Posts tagged ‘Arctic’
Baltic to Potomac.
It seems like nearly every day Russia is doing something new to provoke, irritate or worry its Western neighbors, from flying combat aircraft dangerously close to Swedish and Finnish airspace to a senior Moscow official’s recent unannounced and uninvited visit to one of Norway’s Arctic islands.
In response to the potential threat, several Scandinavian nations are planning to increase their defense spending and reaching out to their neighbors across the Baltic Sea for mutual security exchanges. All three of the so-called Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — as well as Poland are NATO members.
Latvian Minister of Defense Raimond Vejonis was in Washington this week, speaking at a think tank and meeting with Pentagon officials. According to a Pentagon spokesman, Vejonis met for about 30 minutes with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work (Defense Secretary Ash Carter was out of town) to discuss “the importance of clear NATO unity against Russian aggression, continued presence of U.S. forces in the region, and ways to work together to better support NATO deterrence measures.”
Work also praised the Latvian government for committing to raise its defense spending to 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (an agreed upon, but sparsely reached, NATO target for member nations) and to increase the size of Latvia’s armed forces from 15,000 to 17,000 by 2018.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington policy institute (April 21), Vejonis said having U.S. and other NATO troops in Latvia for exercises like Operation Atlantic Resolve was helpful but to effectively deter further Russian aggression “we really need a visible NATO presence in the region … on a rotational basis.”
Such a strategy, he said, will keep Moscow from making a dangerous miscalculation because they think NATO is weak after President Vladimir Putin successfully annexed Crimea from Ukraine without a NATO military response. (Ukraine is not a NATO member nation). He noted Russia’s economy “totally depends on its raw materials, especially energy.” And with oil prices slumping, “there is a requirement to deliver military victories to the Russian public to cover [the] economic gap.”
Vejonis added that Russia rebuilt a former helicopter base less just 15 miles from Latvia’s eastern border to house Moscow’s newest combat helicopters. Finland, which also borders Russia, has reported Russia is building new bases and conducting large training activities near the Finnish border.
Eyes on the Bear.
After months of Russian probes, intrusions and military provocations, the countries of Scandinavia have agreed to build closer defense ties among themselves and with the neighboring Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Writing in a joint declaration, the defense ministers of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said Northern Europe must prepare for possible crises or incidents because of Russia, according to a dispatch from Reuters (via Army Times’ Early Bird).
“Russia’s leaders have shown that they are prepared to make practical and effective use of military means in order to reach their political goals, even when this involves violating principles of international law,” the ministers wrote in a joint statement in the daily Aftenposten.
Over the last year, there have been numerous reports of Russia probing Nordic defenses from an underwater vehicle — believed to be a Russian submarine — entering Swedish waters and Russian bomber flights violating Swedish and Finnish airspace. Estonia was hit by a massive cyber attack, believed to be Russian in origin, in 2007. Then there is Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels.
“Russia’s actions are the biggest challenge to the European security,” the ministers said. “Russia’s propaganda and political maneuvering are contributing to sowing discord between nations, and inside organizations like NATO and the EU.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We recommend clicking on the photo above to enlarge it and get the full impact of its technical achievement).
Big Norwegian Exercise.
Thousands of Norwegian soldiers, sailors and airmen are converging on the northernmost county in Norway as part of joint service exercise called “Joint Viking.”
Some 4,000 soldiers and 400 vehicles will take part in the largest winter exercise near the Russian border in almost 50 years. Submarines, surface ships and aircraft will also be part of the exercise
The object of the 10-day arctic exercise that began Monday (March 9) is to perfect a concept called “Joint Operative Arenas,: which fuses several sea-air-land-specific exercises together “in order to give all players an increased outcome,” according to the Norwegian Armed Forces website.
Another, pointed but less direct object of the exercise — the largest near Norway’s border with Russia since 1967 — is to send a message to Moscow. Since the end of the Cold War, Norway (a member of NATO) and Russia have conducted several joint exercises in the Barents Sea region — the latest was in 2013. But with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Norway as ended all military cooperation with Russia, according to the Barents Observer.
Meanwhile, Russia has launched numerous military exercises near the borders of NATO nations — including an air force war game last week over the Barents Sea.
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Oslo’s Arctic Buildup.
As we have said in previous posts, Russia’s new aggressiveness all along its borders with former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries (like Estonia and Ukraine) has provoked several Nordic countries to reevaluate their military spending – particularly on equipment and manpower in the High North.
