Posts tagged ‘winter warfare’

FRIDAY FOTO (September 2, 2022)

One of the Perks of the Job.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Abban)

Crew members look at the aurora borealis as it’s seen from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bear while transiting northward in the Atlantic Ocean, August 9, 2022.

The Bear was heading for Operation Nanook, the Canadian Armed Forces’ signature northern operation, this year in and around Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Nunavut is a massive, sparsely populated territory of northern Canada, forming most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

The aurora, also known as the Northern Lights, is an electrical phenomenon in Earth’s atmosphere.

 

September 2, 2022 at 2:18 am Leave a comment

BALTIC-2-BLACK: Sweden, Finland Closer to Joining NATO; Did Russian MiGs Violate Finnish Airspace — Again?

BALTIC SEA REGION UPDATE

Updates with new link to 1949 NATO Treaty and photo of U.S. Marines training with Finnish forces recently.

Sweden, Finland and NATO

The chances of Sweden and Finland joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), have grown stronger with the United States becoming the 23rd member of the 30-nation defense alliance to approve the admission of the two historically non-aligned Nordic states.

In an unusual bi-partisan 95-to-1 vote on August 3, the U.S. Senate approved accession protocols to the 1949 treaty that created NATO, to admit Sweden and Finland as full members of the defense pact. Approval by all 30 current members of NATO is required for any new states to be admitted to the western defensive bloc created to counter the Soviet Union’s expansion, replacing democratic governments with totalitarian puppet regimes after World War II.

President Joe Biden signed the instruments of ratification bringing Finland and Sweden one step closer to joining the NATO alliance.

The Baltic Region. (Map: CIA World Factbook)

During the signing ceremony at the White House, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “thought he could break us apart,” but “Our alliance is closer than ever, it is more united than ever, and after Finland and Sweden join we will be stronger than ever.”

The candidacies of the two prosperous Northern European nations have won ratification from more than half of the NATO member nations in the roughly three months since the two applied. It’s a purposely rapid pace meant to send a message to Russia over its six-month-old war against Ukraine’s West-looking government, according to The Associated Press (via NPR).

Finland and Sweden — increasingly disturbed by their Baltic Sea neighbor’s aggressive behavior in the region — simultaneously handed their official letters of application to join NATO on May 2022. NATO heads of state and government extended an invitation to both countries to join the Alliance at the Madrid Summit on June 29. The accession protocols for both countries were signed on July 5. The protocols must now be ratified by all Allies, according to their national procedures, according to NATO.

Seven member countries have to sign the treaty change: the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey. For some of them, like Slovakia and Greece, ratification is only a mater of when the legislature returns to work after the summer, according to analysts at the Atlantic Council think tank. One of the last holdouts is expected to be Turkey, which accuses the two countries of being too lenient toward Kurdish rebel groups it considers to be national security threats. Turkey’s justice minister said in July month that the government had renewed requests for the extradition of terror suspects wanted by his country.

On June 28, Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding to address security concerns raised by Turkey and lift Turkey’s veto on Finland’s and Sweden’s membership of NATO. However, in mid-July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey can still “freeze” Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bid unless the two countries take steps that meet Ankara’s security demands. While lifting its objection to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, Turkey warned that it would block the process if they fail to extradite suspects with links to outlawed Kurdish groups or the network of an exiled cleric accused of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, according to The Associated Press (via the PBS News Hour).

Based on those considerations, plus how long it took recent new members like North Macedonia (21 months); Greece (8 months); and Spain (also 21 months), “we can expect something like a yearlong process (somewhere between eight and twenty months),” said Rich Outzen, a former State Department official and nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Turkey. He added it could be delayed until “shortly after Turkish national elections in June 2023.”

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Did Russian fighter jets violate Finnish airspace?

While Finland waits to join NATO it reported that two Russian MiG-31 fighter jets are suspected of violating Finnish airspace near the coastal city of Porvoo on the Gulf of Finland.

The jets were westbound, the defence ministry’s communications chief Kristian Vakkuri said, adding the aircraft were in Finnish airspace for two minutes.

A MiG-31 in flight over Russia, 2012 (Photo copyright by Dmitriy Pichugin via wikipedia) Please click on the photo to enlarge image.

The Finnish air force sent up “an operational flight mission” and identified the MiG-31 jets and the Border Guard launched an investigation into the violation, Aljazeera reported.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) eastern border with Russia, reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in the North Atlantic alliance in May, after being rattled by Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, according to Aljazeera, which has a very good map of NATO countries, Sweden, Finland and Ukraine at this link.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department has for years considered Finland to be — if not an ally, a partner nation — and conducted joint and multilateral training exercises with Finnish military units. Recently an element of the U.S. 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted bilateral training with the Finnish Navy High Readiness Unit on Finland’s Russaro Island.

A member of the Finnish Navy High Readiness Unit directs his fire team during a patrol with U.S. Marines in bilateral training on Russaro Island, August 11, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal Yvonna Guyette) Click on photo to enlarge.

