1 June 2017
Russia announced Thursday that it has beefed up its Northern Fleet's nuclear capacity to phase "NATO out of [the] Arctic," according to the state-owned media outlet Sputnik.
The Northern Fleet "has received two nuclear-powered submarines — the Yuri Dolgoruky and the Severodvinsk), a diesel-electric one (the Saint Petersburg) and the Yuri Ivanov medium reconnaissance ship," Sputnik said.
Russia also said that another Northern Fleet ship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be upgraded with advanced electronics, radars and onboard navigation gear. The fleet's flagship, a heavy nuclear cruiser called the Pyotr Veliky, will also be overhauled.
“The Pyotr Veliky, just like the Admiral Nakhimov, will get multipurpose launchers capable of firing cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles," Viktor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of Arsenal of the Fatherland journal, told Sputnik.
“The Northern Fleet as it is today is more than just a fleet as it comprises missile and artillery divisions, a motorized infantry brigade, an air-defense division and a number of other land-based structures. Together, they have under their control the entire Arctic region, with the exception of its eastern part,” Murakhovsky said.
The Northern Fleet’s ground forces are also getting "Bal and Bastion anti-ship missiles, S-400 missile complexes and advanced means of electronic and hydro-acoustic reconnaissance."
Russia also plans to build a number of military airfields in the region to provide its Northern Fleet ships with aerial support in the event of an armed conflict.
Russia's Northern Fleet is "key to ensuring the country’s national security and economic interests," Sputnik said, as Moscow and the west continue to compete for access to the Arctic's natural resources.
Over the last decade, there has been a land grab in the Arctic, where global warming is melting polar ice and revealing an abundance of natural resources, including an estimated 22% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves. And Russia, the US, as well as other NATO countries, are all trying to get a piece of it.
But the commandant of the US Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft, warned in early May that Russia has the upper hand.
In the last few years, Russia has activated a new Arctic command, four new Arctic brigade combat teams, 14 new operational airfields, 16 deepwater ports, and 40 icebreakers with 11 more in the making.
Currently, the US only has one icebreaker, which are needed to punch through sudden shifts in ice cover.
"The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers," Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said in January. "Russia has superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes."
Moscow also unveiled its second Arctic military base in late April, and recently announced plans to build an Arctic military research center for designing weapons in the polar region.
These additions to the Northern Fleet are part of Russia's State Armament Program for 2011-2020, a massive arms procurement program launched in 2010. The plan called for spending $723 billion by 2020 to obtain an armed force that is 70% modernized.
Still, some experts have said that these upgrades by Russia's Navy are "overblown," and even Sputnik acknowledged that the construction of some carriers and destroyers has been halted due to high costs.