The aircraft of the Lockheed P-3C Orion maritime patrol, which depart from the Norwegian base on Andøya Island in the Vesterålen archipelago, has been closely following the movements of no less than 10 Russian submarines. Eight of those submarines are SSNs, which are nuclear-powered attack submarines, which have departed from their bases on the Kola peninsula to exercise in the North Atlantic for about 60 days.
This news was given last October 29 in the Norwegian public broadcasting media NRK. The information states, citing Norwegian military intelligence sources, that "The aim is to demonstrate that Russia can defend its bases and threaten the east coast of the United States. According to the news, the submarines participating in the exercise, which belong to the Russian Northern Fleet, would have departed from their bases in the Murmansk Oblast in immersion, leaving to neutral waters of the Barents and Norwegian Seas. From there, they would have sailed into the North Atlantic, trying not to be discovered. It's the most in-depth Russian submarine operation since the Cold War.
As NRK reports, Norwegian intelligence knows the position of several Russian submarines. Two nuclear-propelled submarine SSNs would be located to the west of Bjørnøya Island (or Bear Island); other two attack submarines would occupy positions to the south and east of Bjørnøya Island, aimed to guard the entrance to the Barents Sea, which is further east. Two other SSN nuclear-propelled submarine attacks of the Sierra II class would be conducting a series of exercises in the northern Norwegian Sea aimed at testing deep-sea navigation capabilities and testing new weapons. HI Stutton reported the activity of Sierra II class submarines on October 26 and estimated that perhaps the new weapons discussed are improvements to launch 3M-54 Kalibr or Calibre type cruise missiles (NATO designation: SS-N-27 Sizzler or Incinerator), the equivalent of which could be placed in the Tomahawk used by the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy. This information would be found in the submarine update news, where it was literally reported in Взгляд (Vzglyad) on March 5, 2013: "According to preliminary data, titanium submarines [the B-534 Nizhny Novgorod and the K-336 Pskov] will receive new sonar stations, combat information and control systems, radars with a radio intelligence station and a navigation system based on GLONASS/GPS. In addition, weapons systems will be changed on ships and prepared to fire Kalibr (Club-S) type cruise missiles."
Not only that, the fourth-generation strategic nuclear missile-carrying submarine Prince Vladimir was expected to fire-test the R-30 Bulawá or "Maza" (NATO designation SS-NX-30) intercontinental submarine ballistic missile (SLBM) in late October in North Atlantic waters, but eventually in the White Sea.
The truth is that several Russian media, including The Barents Observer, announced on October 26 that the two Sierra II class submarines would do exercises to test new weapons and navigate deep into the Norwegian Sea. The irony is that the Russian newspaper covers the meeting on October 25 between Norwegian Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, head of Norway's defense since 2013, and Vice Admiral Aleksander Moiseyev, commander of the nuclear fleet based on the Kola peninsula, as part of the events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Kirkenes by the Red Army.
Besides, the submarine K-329 Belgorod was launched on April 23 this year. This submarine corresponds to project 09852, has a crew belonging to the Navy, and will be under the command of the GUGI. This is another asset of great value for the 29th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet, which in recent years has been gaining weight for Russian projection in the Arctic and which provides the Russian Federation with a differentiated profile, which already includes a tradition and experience from the Soviet era. This is the first multipurpose platform with the capacity to operate at great depths. It is equipped with four conventional 533 mm torpedo tubes and two 650 mm torpedo tubes. It will have a strategic attack vector, the Status-6/Kanyon in NATO/Poseidon designation, in a number of six with the capability to attack the coastal profile of an enemy and with intercontinental capability. Due to the secrecy of this type of project, speculations arise about the images obtained, which would have a revolving revolver system located at the bow and which would enable the Belgorod to launch up to six Poseidon. Also, it will have the capacity to operate between 500 and 520 meters deep. It will be able to coordinate with the Losharik deepwater platform and thus carry out installation work on modular nuclear reactors on the seabed that will be used to provide electrical power to fixed installation systems. It can act as a command ship to supervise the aforementioned fixed systems on the seafloor in the Arctic region. It will have the capacity to be used as a wet nurse for the UUV Klavesin-2P-PM, which can descend to a depth of 6,000 meters to fulfill different tasks. It presents a modification concerning the SSGN Oscar II (NATO designation) of which it is an evolution and which has to do with the propulsion system. Such a change could mean that your acoustic signature could be significantly reduced or produce an alteration that should complicate its detection. The Belgorod will be in the test phase during 2020, and it is estimated that it will be in service and with a series of capacities and features still unknown by 2021, approximately.
