Russia To Build More Arctic Airfields

Russia To Build More Arctic Airfields

Gareth Jennings, London – IHS Jane’s Defen
se Weekly

12 January 2015

Russia has massively increased its presence in the Arctic over recent years, including the deployment of MiG-31 interceptors to Murmansk to provide additional air defense coverage of the region. Source: Russian Air Force

Russia is to have 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of the year, state media quoted defense officials as saying on 13 January.

Ten airfields will be constructed by the end of 2015, in addition to the four already in use, deputy defense minister Dmitry Bulgakov reportedly said, according to the state-controlled Sputnik news agency.

The report did not disclose the location of these airfields, and neither did it clarify whether these will be reopened Soviet-era installations or built from new.

Separately, Russia has announced it is to boost its military capabilities in the annexed Crimea region, and in its Baltic enclave of Kalingrad.

ANALYSIS

While the United States has been pivoting its forces and its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region to better counter China, Russia has been increasingly focusing its efforts in the Arctic.

As the melting Arctic sea ice has opened up trade routes and potential oil reserves, Russia, more than the other four nations of Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the United States that each claim parts of the Arctic Circle’s outer ring, has been beefing up its military presence in the region.

With President Vladimir Putin having ordered the planting of a Russian flag on the arctic seabed in a symbolic display of sovereignty in 2007, the Russian military has been busying itself since with building up its facilities and forces in the region, as well as adapting its equipment to function in the extreme environment.

In May 2012, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that several Arctic air bases that had fallen into disuse with the end of the Cold War would be reopened. Airfields at Novaya Zemlya, Naryan-Mar, Ostrov Greem-Bell (Graham Bell Island), and Rogachyovo have since been made operational. While the re-opening of these Arctic bases has been largely symbolic in the context of national claims on the region’s resources, MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’ interceptors have been based near Murmansk to provide additional air defense coverage of the region.

In addition to opening up the bases and the basing of the MiG-31s at Murmansk, Russia is expected to deploy a number of Pantsir-S1 ground-based air defense systems in the region, and is also upgrading its Mil Mi-8 ‘Hip’ helicopters to function in the harsh conditions.

Russia is also increasing its special forces presence in the Arctic by more than 30%, with the revamped 61st Independent Naval Infantry Regiment to be stationed alongside the re-formed 200th Independent Infantry Brigade at Sputnik Base, Pechenga, inside the Arctic Circle (16 km from the Norwegian border and 65 km from the Finnish border).

Overarching all of this is the formation of Russia’s Arctic Joint Strategic Command, which was activated on 1 December 2014. This new command, which is based on the Northern Fleet and headquartered at Severomorsk, is being equipped with assets and personnel transferred from Russia’s Western, Central, and Southern (but not Eastern) Military Districts, with which it will be on a par.

As demonstrated by these developments, such has been the build-up of Russia’s military presence in the Arctic that NATO recently warned that no other country has better prepared its forces for operations in the region.

Related articles:
•Russia plans Orlan-10 UAV Arctic deployment
•Russia activates new Arctic Joint Strategic Command

(537 words)

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