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BALTIC-2-BLACK is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the rising tensions between Russia and the West in the regions of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, where former Russian satellite nations — now members of NATO — border Russian territory. Both NATO, and the United States in particular, have stepped up their presence in the region since Russia began throwing its weight around after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Since then, some Nordic countries have been boosting defense budgets even restoring a military draft as Russian aircraft and naval vessels have acted more aggressively in the region.

August 18, 2022 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (June 17, 2022)

LET IT SNOW — INDOORS.

(U.S. Air Force photo by William Higdon)

The U.S. Air Force can make it snow, indoors, in May — in Florida!

Team members at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory (MCL) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, use machines to create snow in the MCL Main Chamber on May 26, 2022 to prepare for environmental testing. The MCL recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The first tests at the MCL occurred in May 1947. In the 75 years since, the unique capabilities available at the MCL have allowed a variety of climatic testing for the Defense Department, other government agencies and private industry. From arctic freeze to blazing heat and desert sand to jungle humidity, any climatic environment in the world can be simulated in the facility.

When it first began operations, the MCL was part of the U.S. Army Air Forces. This component was soon separated from the Army and became its own military branch when the Air Force was founded on September 18, 1947.

Before the MCL was created, there was the Cold Weather Test Detachment stationed at Ladd Field in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Army Air Force designated that site as a cold-weather testing facility in 1940.

The MCL is operated by the 717th Test Squadron, 804th Test Group, Arnold Engineering Development Complex.

June 16, 2022 at 11:52 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 6, 2022)

STINGER STUDY.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyler Thompson)

Marine Corps Lance Corporal Dylan Pennington, right, explains the functions of the FIM-92 Stinger missile system to Norwegian Army Sergeant Silje Skarsbakk during a bilateral training event in Setermoen, Norway on April 25, 2022.

The FIM-92 Stinger missile is a shoulder-fired MANPAD (man-portable air-defense system) that specializes in taking out helicopters. Stingers have been around since the 1980s. They were originally developed by General Dynamics and are now made by Raytheon Missile Systems. The Stinger can also target low-flying airplanes and drones.

Pennington is assigned to the the Aviation Combat Element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). MEUs are expeditionary quick reaction forces, deployed and ready for  immediate response to a crisis.

The 22nd MEU, embarked aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group,  participated in a bilateral training event with the Norway’s Armed Forces in April.

The United States has sent more than 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24. . The Ukrainian military says it has shot down nearly 160 Russian aircraft, including 90 helicopters in that time. Unfortunately, the Defense Department, which is developing an updated anti-aircraft missile, hasn’t purchased a Stinger in about 18 years, say Raytheon officials. Some of components are no longer commercially available, and the company will have to redesign some of the missile’s electronics, Breaking Defense reported April 26.

May 5, 2022 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

BALTIC-2-BLACK: Russia Targets Black Sea Ports; Allies Send Arms to Ukraine; Sweden and Finland Worried

Since 2015, 4GWAR Blog has reported that Russia’s belligerent behavior has been making its neighbors nervous from the Barents Sea in the Arctic to the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea farther south. And now open warfare has broken out with Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

UPDATES first Ukraine item with new details on situation at Black Sea cities (in italics).

BLACK SEA

Ukraine Invasion.

Russian forces captured a strategic Ukrainian port and besieged another Thursday (March 3) in a bid to cut the country off from the sea, the Associated Press reported.

While Moscow’s advance on Ukraine’s capital has apparently stalled over the past few days, its military has made significant gains in the south, as part of an effort to sever Ukraine’s connection to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Black Sea region (Map by Norman Einstein via Wikipedia)

The Russian military said it had taken control of Kherson, a ship-building center on the Dnieper River (see map below), and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began.

Capturing Kherson could clear the way for Russian forces to push westward toward Odessa — a much bigger prize — as they try to seize Ukraine’s entire Black Sea coast, cutting it off from world shipping, the New York Times reported.

At the Pentagon on Friday (March 4) Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said detailed knowledge of how things are going on the ground in Ukraine “has limits.”

“As of this morning, we haven’t seen any significant naval activity in the Black Sea that would lead us to believe that an assault on Odessa is imminent. That doesn’t mean that won’t change over coming hours. It very well could.”

He noted that Russian forces out of Crimea and heading off to the west through Kherson “are now beginning an assault on a town called Mykoliav (above Crimea and to the left on map below). “That town is not far from Odessa, just up the coast, a little bit northeast of Odessa.”   

(Map of Ukraine. Courtesy of https://www.nationsonline.org) Click on the map to enlarge image.

Russian troops have gained ground near the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov (above Crimea and to the right in map above), while naval forces gathered offshore, raising fears of an amphibious assault on a city where local officials said there was no power or heat, according to the Times.

The beaches of Odessa, once popular with tourists and locals, are now covered with mines, the sand is being used to fill sandbags and Russian warships can been seen out on the Black Sea, the Washinton Post reported Friday (March 4).

