rated for 100,000 hours of work, but sound engineering and proper maintenance allowed its safe lifetime to be doubled.

 

In Feb 2018, the Vaygach beat the record of 177,204 hours of reactor operation, which was set 10 years ago when the Russian nuclear icebreaker Arktika was retired, Atomflot, which operates the Vaygach, reported.  The 21,000-ton ship is part of a two-vessel class along with its sister ship, the Taymyr. The reactor used by both ships was first tested by the nuclear-powered container ship Sevmorput, while its latest version is used by the Akademik Lomonosov, a floating nuclear power plant currently in construction.

 

The world’s first floating nuclear power plant is set to start producing power and heat in 2019. While the plant is already being tested, construction of the dock has begun on the Arctic coast in Russia’s Far East. The construction works on the dock, which will host the floating nuclear power plant ‘Akademik Lomonosov’, kicked off Wednesday in the bay of the city of Pevek, Chukotka, RIA Novosti reports. The severity of weather conditions (in winter, the temperature drops down to minus 60 degrees Celcius) obliging, the onshore facilities will be forced to endure ice impact and squalling winds.

 

Aerospace

Air forces are equally important to securing Russia’s control over its Arctic domain. In recent years, Russia has refurbished Soviet-era air bases and constructed new bases along the NSR. Examples include Rogachevo air base on Novaya Zemlya, Nagurskoye air base on Alexandra Land, and Temp air base on Kotelny Island. Air defense forces and anti-aircraft defense systems are prioritized among new military infrastructure in the Russian Arctic, both onshore and in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation (AZRF). This includes investments in multilayered air and coastal defense systems, electronic warfare capabilities, and radar systems.

 

The next important thing is that Russia has established the Independent Military Group of Aerospace Forces in the Arctic region. Meanwhile, in the domain of strategic aviation, the defense ministry intends to actively engage Tupolev Tu-160 supersonic heavy strategic bombers in “the task of increasing the level of protection of Russia’s Arctic region.” It is worth noting that, in recent years, Russia has upgraded the Tu-160, providing for a “much broader latitude of use” of this platform. Most importantly the aircraft has been outfitted with the ability to refuel in the air, thus vastly increasing its operational period

 

In central Arctic region, Russia has deployed more sophisticated equipment to defend its air and maritime domains. For example, Kotelny Island and Novaya Zemlya are equipped with air defense systems, such as the Bastion-P and Pantsir-S1 systems. These systems create a complex, layered coastal defense arrangement that secures territory deeper into the central Arctic. Such capabilities bolster Russia’s ability to deny aerial, maritime, or land access to NATO or U.S. forces.

 

Arctic Surveillance

The Russian Helicopters Holding is currently conducting tests of the VRT300, a helicopter-style UAV intended to do reconnaissance or haul small cargo loads for either military or civil fleets in new northern sea routes. To provide stability in strong Arctic winds, the VRT300’s coaxial rotors rotate in opposite directions.

 

Russia plans to step up its fourth Sunflower (Podsolnukh-E) radar system, which, according to Russian experts, is capable to detect US stealth aircraft, such as В-2 Spirit, flying over the ocean at a height of 500 kilometers, the China Topix informational website reported. As the website reported, citing sources in the Russian Defense Ministry, the new Sunflower will be stationed in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Circle.  According to the media, Russia intends to build six over the horizon radar systems in the Arctic.

 

Satellites

Russia launched the first in a new series of weather satellites to aid forecasting over its high-latitude regions. The Arktika-M No.1 satellite, aboard a Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket, was launched in Feb 2021 bound for an elliptical Molniya orbit. The Molniya orbits in which Arktika-M will operate are well suited to their mission, allowing the spacecraft to spend most of their time high above the Arctic

 

The Arktika (Арктика, meaning “Arctic“) satellites will carry out a variety of missions to compliment other satellite constellations with additional coverage of Russia’s most northern regions. The Arktika-M component of this program focuses on meteorology, with its satellites carrying multi-spectral imaging payloads to help gather data for forecasting. These spacecraft are also equipped with a communications payload to relay data from remote surface-based weather stations and emergency signals.

 

The primary instrument aboard Arktika-M is a visible and infrared spectrometer, derived from the MSU-GS spectrometer flown aboard Elektro-L. This will be used to image the Earth in at least ten different wavelengths ranging from visible light to the thermal infrared. Visible-light and near infrared images will help meteorologists monitor cloud cover and atmospheric water vapor, while thermal infrared data can be used to track temperatures.

 

Arktika-M is also equipped with the GGAK-VE suite of heliogeophysics experiments to monitor space weather, derived from the GGAK-E complex aboard Elektro-L. This consists of a magnetometer to measure Earth’s magnetic field and sensors to detect and monitor charged particles in the ionosphere and solar radiation. Finally, its communications payload will be used to collect and relay data from research stations in the Arctic, while also carrying emergency communications as a part of the KOSPAS-SARSAT system.