As the Daily Mail reports, other naval forces, including the Royal Navy, are developing their fleet of unmanned underwater vehicles. Still, they are not expected to come into service for another eight years, according to their sources.
Another relevant aspect of the activities carried out by Russian submarines is that they could position themselves in the GIUK gap and the waters before Norway in a defensive position and thus prevent American submarines among other character units in a joint-combined operation pushing northwards. This would better defend strategic positions of different kinds in the Barents Sea from a Russian perspective.
Activity in the area is an increasingly recurrent constant throughout the GIUK area and into the Arctic. For example, the U.S. Navy has increased its activity since the restoration of the base in Keflavik (Iceland) playing the trick of the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, an aircraft designed to carry out anti-submarine warfare missions, electronic intelligence (ELINT) and intercept ships. Focusing on the NATO and the Arctic, the United States, the United Kingdom (Royal Navy), and the Royal Norwegian Air Force, operate or will shortly operate this aircraft. The aircraft is intended for operation with the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, which operates in continuous maritime surveillance functions within the program for the U.S. Navy Wide Maritime Surveillance Zone (BAMS). Moreover, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the U.S. Air Force belonging to the 2nd Wing of bombers of the Barksdale base (RAF base that the United Kingdom shares with the United States Air Force) again operate on the vertical of the Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle. The Boeing B-52 is performing tests of "integration and interoperability training with the Norwegian Air Force. Also, perform maritime instruction with the Boeing P-8 Poseidon of the U.S. Navy assigned to the 67th Combat Task Force (CTF) operating in the region. These measures came after the reactivation of the Second Fleet in May 2018. In this context, NATO's Trident Juncture 2018 exercise brought together around 50,000 men from 29 countries, plus Finland and Sweden, 150 aircraft, and 10,000 vehicles.
For its part, Russia has also carried out exercises, such as the one that can be read in this news item in The Barents Observer of August 6, 2019, or the deployment of the S-400 air defense systems to significantly increase Arctic airspace, or by showing air power in the area. On the other hand, Russia replied to Trident Juncture 2018 with tests of its missiles, and, additionally, on August 5, Gerard O'Dwyer reflected on the matter in Defense News about the militarization of the Kola peninsula. To this should be added the strategic exercises carried out at the end of August of this year called Tsentr-2019.
This question requires a double reflection: Which is the real situation of NATO in the air and maritime dimensions in the area? Are we dealing with an unusual behavior on the part of Russia, as stated by Norway, for example?
To conclude the article, I will begin by answering the second question. I mean, are we dealing with unusual behavior on the part of Russia? For the director of Russian studies at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo, the Norwegian historian Lars Rowe, this would be a position of normality for Russia. He believes that the level of modernization of Russian forces in the North is normal and that it would follow a trajectory that took its first steps in the Soviet era, whose reconstruction comes from some 15 years ago. He even stated that he believed that it was in Russia's interest to seek reasonable cooperation within the Arctic framework. Your reasons and analysis can be checked Artic Today.
Turning to the first question, what is the real situation of NATO in the air and maritime dimensions in the area? To answer the question, albeit briefly, requires a brief review of the role of the Atlantic in NATO. For the United States, its control is fundamental, surpassing the communications of intelligence, telecommunications (submarine cables of telephony and Internet) ... to guarantee its dominion implies to ensure to transfer resources towards Europe to face any scenario in Europe. The USSR understands this point perfectly, which is why it focuses its naval strategy on developing submarine force and complement the air, maritime, and land effort.
