Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently visited the Arctic to personally inspect the progress of construction of the infrastructure here for basing the new Russian nuclear submarine missile carriers of the Borey and Yasen projects, and a new residential town for the North fleet. A week before, Russian paratroopers for the first time in the world massively landed on drifting ice in the Arctic Ocean, 100 km from the North Pole - in the vicinity of the Russian Arctic station Barneo. This time, airborne fighters conducted a training evacuation and rescue operation to search, detect and rescue the conditionally injured polar explorers and crew members of the aircraft, who conditionally crashed during a cross-polar flight.
But a month earlier, Russian paratroopers massively practiced a completely combat mission in the Arctic. The airborne battalion of Ivanovo’s 98th airborne division of 350 people with four units of military equipment and several tons of cargo was “captured” by Temp Arctic Airport, located on the Novosibirsk Islands, on one of March nights. At the same time, the paratroopers worked in absolutely extreme conditions. For example, the permissible wind speed when landing from aircraft is 10 meters per second near the ground and 12 at altitude. Using the new Arbalet-2 guided parachute systems for special operations, the Russian Arctic landing landed near the airfield at a wind speed that sometimes reached more than 15 meters per second. After landing, the paratroopers quickly “captured” the airdrome when counteracting a conditional enemy moving with mobile groups on snowmobiles and paragliders, and, less than an hour later, were ready to take military transport aircraft at Tempe aviation Air Force with the main landing forces, heavy equipment and weapons.
“You can be proud of our paratroopers, who in any conditions solve assigned tasks. Under such bad weather conditions, no one in the world, except us, jumps with a parachute. Here, fortunately, we maintain our leading position in the world, ”commander of the Airborne Forces Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov told reporters.
The FSB, in turn, recreates on the coast of the Arctic Ocean a network of frontier outposts, each of which will keep under control territory up to 300 km. “As a matter of priority, we need to continue the development of border infrastructure in the Arctic region, as well as in the southern strategic direction,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a recent meeting of the board of the FSB of Russia. Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Central Project Management” at Spetsstroy of Russia, announcing the acceptance of applications for the competition on the reconstruction of the airport “Tiksi”, indicated that after the reconstruction this arctic military base should be capable of receiving strategic missile-carrying bombers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, as well as heavy tanker aircraft IL-78.
All these events suggest that Russia is intensively strengthening its defense capability at the turn that only recently was of interest only to scientists and fishermen. No wonder 2014 is the year in the Russian military, unofficially called the “Year of the Arctic”.
16 minutes to Moscow
The pilots of the US strategic aviation mastered the flight routes to the territory of our country through the North Pole as early as the 50 years of the last century. The same route was ready to fly to the Soviet industrial hubs and large populated areas and US land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. Therefore, in the Soviet part of the Arctic, in 60-70-s of the last century, a powerful anti-aircraft "umbrella" was deployed from units of the radio-technical troops, anti-aircraft missile forces, fighter aircraft, and naval forces.
On the islands - Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya Island, Severnaya Zemlya Islands, Novosibirsk Islands, Wrangel Island, were the means of early warning of missiles and aircraft. On the coast of the Arctic Ocean (Naryan-Mar, Amderma, Nadym, Alykel, Tiksi, Cape Schmidt, Coal Mines) were located airfields for fighters and strategic bombers. Under long-term polar ice, strategic nuclear submarines carried combat duty, the surface fleet reliably guarded the coast from the sea. High in the sky were planes of long-range radar reconnaissance and target designation. Border guards caught poachers, radio beacons of foreign origin, spying on what is happening in the Russian North, and helped in maintaining public order in the territories where their units were located.
Even civilian polar explorers studying the Arctic Ocean from stations located on drifting ice floes also, in fact, performed a combat mission - their data were primarily used by military climatologists, hydrographs and ice-field aerodrome specialists. However, in the 90 of the last century, this defense system of the northern frontiers was completely destroyed, the military left the arctic bases, leaving military equipment there, often unattended, and the Northern Fleet shrank around Murmansk. And for more than a decade and a half, almost 20 thousands of kilometers of the northern coast of Russia were, in fact, open to any penetration from the outside.
“Until very recently, there was almost no combat unit from Murmansk to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The radar field, fighter aviation and anti-aircraft missile cover ceased to exist. Our Arctic lands were left without even a hint of protection and defense, ”Mikhail Khodaryonok, editor-in-chief of the Military Industrial Courier newspaper, assesses this situation. At the same time, the military-technical thought of our likely adversary continued to improve. For example, the flight time to Moscow of a ballistic missile launched from a submarine from the waters of the Barents Sea is now only 16-17 minutes. The Arctic is also the most convenient base for delivering a mass non-nuclear strike - with the help of a large number of Tomahawk cruise missiles, some versions of which make it possible to bombard enemy territory from ships to a depth of more than 1,5 thousand kilometers. And to ignore this fact is no longer possible.
