Combat Capability [42%], Role and Missions, Structure of the Navy, in-service ships, surface ships, submarines, chronology.
|Tell a friend||Print version|
Global warming as a factor set to trigger a new cold war
Russia could be destroyed from the north
The fact that the Arctic Ocean remained covered with a thick layer of ice has always defined the structure of the armed forces of the countries with direct access to the Arctic seas. The shortest route from Russia to the U.S. and back lies through the Northern Pole (about a portion of the big circle): therefore, this was where Russia and the U.S. always expected a nuclear strike against them to come from.
ARCTIC THEATER OF ACTIONA military infrastructure to track the trajectory of intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by the opposing side was built in the Arctic by us and the other side. Bases (airfields) for strategic bombers and air-defense systems to defend against enemy planes were also built (the U.S.-Canadian air-defense system in the Arctic is known as NORAD. Our system had no special name, as it was part of the country’s overall air-defense system).
But the use of the navy in the Arctic Ocean was practically never considered. Only at times were test-launches of ballistic missiles from submarines practiced, but that was, basically, a complement to land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. The most powerful of the Soviet Union’s four fleets - the Northern Fleet - must have been called the Atlantic Fleet, since it was the only fleet with direct access to the Atlantic and was conceived to operate there, not in the Arctic.
More to the point, the possibility of stationing troops in the Arctic was never considered; our gigantic northern coasts were defended by ice, not troops. Only the Chukotka region had a dislocation of the 99th Motorized Infantry Division, which was there to confront an eventual attack by U.S. paratroopers launched from Alaska.
And Alaska expected an invasion from Chukotka. Plans were to confront such an attack with the U.S. 6th Light Infantry Division. Canada had only a ski patrol division on its Arctic territory. Denmark (and Greenland), in effect, had practically no forces at all.
What is even more, nobody has deployed anything in the Arctic since the end of the cold war. The 99th Motorized Infantry Division has disappeared from Chukotka, as well as almost all of the air-defense system (today there is not a single air-defense battery east of Severodvinsk, north of Krasnoyarsk). The Northern Fleet has been downsized manifold. True, it has remained the most powerful operative-strategic formation of the Russian Navy: it includes all 6 of the most powerful Delta-IV submarines; Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov; and the nuclear missile cruiser Piotr Veliky (Peter the Great). In turn, the U.S. 6th Light Infantry Division has been downgraded to a brigade.
In the midst of all this, the ice has begun melting. Global warming is now a reality. The ice cover in the Arctic has begun thawing actively. If this continues further, the gigantic Arctic coast of the Russian Federation will end up being protected by nothing at all: neither by ice, nor by troops. And the shrinking Russian armed forces will end up being incapable of finding resources to deploy troops in the Arctic region (especially considering the amount of resources that will be needed to equip them). The main defense for Russia, paradoxical as it might sound, remains the wilderness of its north. Opposing assault forces, no matter where they debark on our coast, will simply find it impossible to move forward: they will be doomed by the lack of roads and, despite the warming, the cold.
NOWHERE TO GOHere is where the air-defense/missile defense debate assumes a crucial importance.
In the conceivable nearest future, there is only one scenario of Western military threat against Russia that is not mere propaganda nonsense: an overwhelming strike by the U.S. (most probably not a nuclear one) on Russia’s strategic forces. Our country’s air-defense system has practically unraveled, and the strategic nuclear force is being cut very fast.
Therefore, the U.S., with its high-precision weapons could destroy the bulk of Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, its Delta-IV subs, and bombers, without fear of retaliation, and what will survive such an attack will be finished off with the missile defense system. And an Arctic with a reduced ice cover will be of great help to the pentagon in such an endeavor.
For starters, the U.S.’ multipurpose aviation will be handed a perfect opportunity to launch an attack using its cruise missiles from the Arctic Ocean over the entire territory of Russia without being encumbered by any air-defense system.
Secondly, Moscow, having scared itself with the chimera of a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe, has missed the fact that the U.S. has in effect already created a really effective sea-based missile defense system. On February 20, 2008, the cruiser Lake Erie destroyed a SM3 missile. The Missile was flying at an altitude of more than 200 kilometers.