People in Odessa, a critical port and Ukraine’s third-largest city with about 1 million people, are not wondering if Russia plans to launch an assault here. They are sure it will, the Post noted.

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Allies and Partners

The United States believes that Russian forces will increasingly rely on artillery fire as they draw nearer to population centers and begin siege tactics in earnest.

The flow of weaponry to Ukraine increased this week when Germany opened its stockpiles and Australia said it would provide Kyiv with about $70 million in “lethal military assistance,” including missiles and unspecified weapons, the Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday (March 2), Ukraine announced that it had received a shipment of Turkish drones and used them in recent days to damage advancing Russian armored columns. Turkey, which is trying to maintain stable relations with both Russia and Ukraine, did not comment on the shipment.

Ankara has called Russia’s assault on Ukraine unacceptable, but it has also opposed sanctions on Moscow. In response to Russia’s invasion, Turkey last month closed its Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits linking the Mediterranean and Black Seas to warships under a 1936 pact, limiting passage of some Russian vessels, according to Reuters. 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Ukrainians were sent military aid within the past day, but he did not describe what was included and how it was delivered, according to the Post.

On Monday (February 28), Italy joined a long list of countries promising weaponry to Ukraine as the East European country defends itself against the Russian invasion.

The pledge by Rome took the number of nations in line to deliver military hardware and funding to Kyiv to over a dozen, including the United States and Canada, according to Defense News. The Italian cabinet approved a measure authorizing the dispatch of Stinger surface-to-air missiles, mortars and Milan, or Panzerfaust, anti-tank weapons.

Germany has promised to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons, 500 Stinger missiles, nine howitzers and 14 armored vehicles to Ukraine. Like Germany, Norway is reversing a policy of not supplying combatant countries by delivering up to 2,000 2,000 M72 anti-tank weapons.

Sweden has pledged to send 5,000 anti-tank weapons, while Finland is dispatching 1,500 rocket launchers and 2,500 assault rifles. The Netherlands will also send 200 Stinger missiles following a specific request to the European Union for the surface-to-air weapon. For Sweden, it’s the first time it’s offered military aid since 1939, when it assisted Finland against the Soviet Union, according to The Associated Press.

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BALTIC SEA

Sweden and Finland Worried

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has profoundly changed Europe’s security outlook, including for Nordic neutrals Finland and Sweden, where support for joining NATO has surged to record levels.

Support for joining NATO has surged to record levels in Nordic neutrals Finland and Sweden. A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE showed — for the first time — that more than 50 percent of Finns support joining the Western military alliance. In neighboring Sweden, a similar poll showed those in favor of NATO membership outnumber those against, the AP reported from Helsinki, Finland’s capital.

Moscow has warned it would be forced to take retaliatory measures if Finland and Sweden joined the alliance. A similar stance that prompted Russian forces to invade Ukraine eight days ago.

Neither country is going to join the alliance overnight. Support for NATO membership rises and falls, and there’s no clear majority for joining in their parliaments.

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U.S. Lawmakers Seek Baltic Aid

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is prompting some in Congress to reconsider the U.S. security structure in the Baltics, where leaders have long sought the placement of permanent American military bases in their countries.

“Having a U.S. flag there – a permanent one – is a deterrence,” Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday (March 1). “Russia will know they’re not just going into the Baltics… but they are attacking U.S. forces when they do so. I think it will have a reassuring effect for the Baltics, who are very small,” added Bacon, the co-chairman of the congressional Baltic Caucus.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the only former Soviet republics to join NATO and the European Union, are considered by military experts to be the alliance’s most vulnerable flank, Stars and Stripes reported.

In a news conference last month with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis reiterated his country’s request for long-term American forces to boost security there. Lithuania and Latvia border Belarus, where Russian President Vladimir Putin stationed 30,000 troops before launching a full-scale attack on Ukraine last week from Russian and Belarusian territory.

The U.S. has maintained a 500-troop battalion on rotation in Lithuania since 2019 but Congress appears ready to deepen engagement in the region.

Along with Bacon, Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said establishing permanent American basing in the Baltics, as well as Romania and Poland, would show serious U.S. commitment to safeguarding NATO’s eastern flank.

At the same hearing, Mara Karlin, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, told the committee that the Pentagon’s Global Posture Review, signed off by President Joe Biden in November, needs an overhaul in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Air Force magazine reported.

The review, conducted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last summer, “looked closely at our posture in Europe and saw largely that it was about right” at the time, Karlin said. But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a potential threat to NATO partners in the Baltics and Black Sea region, the situation has become “dynamic,” she said.

That will require another look to ensure Russia is deterred from attacking NATO, Karlin said. The goal is to “absolutely, 150 percent, say that NATO is safe and secure.” Options being examined include increased numbers of troops and other capabilities, where they would be placed, and whether additional forces would be deployed on “a rotational or permanent” basis, she said.