 

Each Arktika-M satellite has a mass of about 2,100 kilograms (4,600 lb) and is designed to operate for ten years. Constructed by NPO Lavochkin, the Arktika-M spacecraft are based on the company’s Navigator platform. The spacecraft are three-axis stabilized and carry a pair of deployable solar arrays to generate power. Russia now plans to deploy at least five over the next four years with  follow-on Arktika-MP series is expected to begin launching in 2026.

Drones

Russia has developed drones to patrol the Arctic — or at least the areas around its oil and gas facilities. In December 2018, the Kalashnikov Design Bureau announced the ZALA 421-08M and ZALA 421-16E drones for Arctic surveillance. Built to fly for up to 250 minutes in sub-zero temperatures, the drones feature an automatic identification system that can gather information about a vessel at a distance of 100 kilometers away. They also have navigation systems that don’t relay on GPS, or the Russian version, GLONASS. The drones were developed to provide “safety of sea shipping and the round-the-clock protection of the perimeters,” said Kalashnikov Group CEO Vladimir Dmitriyev. They’ll also be used to monitor ice levels, according to a report in the state media outlet Tass. 21-08M and ZALA 421-16E

 

A January test flight of the 20-ton Ohotnik long-range combat UAV near Novosibirsk  took place in 10-degree Fahrenheit (-12° C) weather. The military-affiliated ZvezdaWeekly speculated that more Arctic testing may be on the way. Another potential Arctic UAV is the Triada tiltrotor, a vertical-takeoff, horizontal-landing aircraft that can fly from 80 to 160 kilometers in temperatures down to -58 Fahrenheit and observe and film objects out to five kilometers, ZvezdaWeekly wrote.

 

A recent report by TASS says the Advanced Research Foundation is working to create unmanned aerial vehicles for use in the Arctic, which can be in the air for up to four days. “The aircraft of increased autonomy should ensure the performance of functional tasks in non-stop flight at high latitudes or polar regions of the Earth –  With a duration of at least four days,” the FPI specified.

 

The fund is also creating materials, electronic components, engines, payloads, and efficient information collection and processing algorithms for use in the Arctic zone. The report also noted work on a drone that can fly for four straight days, as well as demonstrators for technologies that allow vertical and ultrashort takeoff and landing. The Russian government is also funding university-level research into UAVs that can operate in the harsh Arctic climate. The complex has its own alternative navigation system GIRSAM, which is designed specifically for navigating both unmanned aircraft and ground and surface users in the face of suppression or absence of GPS or GLONASS signals.

 

 

Russian solar powered SOVA (Owl) atmospheric satellite drone

The solar powered SOVA (Owl) atmospheric satellite drone is a collaborative effort of the Tyber Company and the Advanced Research Foundation (ARF) has a nine-meter wingspan, yet weighs only 12kg.  The second prototype, with a wingspan of 28 meters, is expected to be able to reach altitudes of 20km. The SOVA project aims at developing a family of drones for super long-endurance missions, to be operated throughout Russia and even in harsh conditions above the Arctic Circle (66.5°N).

 

Inexpensive monitoring of the vast uninhabited territories in northerly latitude and providing telecommunication services to constantly growing number of consumers have been mentioned among top priority tasks for SOVA atmospheric satellite drones. So far communications in the Arctic area have been established using space satellites, but this kind of communication is expensive and not always effective, particularly for real-time monitoring needs.

Arctic Troops would soon add the newly modified version of the T-80 main battle tank

Russian daily Izvestia reported that the Arctic Troops would soon add the newly modified version of the T-80 main battle tank—the T-80BVM—to their arsenals (Izvestia, June 5, 2018). This advanced model boasts a wide range of superior upgrades, including:

– The ability to effectively operate under challenging climactic conditions (well below -40° Fahrenheit/-40° Celsius), thanks to its modified turboshaft engine, similar to those used in helicopters;

– Profound advancements in speed and maneuvering;

– An upgraded fire-control system (Sosna-U), which increases the level of effectiveness and range of fire; as well as

– The Refleks integrated, laser-guided anti-tank missile.

 

Former head of the Main Automotive-Armored Directorate of the Ministry of Defense (GABTU), Colonel General Sergei Mayev, stated that T-80BVMs will help Russia secure military superiority in the High North  All in all, the Russian defense ministry expects to deploy at least 100 of these modernized tanks to troops stationed in the Arctic.

 

Military Exercises

The increased operational tempo, scale, and testing of nuclear weapons have been distinct characteristics of Russian military exercises in the Arctic. Emphasis is placed on short warning time and strategic and tactical mobility. Russia most recently exercised its bastion defense capabilities during its August 2019 Ocean Shield Exercise. The exercise follows Vostok-2018 and last year’s Zapad-2017.

 

While exercising in the Baltic Sea, the Northern Fleet entered the Northern Sea and engaged in live-fire demonstrations in the Norwegian Sea. These efforts demonstrate a clear forward line of defense to secure the GIUK-N gap and block the English Channel. The purpose of these exercises is to display Russia’s ability to project power beyond its Arctic waters and assert maritime control.

