The Swedish corvette HMS Visby under way on the Mysingen Bay on October 21, 2014 on their fifth day of searching for a suspected foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago. The search was being extended southwards to the open sea about 70 kilometres (44 miles) southeast of Stockholm, as Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said that more military exercises were being carried out in the Baltic Sea. AFP PHOTO / TT NEWS AGENCY / FREDRIK SANDBERG /SWEDEN OUT (Photo credit should read FREDRIK SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
HELSINKI — Poland and Sweden are reinforcing their strike power and reach in the Baltic Sea area, a direct response to the Kremlin's continued strengthening of naval and air assets in the Baltic and High North regions.
Sweden has embarked on a US $2 billion capital investment program to acquire a new submarine class, convert existing corvettes into frigates and re-establish a strong military presence on its forward Baltic island, Gotland.
For its part, Poland is expanding its strike capability in the Baltic Sea with plans to procure cruise missiles for three submarines earmarked for purchase by 2023, and . The Polish Ministry of Defense (MoD) also plans to acquire Norwegian-built naval strike missiles. as part of its capacity enhancement program.
The primary motivation driving Moscow's military buildup strengthening around the Baltic Sea and the High North is its unshakeable perception that it is surrounded by a hostile military alliance — the 28-member NATO. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
This perception dates to the dissolution collapse of the Soviet Union and decimation of its naval forces in the early 1990s. Amid the pursuant economic collapse, funding for Russia's Navy dried up, forcing ships to sit in port and rust for years. Moreover, important infrastructure on shore along the Baltic coast and the Crimean pPeninsula were lost to newly independent states.
Moscow's muscle-flexing of its military muscle in the Baltic Sea and High North forms part of massive military programs aimed at reversing that decline. As part of The Russian government's massive 20 trillion ruble (US $640 billion) rearmament program includes , the Navy is building new frigates and corvettes as well as new nuclear- and diesel-powered submarines.
Fleet Emerges From Lean Years
Russia's Baltic Fleet was particularly hard hit by the Soviet collapse. The Navy's infrastructure was spread along the Baltic coast from Kaliningrad to St. Petersburg. Though it held onto the port city of Kaliningrad, its isolation from Russia makes it difficult for Russia to support a large fleet.
According to publicly available data, Russia's Baltic Fleet consists of some 50 different vessels, comprising diesel-powered submarines, one Sovremennyy-class destroyer, about eight8 Steregushchy- and Nanuchka-class missile corvettes, two Neustrashimyy-class guided missile frigates, six Paschim-class anti-submarine warfare vessels, and a few dozen smaller vessels and landing ships.
However, the fleet doesn't see much action in the Baltic, according to Mikhail Barabanov, a naval expert at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. (CAST).
"There is no special naval buildup being performed in the Baltic, with the exception of the commissioning of several Project 20380 [Steregushchy-class] corvettes, " Barabanov said.
"Moreover, the main large warships of the Baltic Fleet, the Project 11540 [Neustrahimy-class] frigates and the large tank landing ships, serve almost constantly outside of the Baltic Sea, especially in the Mediterranean," Barabanov said.
In the face of the Ukraine crisis and Russia's antagonistic relationship with NATO, the Baltic has taken on a greater military significance, according to Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russian Navy expert at CNA Corp.oration in Virginia.
In this climate of heightened tensions, Gorenburg said the Baltic Fleet is again taking on a counter-NATO component in the Baltic. "There's also an espionage component, with small subs used to probe NATO and Swedish and Finnish maritime defenses," he added.
This rising climate of greater security instability and tension is reflected in increased Russian also seeing a scale-up of multi-branch naval exercises. by Russia in the Baltic Sea. Warships from Russia's Baltic Fleet are preparing to enter the open seas for rocket, artillery and torpedo exercises under approval from the Western Military District, which is . (WMD). The district WMD is expected to sanction and conduct about 4,000 military drills in 2015.