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BARENTS SEA

Tensions between Russia and its Arctic neighbors have also spread in recent years.

While most of the world focused on the conflict in Ukraine, Russian nuclear submarines sailed off for drills in the Barents Sea Tuesday (March 1) after President Vladimir Putin ordered his nation’s nuclear forces put on high alert.

Russia’s Northern Fleet said in a statement that several of its nuclear submarines were involved in exercises designed to “train maneuvering in stormy conditions.” It said several warships tasked with protecting northwest Russia’s Kola Peninsula, where several naval bases are located, would join the maneuvers, the Associated Press reported in a story carried by numerous outlets including ABC News, Britain’s The Independent and the Times of Israel.

Barents Sea region. Map by NormanEinstein via wikipedia

And in the Irkutsk region of eastern Siberia, units of the Strategic Missile Forces dispersed Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers in forests to practice secret deployment, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The Russian military didn’t say whether the drills were linked to Putin’s order on Sunday (February 27) to put the country’s nuclear forces on high alert amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. It also was unclear whether the exercises represented a change in the country’s normal nuclear training activities or posture.

The U.S. said Putin’s move unnecessarily escalated an already dangerous conflict, but so far has announced no changes in its nuclear weapons alert level.

March 3, 2022 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

BALTIC-2-BLACK: Tensions Grow on Ukraine-Russia Border; Moscow Eyes Svalbard Presence in Hybrid-Strategy

UKRAINE:

Biden Reassures Ukrainian President.

President Joe Biden has reassured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, as the country steels itself for a potential Russian invasion on its eastern frontier.

According to a White House readout of the December 9 call, “President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s aggressive actions towards Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of a further military intervention.”

Biden also told Zelenskyy that the United States and its allies were “committed to the principle of ‘no decisions or discussions about Ukraine without Ukraine,’” reiterating his calls for Russia to de-escalate tensions and choose diplomacy, POLITICO reported.

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(Black Sea region map Norman Einstein via wikipedia)

Seeking Help from Parners, Allies.

Biden also held a separate call December 9 with the Bucharest Nine,” a group of NATO members on Europe’s eastern edge close to Russia — including the Baltics and Poland — that are particularly sensitive to aggressive moves by Moscow, the Washington Post reported.

Thursday’s conversations took place roughly 48 hours after Biden spoke on a two-hour video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he warned the Kremlin leader that severe economic consequences would follow if he once again decides to invade neighboring Ukraine.
During their call, Biden and Putin agreed that their teams would arrange talks on what the Kremlin calls sensitive European security issues, including Putin’s complaints about NATO activities in and around Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. The Kremlin has denied any plans to invade, accusing Washington of fueling a war scare.
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U.S. Not Sending Troops
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that U.S. support for Ukraine against a worrisome buildup of Russian forces will not include additional U.S. troops, at least for now.

“That is not on the table,” Biden told reporters December 8 at the White House. “The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not on, in the cards right now,” Defense One repored. 

Ukraine is not a member of NATO and does not enjoy the collective protection of Article 5, which calls every alliance member to arms when one is attacked. Ukraine seeks to join NATO but Russia opposes its entry into the alliance.

In an exclusive interview for Defense One’s Outlook 2022, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden emphasized in his phone call with Putin that if Russia moves against Ukraine, the United States would levy economic consequences; provide more military gear to Kiev; and deploy an “increased U.S. troop presence and increased capabilities in countries like Poland, the Baltics, [and] Romania.”

But Sullivan reiterated that the U.S. does not intend to send more troops to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the final elements of a $60 million security systems package to Ukraine — initially announced in August — will ship this week, a Pentagon spokesman said December 9.

U.S. Marines, assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, cut through barbed wire during the Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in Oleshky Sands, Ukraine, July 2, 2021. The multinational maritime exercise cohosted by U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea since 1997, is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security and peace in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trey Fowler)

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters that the last portions of the existing security package, which includes small arms and ammunition, is shipping now. Other parts of that security assistance package, meant to help Ukrainians defend their sovereignty against Russian aggression, included the Javelin missile system, which is already in the hands of Ukrainian servicemembers.

The $60 million package previously included 30 Javelin Command Launch Units and 180 missiles. The Javelins were delivered to Ukraine on October 23. “The United States has committed more than $450 million in security assistance to Ukraine in 2021, and this is part of our ongoing commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ability to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Anton Semelroth, a Defense Department  spokesman said in an email to reporters.

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Putin’s No-Ukraine-in-NATO Demand.

On December 1, Vladimir Putin demanded ‘‘legal guarantees’’ that NATO would never expand eastward, ratcheting up the stakes as the West scrambled to respond to Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, the New York Times reported.

Putin, who sees Ukraine’s deepening military partnership with the United States and other NATO countries as an existential threat, wants to start talks with the West to reach an agreement that would block the alliance’s expansion. He spoke in the midst of what Western officials describe as a growing threat of military action by tens of thousands of Russian troops massing close to the border with Ukraine — a former Soviet nation that seeks to join NATO.

