Focus: Darkening Arctic Russia with military superiority, NATO chasing | Reuters

[16th Reuters]- The world’s largest ground station that communicates with satellites is located in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. It is used by Western space agencies, which receive vital signals from satellites in polar orbit.

The world’s largest ground station communicating with satellites is located in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, Nov. 16. Pictured is a Norwegian soldier participating in joint training with the US military in October 2019. FILE PHOTO: Setermoen, Norway, 2022. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

In January of this year, Svalbard cut one of two optical fibers on the Arctic sea floor connecting it to mainland Norway. Norway had to rely on backup lines.

Interactive version: The Arctic turns dark Russia dominates, NATO chases front line of power struggle

In April 2021, another cable used by a Norwegian laboratory to monitor activity on the Arctic seafloor was damaged.

Both cases received little coverage in the media outside Norway. But Norwegian military commander Erik Kristoffersen told Reuters:

“It could have been an accident, but Russia has the ability to cut cables.”

Commander Christophersen spoke in general terms and provided no evidence to suggest intentional damage. But a few months later, sabotage suddenly caused a major gas leak in a gas pipeline that ran from Russia through the Baltic Seabed to Europe. The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ending the post-Cold War era, these “incidents” highlight how difficult it is for states to monitor their own territorial waters. Especially in the Arctic Ocean, which is 1.5 times the size of the United States, it is impossible to detect and monitor activity without satellites.

NATO allies and Russia have expanded military exercises in the area in recent years. Chinese and Russian ships conducted joint exercises in the Bering Sea in September. Norway raised its military alert level in October.

But in terms of military presence, the West lags behind Russia.

Since 2005, Russia has reopened dozens of Soviet-era military bases facing the Arctic Ocean. It modernized its navy and developed new hypersonic missiles aimed at evading U.S. military detection and defense systems.

Four Arctic experts say it will take at least a decade for Western powers to catch up to Russia’s military capabilities in the waters.

“The Arctic is currently a dark area on the map,” said Ketil Olsen, a former Norwegian military representative who served in NATO and the European Union. He is now the head of Norwegian state-owned Andoya Space. It is a company that tests new military and reconnaissance technologies and launches research rockets.

“The Arctic is so vast that there are few civilian surveillance resources.”

Air Force General Glenn Vanhak, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said at a Senate hearing in March that the U.S. would improve its “territorial awareness” in the Arctic, and that Russia and China would launch new missiles and reduce communications infrastructure. He testified that the ability to destroy must be detected and responded to. A Pentagon strategy document released in October said the U.S. is focused on improving its early warning and reconnaissance systems in the Arctic, but the pace of modernization is slated. not revealed.

Meanwhile, some of the US military infrastructure, which is built on permafrost foundations, is in trouble. That permafrost is thawing due to rapid temperature increases. Coastal erosion could also affect U.S. radar sites, according to the Pentagon.

U.S. officials and military analysts say there are few near-term risks. In terms of conventional forces, the West is far more powerful than Russia, and the poor performance of the invasion of Ukraine reveals a weakness for Russia that many in the West did not anticipate.

The Russian military is currently focused on Ukraine, where “ground forces are very limited” on the Kola Peninsula, which faces the Arctic Ocean, according to Commander Christophersen. The Kola Peninsula is home to the Russian Northern Fleet and nuclear submarines.

U.S. missile defenses are intended to fend off limited attacks from certain “rogue states,” and the U.S. has said it is confident in its ability to deter nuclear attacks from Russia and China. . But poor Arctic visibility could limit response time in a crisis. This is the situation General Vanhak and other officials want to avoid.

“There is no defense against the invisible and the unknown,” General Van Haak told the Senate.

The Svalbard Satellite Communications Station, SvalSat, receives data that needs to be processed quickly from most of the world’s commercial and research satellites. The agency said it did not receive any data from military satellites. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Kongsberg Satellite Services in 2022.

A police investigation into a cable rupture in Norway interrogated a Russian fishing trawler sailing nearby, but the investigation ended without charges due to lack of evidence. The government has said it will bring forward the planned upgrade of backup lines.

Hedwig Mo, deputy head of the Norwegian National Security Police (PST), told Reuters it would be difficult to hold anyone accountable if the sabotage had taken place in Norway. “In our world, we call it ‘denifiable attacks,'” Mo said.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg told Reuters.

“NATO is increasing its presence in the Arctic with modern military build-up. This is, of course, a response to what Russia is doing. Russia is increasing its presence considerably. So here too. We need to increase our presence

The strategic importance of the Arctic is increasing as polar ice caps shrink and open new routes and resource opportunities. Some areas are only accessible for a few months during the summer when sea ice melts, creating new opportunities.

For Russia, the Arctic region holds vast reserves of oil and natural gas, including the liquefied natural gas plant on the Yamal Peninsula.

Vessels based in the north of Russia can only reach the Atlantic Ocean through what is known as the GIUK Gap, a stretch of water between Greenland, Iceland and Britain. The shortest air route for Russian missiles and bombers to reach North America passes over the North Pole.

For NATO members, the GIUK gap is critical to maintaining ties across the North Atlantic. There are also oil and gas fields. Norway is now Europe’s largest gas exporter.

With Sweden and Finland joining, seven of the eight Arctic countries will be members of NATO.

Andrew Lewis, former commander of the NATO Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, told Reuters that communications cables and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are now connecting both military and civilian users. Satellite systems, including, are also at risk, he said.

In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a new naval strategy that promised to protect the waters of the Arctic Ocean “by all means.”

