Jan 15, 2015
Russia to build more Arctic airfields
Ten airfields will be constructed by the end of 2015, in addition to the four already in use.
Separately, Russia has announced it is to boost its military capabilities in the annexed Crimea region, and in its Baltic enclave of Kalingrad.
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.
In May 2012, Russia's Ministry of Defence 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 defence 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 defence 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.