‘‘The threat on our western borders is, indeed, rising, as we have said multiple times,’’ Putin said at a ceremony for ambassadors at the Kremlin December, according to the Times. ‘‘In our dialogue with the United States and its allies, we will insist on developing concrete agreements prohibiting any further eastward expansion of NATO and the placement there of weapons systems in the immediate vicinity of Russian territory.’’

Putin’s demand is a nonstarter for NATO. ‘‘It’s only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO,’’ Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general told reporters in Riga, Latvia. ‘‘Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence trying to control their neighbors.’’

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ARCTIC:

From the Barents Sea to the Baltic to the Black Sea

An expert on Polar geopolitics warns that Russia to enhance its presence in Svalbard, a Norwegian-controlled archipelago in the Arctic, the Independent Barents Observer reports.

In an interview with the Norwegian-based Arctic news site, Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan, says “a hybrid-strategy is underway in which Russia bolsters its legitimate presence in Svalbard on one hand while raising tensions in the maritime space on the other hand.” A lecturer in strategic studies at Australia’s Deakin University, says Moscow “isn’t about to annex Svalbard, Russia doesn’t want such a fight.”

Instead, she says Russia will try to assert its rights under a 1920 Treaty that gave Norway sovereignty over the islands, but Russia coal limited mining and other economic and scientific rights.

In recent years, the islands have risen in strategic importance as they reside just north of the intersection of the Barents, Greenland and Norwegian seas (see map above) . Whomever controls Svalbard is also likely to control the important gateway from the shallow Barents Sea to the deeper North Atlantic. For Russia’s Northern Fleet, the so-called Bear Island Gap between mainland Norway and the archipelago’s southernmost island is key to conducting sea denial operations in and over the maritime areas further south, potentially threatening NATO’s transatlantic sea lines of communication, according to the Observer.

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BALTIC-2-BLACK is an occasional 4GWAR posting on the rising tensions between Russia and the West in the regions of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, where former Russian satellite nations like Poland and Romania border against Russian territory. Both NATO, and the United States in particular, have stepped up their presence in the region since Russia began throwing its weight around after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Since then, some Scandinavian countries have been boosting defense budgets even restoring a military draft as Russian aircraft and naval vessels have acted more aggressively in the region.

December 10, 2021 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: B-2 Bombers in Iceland: Chinese Warships Near Alaska; MQ-9 tested Over Canadian Arctic

Stealth Bombers.

U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers have ended a two-and-a-half-weeks deployment in Iceland, operating from Keflavik Air Base, where they trained with U.S., British and Norwegian fighter jets. The first-of-its-kind deployment reflects the U.S. military’s increased focus on the High North, according to Business Insider.

Three B-2s from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri arrived at Keflavik on August 23 for a Bomber Task Force deployment. For the bombers that has meant more short-term deployments overseas or non-stop flights to and from distant regions for training.

Three B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, arrive at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, August 23, 2021. The stealth bombers took part in their first ever forward operation out of Iceland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Hommel)

The B-2s trained with U.S. and British fighter jets over the North Sea in late August and early September. On September 8 they trained with Norwegian F-35s over the North Sea in an “advanced mission designed to test escort procedures, stand-off weapon employment and the suppression and destruction of air defenses,” according to the Air Force.

The bombers returned to Missouri on September 11, after conducting more than a dozen multinational missions.

In a September 20 statement, the Air Force said Keflavik Air Base had served as a new launch point for short-notice bomber task force missions to Europe.

In 2019, the B-2 completed a stop-and-go “hot pit” refueling at Keflavik, but “this is the first time the B-2 has operated continuously from Iceland,” Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Howard, the commander of the 110th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said in a statement.

The U.S. military has invested millions of dollars to improve infrastructure at Keflavik, which was prominent in allied operations during the Cold War but faded in importance in subsequent years, according to the Stars and Stripes website.

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USCG Encounters Chinese Warships Near Alaska.

The People’s Republic of China is located more than a thousand miles from the Arctic but Beijing like to style itself a “Near Arctic Nation.”

Just how seriously China takes its interests at the top of the world came into focus in August w hen two U.S. Coast Guard cutters observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast.

While the PLAN ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters, according to SEAPOWER. The PLAN task force included a guided-missile cruiser, a guided-missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel. The Chinese vessels conducted military and surveillance operations during their deployment to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

The encounter came during a deployment of the national security cutters, Bertholf and Kimball, to the Bering Sea and the Arctic region.

“Security in the Bering Sea and the Arctic is homeland security,” said Vice Admiral Michael McAllister, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The U.S. Coast Guard is continuously present in this important region to uphold American interests and protect U.S. economic prosperity.”

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Big Drone Over Canada.

In a flight that originated from its Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC) near Grand Forks, North Dakota, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew a company-owned MQ-9A “Big Wing” configured unmanned aircraft system north through Canadian airspace past the 78th parallel, the company said September 10.