In a typical year, Russia would test its nuclear deterrence capabilities in the Arctic in the fall. This year it took place on February 19, five days before the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

“Of course it was a signal,” said Norwegian commander Christophersen.

Diplomacy in the region plunged into chaos in March. Seven of the member states of the Arctic Council, a framework for regional international cooperation, declared a boycott of the meeting in Russia, which was then chairman.

It was the incident on October 15th that left a sharp impression on me. Speaking at an Arctic-themed forum in Iceland, NATO Military Commissioner Bauer criticized China for failing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China calls itself a “near-Arctic country,” and among the audience was the Chinese ambassador to Iceland, He Ruolong.

Ambassador He rose to his feet and accused Mr Bauer of raising tensions, calling his speech “full of arrogance” and “delusional”. NATO and the Chinese embassy in Iceland declined to comment on the exchange.

“At the moment, the military balance in the Arctic is heavily tilted in favor of Russia,” said Colin Wall, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Russian military bases in the Arctic outnumber NATO bases by more than 30%, according to data compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Reuters.

According to the IISS, Russia currently has 11 submarines capable of launching long-range nuclear weapons that could be used in an all-out nuclear war, eight of which are homeported on the Arctic Kola Peninsula. NATO, on the other hand, has 22 ships from the United States, France and Britain.

In July, the Russian Navy took delivery of the new nuclear submarine Belgorod. The submarine can carry the Poseidon torpedo, which is said to be able to evade coastal defenses by moving along the seafloor. Russian state media say Poseidon is capable of triggering a massive tsunami that turns the coast into a “radioactive desert”.

Over the past two years, the Russian government has repeatedly tested the Zircon hypersonic missile. Putin said in 2019 that Zircon could reach nine times the speed of sound, making it the world’s fastest missile. In February, Russia said it had launched the missile into the Arctic Ocean between mainland Norway and Svalbard.

On August 20, a Russian military newspaper quoted Defense Minister Shorug as saying, “We are starting mass production of the ‘Zircon’ missile. The missile has already been deployed.” We asked the Russian Defense Ministry for details, but did not receive a response.

According to IISS, Russia has far more icebreakers than any other country. According to official figures, Russia has seven nuclear icebreakers and about 30 diesel icebreakers. The United States and China each operate two diesel icebreakers.

For decades, NATO members in the Arctic have assumed that a conflict with Russia would not spill over into the Arctic. Total defense budgets were capped and, in many cases, overinvestment in military hardware, reconnaissance and communications capabilities was viewed as excessive.

But NATO and its Arctic members are changing their stance.

Since Russia launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine, Canada has pledged to increase military spending by about C$13 billion ($1.36 billion). The plan includes upgrading the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) early-warning radar system and introducing new reconnaissance aircraft capable of detecting submarines.

The reconnaissance plane is scheduled to enter service in 2032. Given the harsh environment, it will take decades to get things in place, Canadian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre told a parliamentary committee in October.

He said NORAD’s research and development arm should be bolstered to better track hypersonic missiles.

“The ability to detect hypersonic missiles launched by any country is very important to us. Ayer told reporters in November.

Ayer said it’s difficult to judge the destructive power of Russia’s hypersonic missiles based on those used in Ukraine. This is because when targeting North America, the firing range varies incomparably.

Since 2020, the NATO Joint Command has been based in Norfolk, USA, and has been conducting surveillance in the Atlantic Ocean. But the Atlantic Council, a US think tank, says there are too few satellites above the North Pole to get the full picture. Air Force General Van Haak, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, said in May that the military could use some of the hundreds of satellites launched by Elon Musk-owned SpaceX and British satellite operator OneWeb in recent years. He said he was trying it out.

The U.S. military is planning a “massive increase in investment” in refurbishing aging facilities at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, it said. A U.S. delegation visited the country in May to inspect the radar’s location, diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Sweden and Finland have begun investing in military equipment such as reconnaissance and deterrence capabilities and jets to help their air forces fight alongside NATO allies in the Arctic. Denmark has budgeted around US$200 million to upgrade its military capabilities in the Arctic, including satellites and reconnaissance drones that can fly for up to 40 hours. It will also reactivate Cold War-era radars stationed on the Faroe Islands, between Britain and Iceland.

Norway, which covers two million square kilometers of territorial waters, has four satellites to monitor the Arctic and plans to launch four more in the next two years. It has also invested US$35 million (approximately ¥4.9 billion) in Andoya Space to build a spaceport. Sweden and Canada also plan to build Arctic spaceports.

Andoya Space is a partner in the Arctic reconnaissance and detection project led by US aircraft giant Boeing. Launched in 2018, the project uses satellites, drones, drones, Arctic-adapted ships and unmanned submarines to provide NATO allies with real-time information, including reconnaissance reports on enemy ships, aircraft and submarines. It says it’s ready.

The Pentagon has installed a long-range radar system in Alaska whose satellites work with a variety of ground-based radars, which “will be able to respond to the latest and most advanced hypersonic missiles in the future.” and Scheduled for completion in 2023, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency declined to comment on whether it would be able to intercept Zircon.

More may be revealed in the Pentagon’s Arctic strategy report, which is expected to be released in March next year, said one U.S. military official. The ministry is exploring what kind of military power the U.S. needs in dangerously cold environments, and it will update its report for the first time since 2019.

“In winter, the sun never rises and the temperature drops to -45 to 50 degrees Celsius, which is the norm. It’s extremely harsh,” the source told Reuters.

Interactive version: The Arctic turns dark Russia dominates, NATO chases front line of power struggle

(Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, Gwladys Fouche, translations: Erklelen, Akiko Teramoto)