Indeed, NATO's relationship with naval and maritime strategy is fundamental, evidenced by the establishment of SACLANT or by the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, one of NATO's two supreme commanders alongside SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe). Which acts as commander of Allied Command Operations (ACO), as well as head of ACO headquarters and Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE), is based in Casteau, Belgium. The passage through the Prague summit and the transformation mentioned above into Allied Command Transformation raises the question of whether the maritime dimension was neglected in the NATO strategy and its members. After the Cold War and with the dismantling of the Russian Navy, it seemed that the importance of the Atlantic became more relative in terms of strategy, although it was evident in other aspects, such as the enlargement of Alliance partners. But the logic of carrying out operations that we could call expeditionary and affecting all dimensions (sea-ground-air) prevailed. Proof of this would be the Keflavik airbase (Iceland), which lost its key strategic position, not being used since 2002 and formally returned to Iceland in 2006... to reactivate it in 2018, as we have seen.
The motive? The return of Russian power and the warming of the Arctic that has led several global players to consider that territory as strategic. But also the fact of deploying units, as we have seen, in the Baltic Sea and the GIUK zone, which again has the importance it had relatively lost ... but without neglecting the scenario of the Black Sea, the Aegean, and Eastern Mediterranean, places that have the Atlantic as the connector. Broadly speaking, as the potential Russian threat diminished, so did NATO's navies. This had crystallized in the reduct of the aforementioned expeditionary capabilities and lowering the effort on supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship weapons. Entire sections have been abandoned; that forced the U.K. to acquire the already mentioned P-8 when the Nimrods were withdrawn. Denmark would be Another example, which is essential for controlling the strategic straits of Kattegat and Skagerrak and which has been abandoning its ability to wage war with submarine weapons in favor of frigates. However, operational knowledge is maintained at an optimum level due to the long-distance navigation inherent in power projection of the Sea over land in expeditionary campaigns of these years. In addition to maintaining production capacities of submarines and other ships with an excellent industrial and technological base, although perhaps dispersed. At a cellular level, it should be remembered that NATO continues to keep in mind the importance of the maritime factor, as it has an Allied Maritime Command (AMC).
Evidence of the need to maintain leadership and technological and numerical advantage over competitors and in essential NATO structure, General Joseph Dunford, in his position at the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, drew attention to these needs within the framework of NATO.
1] The Russian Sierra II class, as designated by NATO, of nuclear-propelled attack submarines has the peculiarity that the hull is made of titanium alloy and, therefore, can withstand pressures from great depths much better than its counterparts made of steel. Also, unlike steel, titanium is not subject to corrosion. The Norwegian Sea has several points with depths greater than 2,000 meters, while the Barents Sea has an average depth of 200 meters. Specifically, the B-534 Nizhny Novgorod and the K-336 Pskov would be the first and the last unit manufactured within the 945A Kondor class project of Russian multipurpose submarines or nuclear-propelled attack submarines, which are in the Northern Fleet within the 11th Zaozersk Submarine Squadron, Seventh Submarine Division "Vidyaevo." They are designed to track strategic submarines and carrier attack groups, confront them, and destroy them. They can displace 9,100 submerged tons and sail at 32 knots in immersion (59.3 km/h). They have 6 torpedo tubes of 530 mm, in addition to ability to carry SS-N-21 Sampson NATO designation, or RK-55, cruise missile version S-10 "Garnet" for submarine launch from torpedo tubes carrying conventional high-powered warheads; SS-N-15 Starfish designation NATO, RPK-2 Vyuga or Nevasca, as antisubmarine weapon: called 81RA, which uses torpedo type 82R or nuclear depth charge 90R and has a range of 37 km maximum; SS-N-16 Stallion designation NATO, called RPK-6 Vodopad, which can use conventional or nuclear charge, specifically the 86r, with a torpedo UMGT-1 (Type 40, for the West) as a warhead and with a range of 50 km; the 88R, with nuclear charge with a range of 55 km and 10-20 kilotons; minefield configuration: 42 mines installed instead of torpedoes. In total, it can carry up to 40 heavy torpedoes or a mixed load of torpedoes and missiles.
2] "According to preliminary data, titanium submarines will receive new hydro-acoustic stations, combat information and control systems, radars with radio engineering intelligence station, navigation system based on GLONASS/GPS. Besides, the boats will be used to change weapon systems and teach them how to shoot cruise missiles from the Club-S. SOURCE: https://vz.ru/news/2013/3/5/623047.html
3] The fourth out of the Russian shipyards of its class, the 955 Borey, and the first modernized of the Borey A class. It will be assigned to the Pacific Fleet.
