The Arctic could become the location of the next phase of an arms race between the United States and Russia – and the Russians have taken an early lead.
According to a report by Reuters, Russian military assets, including Cold War-era bases in the Arctic, are being brought back into service as Vladimir Putin makes a play to control what could be massive reserves of oil. The Russian build-up reportedly includes effort to winterize modern weapons, like the Su-34 "Fullback" strike aircraft and the MiG-31 "Foxhound" interceptor.
According to Globalsecurity.org, the Su-34 is capable of carrying up to eight tons of weapons or a dozen air-to-air missiles, has a crew of two, and saw some combat action over Syria. The Fullback is slated to replace Su-24 Fencers currently serving with the Russian Air Force and Russian Naval Aviation. That site also notes that the MiG-31, an improved development of the MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor, also has a two-person crew, and is capable of firing the AA-9 "Amos" air-to-air missile, which has a range of just under 100 miles. The Foxhound has been upgraded with a new radar.
Also included in the buildup are new icebreakers – including three nuclear-powered icebreakers according to a 2014 World Nuclear News report. In 2015, Port News reported that construction had started on two conventionally-powered icebreakers, while the Barents Observer reported in 2014 that the LK-25 would be delayed by up to two years from a planned delivery date of 2015.
Port News reported in December 2016 that the vessel, now named Viktor Chernomyrdin, wouldn't be completed until sometime in 2018.
The Russian nuclear icebreaker '50 let Pobedy' in the Arctic. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The British news agency noted that the push comes even though a combination of economic sanctions and low oil prices have shelved Russian plans to explore for some of the massive oil and natural gas reserves in the Arctic.