MOSCOW — In order to secure its large swath of the resource-rich Arctic, Moscow has created a new Northern Command structure under which ground, sea and air units are being deployed to reopened Soviet-era bases along Russia's northern frontier.
The Soviet Union maintained a formidable presence in the Arctic. It established a stretch of air bases for long-range strategic bombers and radar stations and anti-air batteries to keep American bombers at bay.
"These efforts cannot be explained by any requirements that exist today or will arise in the near future," Anton Lavrov, an analyst at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies wrote in Moscow Defense Brief, the center's monthly publication.
"Russia is not facing any direct military threats from the north. Its military buildup in the Arctic pursues long-term goals rather than any immediate objectives," he added.
Northern Joint Strategic Command
Still, it is able to conduct about five deployments in the Arctic a year with its flagships — the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and Pyotr Veliky battle cruiser — two Udaloy-class destroyers, five corvettes of the Grisha and Nanuchka class, two Ropucha-class landing ships and five smaller ships, according to Gorenburg.
No naval combat vessels are currently being built for Arctic-specific duty, Gorenburg said. However, the Navy's new Admiral Gorshkov frigates, which will serve with the Northern fleet, will be used for Arctic patrols, but will require icebreaker support beyond the summer months.
Gorenburg said that in terms of concrete plans for expansion, most of the sea-based action is focused on the Coast Guard, a key piece of infrastructure if Moscow is going to successfully commercialize the North Sea route.
"For the Northern operations of the Coast Guard of the Border Guard Service, large Project 22100 border patrol ships with a standard displacement of 2,700 tons are being built," said Mikhail Barabanov, a Russian navy and military expert at CAST.
The Soviets built a large fleet of icebreakers, Gorenburg said, but most are set to retire in the early 2020s. "They have to basically rebuild their entire icebreaker fleet," he said. Russia plans on building three nuclear icebreakers and four diesel-powered.
To meet the Northern Command's requirements for ground forces, it has absorbed the 200th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade in Murmansk, and two new special Arctic Motor Rifle Brigades, according to Moscow Defense Brief.
Russia's new Arctic forces will be stationed at three new bases that can house up to 5,000 troops, built using prefabricated modules akin to those found at Antarctic research stations.
The military also is constructing airbases to house interceptors, strategic bombers and other aircraft. From the Soviet-era, only six airbases remained active from a formidable network of 12. The six deactivated bases are being restored and upgraded, and a brand new airbase is being built in the New Siberian Islands.
Meanwhile, 10 air-defense radar stations are being built to help defend against enemy bombers.
Matthew Bodner covered Russian affairs for Defense News.