Long endurance drones like the MQ-9 have been unable to operate at extreme northern (and southern) latitudes, because many legacy SATCOM datalinks can become less reliable above the Arctic (or below the Antarctic) Circle – approximately 66 degrees north, SEAPOWER reported.

At those latitudes, the low-look angle to geostationary Ku-band satellites begins to compromise the link. GA-ASI has demonstrated a new capability for effective ISR operations by performing a loiter at 78.31° North, using Inmarsat’s L-band Airborne ISR Service (LAISR).

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9A “Big Wing” Unmanned Aerial System flew in the hostile climate of the Canadian Arctic. (General Atomics photo)

The flight over Haig-Thomas Island, in the Canadian Arctic, demonstrated the UAS’s flexibility by operating at very high latitudes. The flight, which took off on Sept. 7 and returned to the FTTC on Sept. 8, was conducted with cooperation from the Federal Aviation Administration, Transport Canada and Nav Canada.

Covering 4,550 miles in 25.5 hours, it was one of the longest-range flights ever flown by a company MQ-9. The flight was performed under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate and a Transport Canada Special Flight Operations Certificate.

As global warming melts Arctic Ocean ice pack, leaving more open water for transit by Chinese and Russian ships, Washington is looking for new ways to keep an eye on the frigid region. One possibility: unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that keep watch from above, the Flight Global website observed.

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Nuclear submatine USS Toledo (SSN-769) in the Arctic Ocean 2020. (U.S. Navy Photo by MC1 Michael B. Zingaro)

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military and environmental developments in the Far North. The 2013 U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region described the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the region. “Those interests include national security protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening international cooperation.”

September 23, 2021 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (September 10, 2021)

Summertime in Chile.

(U.S. Army Photo by Sergeant Gregory Muenchow)

Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division cross-country ski at the Chilean Army Mountain School in Portillo, Chile on August 21, 2021. That’s right August 21. It’s winter that far south and that high up — over 9,000 feet.

About 120 soldiers, of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, learned the basics of cold weather mountain warfare including survival, movement and combat fundamentals as part of the Southern Vanguard 2021 exercise between U.S. and Chilean soldiers.

They also practiced casualty rescue via rappelling down a cliff and how to traverse a mountain aboard a mule among other skills troops need in mountain warfare.

September 10, 2021 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Maritime Unmanned Systems; NATO, Turkish, USAF Drones

Sea-Air-Space 2021. UPDATED

Among the topics frequently discussed at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition August 2-4 were unmanned systems and the challenge of the Arctic. We start off with where those two topics intersect.

Droids and Drones in the Arctic.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice in the Chukchi Sea, in late December 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland – The U.S. Coast Guard is exploring the use of unmanned aerial, surface and undersea systems in the harsh and distant environs of the Arctic.

Captain Thom Remmers told a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition August 2 that unmanned underwater vehicles could “very easily and capably look for environmental spills” under the ice from passing tankers or oil drilling rigs.

The first big defense industry conference to return to an in-person format since the coronavirus pandemic shut down nearly all such events in 2020, Sea-Air-Space 2021 drew thousands of visitors and hundreds of exhibitors.

At his exhibit hall briefing, Remmers discussed the Coast Guard’s creation of an Unmanned Systems Cross-Functional Working Group to lead a service-wide effort to explore how unmanned systems could help the Coast Guard execute its mission. The Working Group was created on advice from the National Academies of Sciences for the Coast Guard to  “take a more strategic and accelerated approach to exploit the capabilities of existing and future unmanned systems.”

Remmers told SEAPOWER magazine the Coast Guard has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles on some icebreakers — like the Coast Guard Cutter Healy — to look for ice floes.  Unmanned systems could also provide “a long-range persistent MDA [maritime domain awareness] type of capability that we need up there,” Remmers added.

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Drones are Helpful, But Not Enough Up North.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Unmanned systems may be a solution for handling dirty, dull or dangerous tasks in the Arctic, but they’re no substitute for a U.S. flagged ship when it comes establishing presence in the Far North, according to a  key Coast Guard Arctic expert.

“Unmanned systems are a great tool but they don’t deliver presence,” according to Coast Guard Senior Arctic Advisor Shannon Jenkins. “Presence is a U.S. flagged [manned] sovereign vessel,” Jenkins told the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo on April 3. “You can’t surge into the Arctic. You have to be up there,” he explained.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz has said repeatedly that “presence equals influence in the Arctic” to counter a resurgent Russia, and China — which styles itself a “near Arctic nation” — from ignoring the rules-based international order and modern maritime governance as they have done in other regions like the Black and South China seas.

Maritime domain awareness in the Arctic requires more than periodic exercises. It is important to understand how the environment is changing, Jenkins said, “So that we’re better prepared for when industry changes their operations up there, so we can be prepared to be up there and regulate, enforce and protect those operations as well as the U.S. citizens up there,” he said. Full story? Click here.