Norway, for one, is planning on an $8 billion defense budget in 2015. Norway is beefing up manpower and equipment for Arctic combat units as part of the Norwegian Defense Forces’ Smart Defense Strategy. The strategy places a higher priority on Arctic-class specialized equipment procurement and more intensive training for Arctic-deployed units.
According to Defense News, a Joint Operational Command Headquarters “is overseeing the evolution of Norway’s High North defenses into a centralized command and coordinated fighting structure” that will be able to rely on air force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, army battalions deploying CV90 tracked armored infantry fighting vehicles and Archer self-propelled artillery units, naval surface vessels like anti-aircraft and anti-submarine Arctic-class Fridtjof Nansen frigates and Skjold corvettes.
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Congressional Arctic Caucus.
Two U.S. senators are forming an Arctic Caucus in the Senate to focus on building U.S. leadership in the region.
Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said March 4 that she and Maine Independent Senator Angus King are forming the caucus to initiate discussions on a range of issues including defense, energy, environment and trade. “I’m calling on colleagues in the Senate to join me, to step up, to help us not only build out policy initiatives, but really take that leadership role we should be doing as an Arctic nation,” Murkowski said from the Senate floor, adding: “Embrace your inner-Arctic self,” The Hill newspaper reported.
The new caucus comes as the United States is poised next month to begin a two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental group that focuses on cooperation in the region.
King said his priorities include: appointing a U.S. ambassador to the Arctic; ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, examining the need for infrastructure investments — such as building more ice-breakers, evalue tthe challenges of Arctic shipping and how the United States might work cooperatively with Russia on Arctic issues, according to the Portland Press Herald.
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Arctic Sea Ice Melt.
Research shows that Arctic sea ice is not only covering less of the planet, but it’s also getting significantly thinner. That makes it more susceptible to melting, potentially altering local ecosystems, shipping routes and ocean and atmospheric patterns, The Guardian newspaper and other news outlets report.
“New data compiled from a range of sources – from Navy submarines to satellites – suggests that thinning is happening much faster than models have estimated, according to a study aiming to link those disparate data sources for the first time,” the Guardian said.
According to the report from the National Snow & Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, the extent of Arctic sea ice is well below average, but it remains to be seen whether March will see a rise or set a record low maximum. “Regionally, Arctic ice extent is especially low in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea. In the Antarctic, sea ice shrank to the fourth highest minimum in the satellite records,” the report said.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the Arctic. “Those interests include national security needs, protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening “international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant John Freeseha begins singing the Marines’ Hymn after completing a plunge into freezing water during an ice-breaker drill.
The drill — plunging chest deep into icy cold water and then dragging oneself out using ski poles — is part of the Winter Mountain Leaders Course at Levitt Lake on Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California.
Once students got out of the water, they sprinted to the warming tents, where they stripped off their wet clothing and put on dry clothes to restore the body’s normal temperature.
The six-week course, which began January 5 and is scheduled to end February 18, is designed to train Marines on what to expect in a cold weather environment.
ARCTIC NATION: Nordic Defense Worries; Special Ops Up North; Alaska Oil Fight; Canadian Patrol Boats
Russia’s Nordic Neighbors Worried.
Sweden’s military is trying to get the country’s new government to boost long-term defense spending by adding as much as $620 million.
Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine and suspicions that an unidentified underwater craft that violated Sweden’s territorial waters in late 2014 was Russian have convinced military planners that more defense spending is needed to acquire needed upgrades to fighter aircraft and submarines, as well as financing military exercises, according to Defense News. Unlike all its Baltic and North Sea neighbors (except Finland), Sweden is not a member of NATO.
The Armed Forces Command (AFC) is pushing the newly elected socialist-green government to add between $380 million and $620 million to the spending plan, which is set at about $5.5 billion in 2015. The AFC’s position is that $380 million is the absolute bare minimum amount required to cover the Swedish Armed Force’s basic needs in operations and procurement in 2015-2020. Defense chief General Sverker Göransson has warned the government that if the annual budget remains at $5.5 billion, the armed forces could not finance key — or even small scale — programs, such as the next-generation Grippen fighter or submarine modernization projects. Meanwhile, funds would be stretched to pay for equipment for soldiers, multi-branch military exercises or vehicles.
Sweden’s Parliamentary Defense Committee roundly supports increasing the defense budget, Defense News said. Meanwhile, the other non-NATO nation in the High North may be drawing closer to the Western alliance.
According to Alaska News Dispatch, a recent poll in Finland shows 63 percent of Finns surveyed say that an advisory referendum would be the best way to decide whether or not Finland should join NATO.
In the poll, commissioned by Yle and carried out by Taloustutkimus Research, 63 percent of respondents supported a referendum — even if the president, government and a majority of parliamentarians hold the same view regarding NATO membership. Only 27 percent of respondents felt that Parliament should make the NATO membership decision.