Fight for hydrocarbons
Another reason for the need to dramatically strengthen the Russian military presence in the Arctic is the hydrocarbon reserves in this macro-region. According to updated data from the Geological Survey, which was announced at the beginning of March by the US Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Jonathan Grinert, undiscovered traditional reserves of oil and gas in the Arctic amount to approximately 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 44 billion barrels of gas condensates. These reserves, according to American geologists, account for about 30% of the total amount of unexplored natural gas reserves in the world, 13%, of the total amount of unexplored oil reserves and 20% of the global reserves of gas condensates. In general, in the Arctic, according to the US Geological Survey, there may be about 22% percent of the undiscovered world hydrocarbon reserves.
Of course, no one argues that oil and gas in the Arctic will be produced easily and cheaply. However, the fact that they can be efficiently mined (that is, not only extracted from the depths, but also derived from this profit), shows the example of both Russia and Norway. In 2009, the company Statoil announced that it had led to the design capacity of gas production in the northernmost industrial-developed offshore field in the world - Snobit in the Barents Sea. In the fall of 2012, the Russian Gazprom launched the Bovanenkovskoye field on the Yamal Peninsula, which became the northernmost industrial field on land. Interestingly, in Soviet times, Bovanenkovo tried to launch three times. But only current technologies allowed to start gas production in the Polar region economically efficiently. Another Russian gas producer, NOVATEK, last year began building the largest natural gas liquefaction plant in the Arctic on the northeastern tip of the Yamal Peninsula Yamal, by 16,5 million tons of LNG per year (this is three times more than the LNG plant in the Norwegian city of Hammerfest, which liquefies the gas Snёvita). And all these reserves and facilities that are strategic for our country also need to be protected.
The third circumstance, which aggravates the interest of the world community in the Arctic as a whole and in its Russian sector, in particular, is connected with the transport peculiarities of this macro-region. The lion's share of cargo between Europe and the countries of Southeast Asia is now being transported on ocean vessels by the “southern” route - through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal. However, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) between Europe and Asia, along the Russian coast of the Arctic Ocean, has been known since 18. It is shorter than the southern one by a third and, due to this, gives considerable benefits to carriers.
Another question is that while the NSR was covered with perennial ice, the road through the Arctic Ocean was mostly tormented by Russian sailors. To this end, an icebreaking fleet was created in the USSR, which is still the most powerful in the world. But the climatic changes that have taken place on our planet in recent years free the ocean from ice and open roads for cargo ships and warships across the Arctic Ocean, even without icebreaking. The US Navy's hydrogrofs, for example, calculated that by 2020, the navigation period in ice-free water in the Bering Strait would be up to 160 days a year. However, even 35-45 days will be able to navigate ships in the area without the support of icebreakers during the transition season. According to their calculations, the period of ice-free navigation along the Northern Sea Route will be up to 30 days a year with a transitional season up to 45 days. By 2025, according to calculations by the US military hydrographers, the ice-free navigation time in the Bering Strait will increase to 175 days per year (plus the transitional season 50 – 60 days), along the Northern Sea Route - to 45 days per year (plus 50 – 60 days). In a word, a new, very profitable transport route appears on the world map. And now several countries are claiming to establish control over it. “As the eternal ice and open waters melt away over time, we intend to expand our capabilities in the Arctic,” said a new oceanographer’s report on the new US strategy in the Arctic, which contained these figures in March. US Navy Rear Admiral Jonathan White.
China, which regards the Northern Sea Route as the most important strategic artery during the exacerbation of the relationship between the Middle Kingdom and the United States, is becoming more active. Most of the cargoes, including hydrocarbons, now come to China by the “southern” sea route through the Strait of Malacca (the strait between the Malaya Peninsula and Sumatra Island is the main route connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans). There are up to 50 thousands of ships per year serving, according to various estimates, from one-fifth to one-fourth of the world’s sea trade. And this strait can easily be closed in case of even a little international conflicts. “The vulnerability of supply lines is a serious weakness that China may experience in the event of a conflict involving the United States. The Malacca Dilemma will be his Achilles heel. In strategic terms, the importance of restricting maritime trade to the ability of the PRC to conduct a protracted conflict will be high and this circumstance cannot be underestimated. As China grows, the United States will seek and, I think, are already looking for ways to protect hegemony from China’s attempts to increase its influence in the region, ”emphasizes Australian analyst Rex Patrick. And this means that during the blockade by the naval forces of the Strait of Malacca strait countries that are unfriendly to China, through which 80% of the oil they need, passes to this country, the Middle Kingdom will try to transport as much cargo as possible along the Northern Sea Route. And Russia, which has assumed full responsibility for the movement on this sea road, will need to exert maximum efforts to ensure its safety and the integrated security of the regions along which it passes - the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, the Nenets Autonomous District, the north of the Krasnoyarsk Territory and Yakutia, etc.