This means that such a system can destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles and their warheads.
SM3-standard missiles are launched from 22 Ticonderoga-type cruisers and from more than half a hundred Arleigh Burke-type ships armed with the Aegis system. Each cruiser can carry up to 122 such missiles. The first 33 Arleigh Burke can carry up to 90, the next; up to 96 missiles (construction of the series continues).
Therefore, the U.S. already possesses a mass antimissile weapon. Given the thawing of Arctic ice, nothing is to stop the U.S. from constantly keeping at high latitudes, e.g. on the flight trajectories of U.S.-bound Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, a ready missile group of three-four cruisers and four-six destroyers. They will carry no less than 1,000 SM3-standard missiles able to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as their warheads. Such a disposition will be enough to protect against Russian missiles.
Even without this nightmarish scenario of an Arctic without ice, there is another unpleasant (nonmilitary) aspect for us: the economic aspect.
Moscow considers our ocean borders in the Arctic to extend from the Russian coast up to the Northern Pole. The rest of the world is convinced that Russia can only claim territorial waters stretching up to 12 nautical miles from its coast, and that the remaining territory is part of international waters, on which anyone can lay claim.
As long as the Arctic Ocean remained covered with ice, such a dispute remained in the realm of theory. If the Arctic ice thaws completely, the dispute will become a very practical one, since the distance from North America and Europe to East Asia and back through the Arctic is many times shorter than through the Suez Canal (not to mention the route around Africa).
Merchant ships will doubly use this route, through the waters everybody else considers international, while we consider them ours. So, will the Northern Fleet sink the violators?
NATO’s DEMARCHEIn such a situation, it would be wise to adopt the motto “Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you”. But our government has lied and bluffed to such a degree that one has ceased trying to distinguish in its actions its own (intended for the internal audience) propaganda from real life. In addition, Russia’s leadership has turned its country into a petrol state and nervously tries to capture as much oil and gas as possible.
That is why the “lazy,” which at the time was “calm,” was jolted back to life with the circus about the flag planted on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean in the North Pole. The circus was very electorate-oriented and designed to make the Russian electorate once again feel proud of its country. In addition, the Kremlin was honestly convincing itself that any declaration it made regarding the Arctic Shelf, where there is an abundant reserve of hydrocarbons, will be greeted by the rest of the world with enthusiasm and that if that was not to be the case, it will be additional evidence of an ill-intended anti-Russia plot.
The thawing of Arctic ice has already sparked a conflict among Arctic countries. For example, Canada considers that the north-west passage belongs to it (as we consider the north ocean passage Northern Sea Route), while the U.S. considers it to be in the realm of international waters. Disagreements between Canada and Denmark and inside Denmark proper (between Denmark and Greenland) have intensified. The later has suddenly begun talking about independence. Moscow could play on these contradictions, posing as a constructive voice. But it has chosen to play the card of brute force, with no real resources to back up such a stance. As a result, it got what it provoked: the consolidation of NATO countries against Russia.
At a NATO conference titled Security Perspectives in the Far North in Reykjavik, Secretary-General Jaap de hoop Schefer announced that in the future, because of the thawing of ice as a result of global warming, new perspectives for sea navigation and the exploitation of raw materials will open up in the Arctic. “Some Arctic countries are increasing their military presence in the Far North. It is therefore natural for the alliance to ask itself the question: how are we going to react to that?” he said, adding, “NATO will need to increase its military presence in the Arctic.” He announced that from now on, the U.S. Canada, Denmark, and Norway will formulate a united position on the problems of the Arctic.
Of course another vocal hysterical campaign about another “plot” by the West serves only the interests of the Russian propaganda machine. But the truth is that such a campaign will not scare the West. The Kremlin is sure to receive a real answer to its propaganda bluff. Given the current financial crisis, there will be nothing with which to counter such an answer.
Author: Alexander Khramchikhin – director, analytical department, Institute of Political and Military Analysis