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Drone Delivery Tests.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is testing out a new unmanned cargo delivery platform that can transport small amounts of cargo between Navy ships, according to SEAPOWER.

(Photo courtesy of Skyways)

And a NAVAIR official at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo said he expects the concept to become a program of record soon. Tony Schmidt, director of rapid prototyping, experimentation and demonstration, said a NAVAIR team was able to take the Skyways unmanned aerial vehicle and demonstrate it aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford after just a few months. Schmidt said the Navy is highly interested in going beyond that test.

Schmidt said his team was initially approached by Military Sealift Command, which had discovered that about 80 percent of the parts they were transporting by helicopter weighed less than 10 pounds.

In July, the team took the UAV on a ship-to-ship mission from the destroyer USS Bainbridge  to the USNS Joshua Humphreys, a replenishment (refueling) oiler. In recent weeks, the team has been holding conversations with Navy officials and Schmidt said he is “pretty sure” supply by drone is going to get picked up as a program of record.

Some visitors may remember that the Navy released video last October (2020) showing electronics technicians piloting a quadcopter-style drone to deliver a small payload to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson.

The test was successful, with the drone dropping its package on the submarine’s hull and returning to operators aboard a nearby surface ship

While short in distance and small in size, the experimental resupply, which took place near the Hawaiian Islands,  demonstrated potential for future resupply without the need for ports or nearby ships, according to Navy Times.

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Another Dangerous Job.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The people who have to clear waterways of naval mines using minesweeper ships or human divers, have long championed unmanned systems as a way to “get the man out of the minefield.” Now the U.S. Navy has wrapped up initial operational test and evaluation of an unmanned surface vessel for countermine operations on Littoral Combat Ships. The Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) platform is expected to be ready for fielding on an LCS by the end of this summer, a Navy official told SEAPOWER.

Captain Godfrey Weekes, program manager for Littoral Combat Ship mission modules, told the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo in early August that initial operational capability (IOC) for the platform is planned for the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year — which ends on September 30, 2021.

The UISS platform is designed for the LCS’s mine countermeasures mission package. It “consists of a mine countermeasures unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and a towed minesweeping payload for influence sweeping of magnetic, acoustic and magnetic/acoustic combination mine types,” according to the Navy.

The UISS’s Minehunt USV is currently in contractor verification testing. Low-rate initial production of that platform should begin sometime in late fiscal 2022, Weekes said.

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Navy Version of Global Hawk.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — On it’s first test flight, the systems functioned well on a MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with a signals intelligence capability, a Navy official said.

The first MQ-4C equipped with Integrated Functional Capability-Four (IFC-4) made its first flight on July 29, mainly to test the aerodynamic characteristics of the new configuration. The test team, while evaluating aspects — such as stability and control — also checked out the performance of the mission systems and sensors.

“The sensors and systems are performing better than expected,” Captain Dan Mackin, the Navy’s Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems program manager, told the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo August 3.

The IFC-4 hardware and software configuration will enable the Triton to become an integral part of the Navy’s Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (MISR&T) transition plan. As such, it will eventually replace the Navy’s EP-3E Orion electronic reconnaissance aircraft beginning in the fall of 2023. The IFC-4 upgrade also includes the Minotaur mission system now used on the EP-3E. See the full story? Click here.

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ELSEWHERE.

Air Force Global Hawk Crash.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk crashed several miles away from Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota on August 6, the Air Force announced. The unmanned aircraft went down in a rural field near Gilby, N.D., and no injuries were reported.T he cause of the crash or the drone’s condition have been identified yet by Air Force authorities.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk soars through the sky to record intelligence, surveillence and reconnaissance data in 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The latest crash marks the third time in the past 18 months that an Air Force drone has gone down, according to Air Force Magazine. Pilots deliberately crashed an MQ-9A Reaper in June 2020 after remotely piloted aircraft suffered a major fuel leak while flying over Africa. Another MQ-9 crashed that same month in Syracuse, New York, when its pilot mixed up the controls.

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NATO Seeks Arctic Underwater Robots.

NATO officials say more investment in autonomous platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data will be critical to understanding how a thawing Arctic Ocean will affect military operations, planning, and infrastructure in the High North.

According to Defense News, scientists from NATO’s Center for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) want to use autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to ensure they have continuous and sustained samples from the Arctic region. Investments in AI will be key to ensuring those systems remain in operation for long periods of time in the changing — but still austere conditions, said Catherine Warner, CMRE’s director.

“We have to improve the autonomy and the artificial intelligence of our systems,” Warner told an August 5 virtual roundtable with reporters. “We have to improve the intelligence, so that if there’s something wrong — just like with the Rover on Mars — if it knows that there’s something wrong with itself, that it can send the error codes back home so that we can try and fix it remotely,” she added.