Ten percent of respondents said they did not know how the matter should be decided. Just over one thousand people were polled between December 29 and January 8.
The strongest referendum supporters were the Finns Party and Left Alliance voters. The conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) and Swedish Peoples Party were least enthusiastic about the idea. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a solid majority of Finns are against joining NATO, so a referendum would be unlikely to rubber-stamp membership, the Dispatch noted.
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WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.
Norway, a NATO member that shares a 195.7-kilometer (121.6 mile) land border with Russia, announced in December it was suspending bilateral military activities with Russia — because of Russia’s aggressive activities in Ukraine — until the end of 2015. “Military bilateral cooperation has been suspended since March 2014, since the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization in eastern Ukraine,” said a press release from Norway’s Ministry of Defense
Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).
To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.
Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals. To see more, click here.
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President Barack Obama is asking Congress to increase environmental protections for millions of acres of pristine animal habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, in a move that has already led to fierce opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers.
The White House announced last week (January 25) that Obama would ask Congress to designate 12 million of the refuge’s 19 million acres as wilderness. The wilderness designation is the strongest level of federal protection afforded to public lands, and would forbid a range of activity that includes drilling for oil and gas and construction of roads. If the proposal is enacted, the area would be the largest wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act over 50 years ago. But the proposal seems unlikely to find support in Congress, according to the New York Times.
The policy won’t have much effect on the nation’s oil production—Alaska accounts for only 7 percent of it, and most of the protected areas have been off-limits to industry for decades. And it didn’t really change the status quo or offer anywhere near the environmental protection the president could have conveyed. But he sure ticked off some Alaskans, according to National Geographic.
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Already five years behind schedule, Canada is finally getting underway with the construction of a small fleet of Arctic patrol boats to project a Canadian military presence in the High North where melting sea ice is opening up new maritime shipping routes – and access to underground riches.
The $3.2 billion ($3.5 billion Canadian) project will produce five ships – down from a planned eight vessels. But critics complain that none of the vessels will be ice breakers, as originally planned, and none will have landing craft equipped with an over-the-snow ground vehicle, according to Defense News. The ships weaponry is also said to be scaled back. Some critics in the military have called the planned ships “slush-breakers” since they won’t be able to break through heavy Arctic ice.
The ship-building plan was originally announced in 2007 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The patrol vessels were supposed to be in the water by 2013. Under the new deal, construction will begin in September, with the first ship ready by 2018. The last ship is expected to be delivered by 2022, according to the builder, Canada’s Irving Shipbuilding. Lockheed Martin is set to supply the onboard combat systems.
“The Arctic offshore patrol ships will enable us to become a truly Arctic, rather than just northern, Navy with the capability to operate in the Canadian Arctic archipelago on a sustained and persistent basis,” Vice Admiral Mark Norman, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy told a naval conference in October, Defense News said.
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ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the Arctic. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region.” Those interests include national security needs, protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening “international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
Special Ops in the Arctic.
WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. Special Operations Command and top theater commanders will be going to Norway soon to discuss how to deal with aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic region.
Army General Joseph Votel said the main concern is “Russia and its coercive activities” in the Arctic. “It’s important to engage and understand what’s happening out there and understand the spaces in which they [special operations forces (SOF)] can exert their influence,” he told a SOF-industry conference last week (January 27).
To that end, Votel said he and U.S. SOF regional commanders (probably from Northern Command, European Command and Pacific Command – which all border the Arctic) will meet in a few weeks with their Norwegian counterparts who are “paying significant attention to this.” Norway, a member of NATO, is one of five nations that border the Arctic. The others are Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), the United States and Russia.
Russia has been taking increasingly aggressive steps to assert control in the Arctic where the rapid melting of sea ice is expected to open access to the polar region — which is projected to contain 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil, as well as other valuable minerals.
In 2007, a Russian mini sub deposited a metal Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole. Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in December, calls for a more aggressive stance toward NATO and boosting its military presence in the Arctic. Those plans include setting up an Arctic Strategic Command and opening 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015.
Sweden has tracked unidentified undersea vehicles – believed to be Russian submarines — violating their territory. In December, a Russian military aircraft flying with radar-evading stealth technology nearly crashed into a commercial passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen, Denmark. In April, Russian fighter jets carried out a simulated bombing raid on Stockholm, Sweden’s capital.
Add to these incidents Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and ongoing fighting between Ukraine’s military and Russian-supported separatists and U.S. military leaders and their NATO allies have reasons to be concerned.