Sweden To Re-establish Gotland
Sweden's response to Russia's near-neighborhood capacity-building has been to launch major naval upgrades, including capacity building program that will include the modernization of part of its submarine fleet and the acquisition of two A26-class stealthy subs from 2016-2024. About $1 billion is being spent on the purchase of the two A26 subs alone.
The capital investment will refocus lead to a serious re-focusing of the Navy's submarine and surface fleet on operations in the Baltic.
"The A26 submarine will represent the very best in stealth and advanced technologies. It will be pivotal to our ambition to expand the reach of our present operations in the Baltic Sea," Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said.
The naval strengthening program will include a $700 million project to upgrade submarine-hunter warships, with major refits and technology improvements scheduled for the Gävle- and Sundsvall Göteborg-class corvettes, which will be effectively converted to frigates.
More important, Sweden is re-establishing significantly, the re-establishment of a permanent air, naval and fast reaction forces' units on Gotland Island, its southern-most military outpost in the Baltic. It will station This will result in the stationing of Gripen jets, a support helicopter unit, submarine-hunter ships and a modular-structured rapid response Army battalion on the island.
"We are responding to needs," Hultqvist said. "There is increased activity by Russia in the Baltic Sea region and this is generating tensions. Gotland will have a strategic importance in our Baltic Sea defenses."
Polish Missile Plans
Poland is in talks with Washington and Paris to buy cruise missiles for new submarines to boost its As part of its naval strengthening in the Baltic Sea presence, said Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland's deputy prime minister and defense minister. , said the country is in talks with Washington and Paris to buy cruise missiles for new submarines.
Sources close to the potential deal (Polish news agency PAP reports) suggest Warsaw aims to buy 24 Tomahawk missiles from Raytheon, Polish news agency PAP reports. Should the deal be approved by the US Congress, the first eight missiles could be delivered to the Polish Navy in 2022.
The acquisition, which is to be carried out as part of the Polish Claws program, could significantly improve the Navy's strike capability. of the country's Navy.Should Poland acquire the Tomahawks, it would become the third country to operate these long-range missiles, alongside the US and UK. Poland's actions are connected to increased Russian military presence in Eastern Europe and the annexation Moscow's annexing of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Under the Polish Defense Ministry's Military Modernization Plan for the years 2013-2022, two new submarines are to be delivered to the Polish Navy by 2022, and a third by 2023.
In late 2014, Poland ordered moved to boost its naval strike capability by ordering additional naval strike missiles NSMs from Norwegian company Kongsberg . The plan is intended to establish a second coastal missile defense squadron on the Polish Baltic shore. The first squadron was deployed in 2013 and new missiles are to be delivered to Poland by May 2018.
At the signing ceremony in December, Siemoniak said the country's military "wants the strike range of the [coastal defense missile squadron] to cover the entire Polish coast."
"Poland must be secure on its Baltic Sea shore, which is the reason behind the decision to set up a naval missile unit and expand its range of operations," Siemoniak said., who added that Poland's military "wants the strike range of the [coastal defense missile squadron] to cover the entire Polish coast."
The two acquisition programs form part of the MoD's Navy modernization strategy. , which aims to upgrade the fleet and expand its capabilities. By 2030, Poland plans to spend some 900 million zloty (US $240 million) per year on new naval vessels and armament, for its naval forces, according to MoD figures. Poland's coastline runs to 440 kilometers. (275 miles).
Britain Chasing 'Ghost' Russian Subs
It's not just on the front line with Russia where Moscow's more aggressive military policy is getting noticed. Like Sweden, the Britain has been chasing possible Russian submarines around its territorial waters in the west of Scotland close to the Royal Navy's Faslane nuclear submarine base ion the Clyde.
NATO maritime patrol aircraft from four nations were scrambled in late 2014 after fishermen spotted what could have been the periscope of a Russian nuclear submarine.
Virtually all of the attention in Britain, though, centered on the fact that the government had to call up its allies to provide maritime patrol aircraft to help conduct the search from the air as it had scrapped all of its own capabilities in 2010 in order to help balance the books at the Ministry of Defense.
Jaroslaw Adamowski in Warsaw, Matthew Bodner in Moscow and Andrew Chuter in London contributed to this report.