4] GUGI stands for the Russian acronym for the Ministry of Defence's Major Depth Research Directorate and would be closely linked to the military intelligence services (GRU), and some lesser extent, the FSB and SVR.
5] The strategic Poseidon submarine drones are the result of the R&D effort represented by the Status-6 program, of which the Belgorod could carry six. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin announced Poseidon in the context of the State of the Nation address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018. These are remote-controlled naval drones, capable of moving at great depths and spanning intercontinental distances, at speeds that exceed that of a conventionally propelled submarine (diesel-electric submarine) and also those with nuclear propulsion. They are armed with more advanced torpedoes and can be armed with nuclear or conventional weapons. Its operating range is unlimited, and its working depth exceeds 1,000 meters. The nuclear charge of a Poseidon is estimated to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead with capacities of up to 2 megatons. According to Pentagon experts, the main purpose of the weapon is to destroy U.S. strategic nuclear submarines, in addition to their bases, SEE:
6] The Belgorod will have eight unmanned underwater vehicles equipped with nuclear reactors, which provide the ability to travel kilometers beneath the surface of the Sea to carry out missions such as mapping the seabed, sabotage of underwater cables (electric or Internet) and oil infrastructure. As stated in The Times article corresponding to footnote 17, Chris Parry, a retired Rear Admiral working as a strategic analyst, reports that the presence of these drones "will make underwater space less opaque: submarines will no longer be able to take advantage of it as a stealthy environment.
7] Acronym for Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.
8] To understand how Russians think and what they fear, in particular, the ICEX or Ice Exercise exercises, which have been held biannually since 2007, could be used as an example. The last exercise, ICEX 2018, involved the entry of three nuclear submarines from the ice into the Beaufort Sea. Specifically, they deployed the North American submarines USS Hartford (SSN-768) and USS Connecticut (SSN-22), and the British submarine HMS Trenchant (S91) at the Skateboarding station. The Tomahawks attack could reach Russian strategic structures.
9] Norway's view of Russia in the competition for the Arctic, which they conceive no longer as a rival, but rather as an aggressor, is given in news of this style:
10] Long-range strategic subsonic bomber propelled by jet engines. Already in 1982, this piece of the "chess" panoply of the United States and NATO with its duel with the USSR and the Warsaw Pact required a greater presence, which was achieved through the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement with the Navy, increasing the USAF's participation in maritime operations. But obviously, NATO would have other possibilities within this panoply. Business Insider proposes the following: the fifth-generation, single-seater, multipurpose, furtive-capable Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter; the multipurpose Eurofighter Typhoon fighter; Frigates; the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter; the Leopard 2A7 battle tank; and, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (see: https://www.businessinsider.es/10-of-the-most-powerful-weapons-nato-has-to-take-on-putins-russia-2019-3?r=USR=T).
11] Exercises such as REFORGER, the acronym for REturn of FORces to GERmany, were a clear example, as it was an annual exercise and campaign carried out during the Cold War, which lasted from 1969 to 1993. This included maritime transport, the use of the main civil ports, etc., since it is a question of ensuring replacements in the event of an offensive absorbed by NATO forces on European soil.
12] Active from January 30, 1952, to June 19, 2003, and headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia. After the 2003 restructuring, it was renamed Allied Command Transformation. Its mission is to spearhead the military transformation of NATO forces and capabilities using ideas such as the NATO Response Force and doctrines that, in their novelty, contribute to improving the military effectiveness of the Alliance as a whole. With the return of France to NATO's Military Command Structure in mid-2009, the Supreme Commander Transformation (SACT) commander was a French officer. Available at: https://www.act.nato.int/
13] SACEUR is just below the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, British air marshal Stuart Peach, and has always been in the hands of the United States. He is also the commander of the United States European Command. General Tod D. Wolters currently holds the position.
14] Although it is far from the qualitative and quantitative levels of the 1980s of the 20th century. Russian naval planning cannot be said to be up to date. Still, its strategy could be said to focus on anti-vessel systems such as the BrahMos or the anti-vessel version of the Kalibr as mentioned above (3M-54E1), supersonic long-range, and even hypersonic. Also the modernization of up to 23 submarines and the development of the Yasen class.