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Turkish Sea-Going UAVs

Turkish drone-maker Baykar has released details about its newest armed drone, which designed to launch from ships packed with unmanned aircraft, Defense News reports.

“The Bayraktar TB-3, which is still in development, will be a larger and more capable model in the same family as the TB-2,” the company’s chief technology officer, Selcuk Bayraktar, said during an August 4 online presentation sponsored by Gebze Technology University.

Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drone on the runway in 2014. (Photo by Bayhaluk via wikipedia)

“When we began this project, no fixed-wing UAV could take off from LHD-class, short-runway ships,” he explained, using shorthand for unmanned aerial vehicles and landing helicopter dock naval vessels. “We believe that the TB-3, which can stay in the air for an extended period and is equipped with ammunition, will fill a gap in this field,” Bayraktar said.

The new TB-3 drones are slated to ride aboard Turkey’s future Landing Helicopter Dock Anadolu.

August 19, 2021 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Dynamic Mongoose; Russian Military Drills; Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel

Dynamic Mongoose Anti-Submarine Exercise.

Sailors and airmen from seven NATO nations (Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States) are participating in NATO’s anti-submarine warfare exercise Dynamic Mongoose off the coast of Norway.

The exercise, which began June 28 and runs until July 9, includes two submarines, six surface ships and eight maritime patrol aircraft.

Dynamic Mongoose is an exercise held in the High North every summer. It is hosted alternately by Norway and Iceland. Dynamic Mongoose provides the opportunity for personnel from participating nations to engage in realistic maritime training to build experience, teamwork and knowledge that strengthens interoperability, according to MARCOM (Allied Maritime Command), the central command of all NATO maritime forces .

During the exercise submarines will take turns hunting and being hunted, closely coordinating their efforts with the air and surface participants. Airbases in the UK, Iceland and Norway are also involved.

Aviation units from Canada, Germany, the U.K., Norway, the U.S. and the Netherlands are participating. Rotary winged aircraft will operate from the ships, and land-based maritime patrol aircraft will operate from Lossiemouth, U.K., Keflavik, Iceland, and Andoya, Norway, according to Seapower magazine.

Briefing reporters on the exercise June 28, French Vice Admiral Didier Piaton, the MARCOM deputy commander was asked if the exercise was an attempt to send a message to Russia. Piaton said Dynamic Mongoose — like all NATO exercises — is conducted in a transparent and unprovocative manner with a declared defensive posture. “NATO’s daily mission is deterrence. We’re here to train our crews and make sure our deterrence is credible,” he said, Seapower reported.

Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy, Rear Admiral Rune Andersen noted the annual exercise has been taking place for many years, and is occurring within Norway’s EEZ. “It’s quite far from Russia, actually,” he said.

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Russian Arctic Military Drills.

Meanwhile, Russia says it will conduct strategic military drills in the Arctic this autumn.

Russia’s new Trefoil Military Base on Franz Josef Land a Russian archipelago in the Arctic sea. (Photo copyright Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation via Wikipedia)

Russia’s Northern Fleet command announced the “strategic military exercise” on June 1 to check the “readiness of the forces and troops” serving in and around the Arctic, according to Radio Free Europe/RadioLiberty.

Northern Fleet command added that the exercises will also “ensure the safety” of the Northern Sea Route. The growing accessibility of natural resources and navigation routes in the Arctic as climate change makes it more accessible has attracted global competition. Russia has invested heavily to develop the route, which cuts the journey to Asian ports by 15 days compared with using the traditional Suez Canal route.

As Moscow seeks to assert its influence in the Arctic, military disputes have intensified in recent years, with both Russian and NATO forces carrying out maneuvers to display their ambitions.

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Canadian Arctic Patrol Vessel.

On June 26 Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Harry DeWolf, the Royal Canadian Navy’s lead ship in its class of Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels, was commissioned in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

HMCS Harry Dewolf sails under the Confederation Bridge between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick on November 25, 2020.
(Photo by Corporal David Veldman, Canadian Armed Forces)

The Harry DeWolf is the first ship completed as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy and was built at Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax Shipyard. The ship is named after Vice Adm. Harry DeWolf, a former head of the Royal Canadian Navy. This is the first time a class of ships will be named after a prominent Canadian navy figure in the RCN’s 108-year history, according to Seapower magazine.

The Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) will significantly enhance the Canadian Armed Forces capabilities and presence in the Arctic, better enabling the Navy to assert and uphold Arctic sovereignty. The AOPS will also augment Canada’s presence offshore, and will be capable of conducting a wide variety of operations abroad.

The Harry DeWolf will help to assert Canadian sovereignty in Arctic and coastal Canadian waters in addition to supporting international operations as required. It will deploy for its first mission in August.

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Nuclear submatine USS Toledo (SSN-769) in the Arctic Ocean 2020. (U.S. Navy Photo by MC1 Michael B. Zingaro)

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military and environmental developments in the Far North. The 2013 U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region described the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the region. “Those interests include national security protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening international cooperation

July 1, 2021 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment

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