“I consider this a current and future challenge for us,” Army General Joseph Votel, SOCOM’s commander, told the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium & Exhibition. He conceded that the harsh Arctic environment poses a different challenge after more than a dozen years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is something we can deal with. While we have engaged in the Middle East, we have not forgotten about the other areas,” Votel said, adding that with industry’s help “I feel confident we would be able to address that relatively quickly.”
On other issues, Votel said the flow of foreign fighters joining the violent extremist organization styling itself an Islamic State “is staggering.” IS (also called ISIS and ISIL) has attracted more than 19,000 foreigners from 90 different countries to fight with them in Syria and Iraq, he noted. Counter terrorism experts at the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security worry about the threat these fighters pose when they return home to countries in the West.
Votel said SOCOM and law enforcement were also seeing “a growing nexus” between terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations because the crime groups’ ability to move money, people and weapons across borders is very attractive to terrorists. While officials don’t fully understand how these networks interact yet, what is known is “the more they cooperate, the greater the threat,” Votel said.
The SOCOM commander and Army Ranger added that airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-gathering “remains one of our chief concerns.”
SOCOM is “a global synchronizer of SOF forces, focusing on activities ranging from counter terrorism to foreign internal defense and from unconventional warfare to combatting weapons of mass destruction,” Votel added
Coordinating U.S. Arctic Efforts.
President Barack Obama has signed an executive order establishing a new panel that will advise the U.S. government on preserving the Alaskan Arctic.
Obama said he was establishing the Arctic Executive Steering Committee to help juggle more than 20 tribal, scientific, corporate, and federal interests at play in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen at twice the rate as the rest of the United States, The Hill reported.
“As the United States assumes the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it is more important than ever that we have a coordinated national effort that takes advantage of our combined expertise and efforts in the Arctic region to promote our shared values and priorities,” the executive order, signed Wednesday (January 21), noted.
In April, the United States will take over from Canada the chairmanship of the eight-member Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The council, created in 1996, is a high level intergovernmental forum seeking to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States — with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities — on issues like environmental protection, oil and gas development, shipping and climate change.
Obama did not mention the Arctic specifically in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday (Jan. 20) but he said climate change posed the greatest threat to future generations, USA Today reported. And while he didn’t announce any new climate initiatives in his speech, he did say he was “determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.”
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Russian Arctic Buildup
Russia’s continuing activities in Eastern Ukraine are drawing criticism from NATO and other western nations. But in the Arctic, which is expected to grow more accessible as melting sea ice opens up shipping lanes, Moscow’s military buildup is also being noticed with some concern.
According to the Ottawa (Canada) Citizen, Russia is to looking to have 14 operational airfields in the Arctic by the end of 2015 as it pushes ahead with its plan to boost its military presence in its Northern region. Four airfields are already operational. Ten more will be built in the coming year, Russia’s deputy defence minister Dmitry Bulgakov told the country’s Sputnik news agency, the Canadian newspaper noted.
Newsweek notes that … A detachment of about 800 servicemen from Russia’s Northern Fleet has been stationed in the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk region, just 50 kilometers from the Finnish border. It’s part of a large-scale expansion of Russian military facilities in the country’s northwest according to a press statement (here’s a link to the statement, in Russian) by the unit’s commanding admiral Vladimir Korolev.
The rest of the fleet are expected to be stationed there “soon” according to Korolev. The base will be one of the key strongholds in Russia’s northernmost territories, designed to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities from the west, and improve their territorial claims over areas in the Arctic, said Newsweek.
At full force, Russia’s Northern Fleet consists of about 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia’s decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia’s interests in the country’s northern regions, the news website noted.
And UPI notes (via Military.Com ) that Russia’s military press service has confirmed the country will be sending drones to the Arctic in early 2015.
“Before the end of the current year specialists with several Orlan-10 sets will arrive at the permanent service base,” the press service told Russian news agency Tass. Test flight will begin in the next few months. The drones are allegedly meant to do surveillance over coastal areas and to help sea vessels navigate, according to UPI.
The Orlan-10 is a Russian drone with a front propeller, resembling a traditional manned aircraft. The aircraft was first discovered to be in use in early 2014, when one was shot down in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, The Moscow Times wonders if the worldwide drop in the price of oil, the driving force in Russia’s economy, could slow Russia’s activities – military and commercial – in its Arctic region.
ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the High North. The U.S. “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” describes the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests in the Arctic Region, where we seek to meet our national security needs, protect the environment, responsibly manage resources, account for indigenous communities, support scientific research, and strengthen international cooperation on a wide range of issues.”