Over the past few years, American submarines have increased the number of calls to the Arctic Ocean by half. The new naval Arctic strategy of the US Navy in the Arctic, presented to the public in the form of a US Arctic Roadmap report 2014 – 2030, suggests, in fact, the creation of a new US fleet - the Arctic. “We need to start looking for effective solutions that will create the Arctic Navy in less than 10 years,” emphasizes Rear-Admiral Jonathan White. Canada announced the creation of a new Arctic military base on Cornwallis and the strengthening of the ice navy, while simultaneously submitting an application to the UN for the right to possess the North Pole. “The United States is not only developing plans to establish permanent bases in the Arctic, but also regularly conduct various kinds of exercises here, where the“ protection ”of drilling rigs from suspicious submarines with the help of air aviation is worked out, and jointly with the Canadian Coast Guard are organized in the waters of the Arctic Ocean patrol raids, ”notes Belarusian analyst Yury Pavlovets. The number of military exercises in the Arctic has increased dramatically with the participation of Scandinavian countries. Even China, thousands of miles from the Arctic, is acquiring a dual-use ice fleet.
Russia also does not stand still. Already last year, the Air Force resumed constant patrols of the airspace over the Arctic, on the Kola Peninsula, special forces began to work out tactics of conducting combat operations in the Arctic, and in the fall the Northern Fleet held exercises unprecedented even for Soviet times in the Arctic Ocean. Ten ships, led by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser “Peter the Great”, accompanied by the nuclear icebreakers “Yamal”, “Vaigach”, “50 Let Victory” and “Taimyr”, made a cruise through the ice-covered Barents Sea, the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea, delivering to the Kotelny Island (part of the Novosibirsk Islands group) more than 40 units of equipment, large-sized social and living blocks, fuel and lubricants necessary for organizing an airfield there and a military research base. The total range of the campaign was more than 4 thousand nautical miles.
The beginning of this year was marked by the decision to create in Russia a new military structure, the Northern Fleet - Joint Strategic Command (SF-USC), which, in fact, has the status of a military district. In addition to the current home centers, the SF-OSK groupings will be deployed in areas where the polar airfields are being rebuilt. "Temp" on the Novosibirsk Islands is already working. The next step is a full-fledged re-creation of military airfields “Tiksi”, “Naryan-Mar”, “Alykel”, “Amderma”, “Nagurskaya”, “Anadyr” and “Rogachevo”. On Rogachevo (Amderma-2), which is located on the Goose Land peninsula, for example, the runway and the airfield have already been upgraded, in principle, can already serve as the home base of MiG-31 interceptor fighters.
SF-OSK will become an interdepartmental and interspecific structure. It will include not only units and subunits of the Navy, air defense, aviation, special purpose, but also, obviously, border guards performing the functions of the coast guard (the frontier guard, unlike in Soviet times, is now subordinate to the FSB).
Arctic troops will be equipped with the most modern weaponsspecially adapted for northern conditions. This year, new nuclear submarines of the Borey and Yasen families will begin to take up combat duty in the Arctic Ocean, the aviation industry is fully ready to supply the “northern variant” MiG-31 and Su-30CM fighters and heavy military transport aircraft. Since the end of last year, according to the VKO Commander Alexander Golovko, they began to deploy a radar "umbrella" over the Arctic aerospace defense forces. There are developments and tests of new ground-based machines that can work reliably in the Arctic. “Before 2050, it is planned to create a highly mobile amphibious combat vehicle to support the actions of the marines in all regions and climatic conditions, including in the Arctic zone. There is a clear understanding and common view on the need to create robotic combat platforms of the marines, armed with new physical principles and using various sources for engine operation, ”ITAR-TASS reported the words of the head of the coastal forces of the Navy, Major General Alexander Kolpachenko. “The Russian industry, in general, is ready to supply the Russian Armed Forces with everything necessary for working in the northern aggressive latitudes,” summed up Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
And this clear and correct policy. The polar regions of Russia now provide for the creation of 15% of the gross domestic product of the country and about a quarter of Russian exports. In the foreseeable future, the contribution of the Far North to the national economy will be even greater, since the formation of a new wave of industrialization of the North has now begun. It includes not only an increase in oil and gas production, but also the creation in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District of the largest transport and logistics hub in the central part of the Russian Arctic. And all these projects, of course, need reliable military "cover".