 

It is not clear how many troops and pieces of machinery that will take part in the Tsentr-2019, but sources say the training scenario will include fighting between two Arctic motorized rifle brigades. According to Izvestia, the new Russian weapons deployed in the Arctic will be tested during the drills. Among the new hardware is the Tor-M2DT and Pantsyr-SA air defense systems, armored vehicles MT-LBV, BTR-82A, tank T-80BV and the Toros support vehicle. Also also the country’s specially designed ATVs for Arctic conditions, the DT-10PM and DT-30PM, will be in combat action.

 

The Northern Fleet’s August 2019 Ocean Shield Exercise took place before or concurrent to the Vostok-18, Tsentr-19, and Grom-19 exercises elsewhere in the Arctic. The Vostok-18 exercise was conducted in September 2018 in eastern Russia and partially in the Bering Sea. It involved a total of 300,000 troops and was the largest military exercise conducted by Russia since 1981, during the Cold War.

 

Grom-19 was a significant exercise in October 2019 which engaged Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. It included 10 Russian submarines—8 of which were nuclear powered—patrolling the GIUK gap. Grom involved all four of Russia’s naval fleets, 12,000 troops, and the launch of two nuclear warheads in the Barents Sea and several other ballistic missiles.

 

Notably, April 2017 , in Murmansk, the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) launched a series of tactical exercises, supervised by the special service’s head, Viktor Zolotov. These exercises aimed to achieve the following objectives

– To test the system of command and control (C2) in conditions of the Far North;

– To synchronize joint actions between the Rosgvardia and locally deployed units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS); and

– To rehearse various options for protecting the objects and infrastructure belonging to Rosatomflot, which maintains the country’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.

The last stage of the April Arctic exercises envisaged the Russian special forces, jointly with border guard troops, “halting and defeating a terrorist group.” The special forces involved included the 1st Special Purpose Unit of the Internal Forces “Vityaz,” the Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) “Rys,” and the SOBR “Terek.”

 

Russia revives Soviet-era lab to test weapons in Arctic climate in Dec 2020

Russia has revived a Soviet-era research facility to test weapons in severe Arctic conditions as the Kremlin aims to boost its defence in the resource-rich region. This also comes at a time when the country faces military challenges along its western borders. Sergei Karasev, senior official at the Central Scientific-Research Institute for Precision Machine Engineering, Russia’s weapons maker, announced in a statement in Dec 2020 that it had restored testing chambers at the facility to simulate extreme conditions, including extreme heat, cold and wet weather.

 

The lab can now test-fire small arms as well as special grenade launchers and small-cannon munitions at temperatures of between minus 60 and plus 60 degrees Celsius.

 

Russia boosts Science and Technology in Arctic

In tandem with the military expansion, Russia is building the Yamal LNG plant in the Ob River estuary in collaboration with the French energy company Total. It will produce gas, liquefy it and ship it to European and Asian markets. “This is where future Russian oil and gas resources are located,” Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, said of the region. “Most other areas are peaking and running out. So for Russia it will be important to develop more unconventional sources. Russia will need to invest $100 billion per year in their oil and gas sector just to maintain their current levels.”

 

In 2014-2016, the government unveiled funds for 31 R&D projects in the Arctic. In these years, nearly two billion rubles ($32 million) were spent from the federal budget and non-budget sources on Arctic development. St. Petersburg is now becoming the centerpiece of the Artic development program since the city boasts significant industrial and scientific capabilities. Among the leading scientific organizations are the Arctic and Antarctic R&D Institute, the Russian R&D Institute for Geology and Mineral Resources of the World Ocean and the Karpinsky Russian R&D Geological Institute.

 

Currently a new Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker is being built at the Baltic Shipyard. The Arktika, the first project 22220 class ship and the first nuclear icebreaker to be fully built in modern-day Russia, was successfully launched on June 16. Russia operates a fleet of 40 icebreakers and is working on adding about a dozen new ships over the next couple of years. Out of the 40 around 27 are ocean-going icebreakers, some of which are nuclear-powered. Russia is also planning to introduce a new class of super-nuclear icebreakers, by the end of 2020. According to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the layout of the new vessel, purportedly capable of cutting through 13-feet-thick ice sheets, will be presented by the end of 2015.

 

The Ilya Muromets could be the lead ship of a new class of icebreakers, depending on how well the vessel will do perform in service. The 6,000-ton ship is 85-meter (280-feet) long and can purportedly break through a meter of ice. It can traverse the entire 5,600 kilometer (3,500 mile) length of the Northern Passage and can operate autonomously for up to 60 days, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense. The icebreaker will have a crew of 35.

 

Any industrial project in the Artic would require tons of electric energy, and this is why Russia is also developing floating nuclear power plants. Russian company Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom state-owned corporation) launched a project in 2006 to build floating NPPs in regions with limited energy capabilities.

 

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