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Oct 12, 2021
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Half-moon in ice: Pros and cons of the Arctic fleet

Photo: Project 667BRDM nuclear submarine with ballistic missiles during military exercises in the Arctic.

Photo: Project 667BRDM nuclear submarine with ballistic missiles during military exercises in the Arctic. (Photo: snapshot from the video / Press Service of the RF Ministry of Defense / TASS)

The news about the possible appearance of a new association in the Russian Navy – the Arctic Fleet, whose mission will be to ensure the safety of the Northern Sea Route, was announced by TASS. We remember that “TASS is authorized to declare” and with a high degree of probability the military Arktflot (well, or simply AF) can really be formed. At least this topic is being actively discussed in the Ministry of Defense. Especially given Russia’s interest in defending its interests in the Arctic.

Now this task is entrusted to the Northern (SF) and Pacific (Pacific) fleets, which took the Arctic in “ticks” from the northwestern and northeastern directions. From Murmansk to Anadyr. And, it would seem, what is the need to create a new fleet focused exclusively on the Arctic? Moreover, the year-round movement on these icy expanses presupposes the use of icebreakers, without which warships, especially in winter, cannot break through the hummocks here.

If there will be icebreakers, there will be an Arctic fleet. There are ice crackers in Russia. Only nuclear ones are available: project Arctic – 6 units, project Taimyr – 2 units, type LK-60Ya (project 22220) – so far only one icebreaker “Arktika”, but four more are under construction, two of which, “Siberia” and “Ural” have already been launched, there is also an icebreaking lighter carrier “Sevmorput”. Plus, there are several dozen diesel-electric icebreakers available. This entire ice flotilla is able to provide escorting not only transport caravans, but also warships – to the right place and at the right time, regardless of the weather conditions.

The creation of the Arctic Fleet, as a military formation of the Navy, is, first of all, its equipping with icebreakers. There are not so many military men as such. We can recall the patrol icebreaker of the 2nd rank “Ivan Susanin”, which is assigned to the Kamchatka flotilla and is intended for escorting nuclear submarines in the ice of the Arctic. But on the way is a whole series of ice-class patrol ships of Project 23550 “Arktika”. These are being built for both the border service and the Russian Navy.

For the needs of the navy, icebreakers of this project Ivan Papanin and Nikolai Zubov are being built at the Leningrad Admiralty Association in St. Petersburg. These ships are capable of not only breaking ice up to 1.7 meters thick, but also solving the tasks of a battleship. They are capable of carrying artillery systems, helicopters and assault boats, and can carry containerized weapons systems, including Kalibr cruise missiles and potentially hypersonic anti-ship Zircons.

It’s time for the enemy in the ice to shout: “Half-sod!” and “Save yourself who can.” It is assumed that by 2028 the formation of a group of auxiliary vessels and combat icebreakers will be completed in the Arctic region.

– Behind any commentator who takes on boarding the topic of Arctic naval management, the shadow of the long-range captain Kh.B. Vrungel, or even unforgettable Valentina Savvich Pikul, – shares his opinion political scientist and military historian Alexander Zimovsky… – That is why the project of the Arctic Fleet of the Russian Federation, as a new naval operational-strategic association, I suppose to leave the experts from the World of Warships for feeding.

We will only look at the organizational and navigational aspects. Fortunately, in Leningrad, and now in St. Petersburg, there is the world’s best scientific school of polar navigation. There is a foundation for a first approximation analysis. It should start with the creation of the Committee of the Northern Sea Route, about which the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR adopted a corresponding resolution in December 1932. And in 1934, the department acquired the familiar and today the name Glavsevmorput.

To understand the importance and status of Glavsevmorput, I will simply say that the personnel of the organization had special ranks corresponding to the ranks in the USSR Navy. For example, “captain of the Northern Sea Route of the first rank”, with a wide braid on the sleeve, of course, and with a blue pennant. I mention this in such detail, because no passage of warships by the Northern Sea Route in the conditions of the Russian Arctic is possible without escort vessels.

For example, when in 1936 the Baltic Fleet transferred two destroyers to the Pacific Fleet, they were accompanied by five civilian ships with provisions and fuel and two icebreaking ships (the icebreaker Fyodor Litke led the convoy from the west, and the Krasin icebreaker went to meet them from the east). The convoy left the White Sea Gorlo Strait on July 30, and on September 22 the destroyers sailed into the ice-free waters of the Bering Sea. One important, and perhaps the main detail – the destroyers passed the entire Northern Sea Route with removed weapons, torpedo tubes and artillery installations were transported in the holds of one of the escort ships.

During the Great Patriotic War, the German heavy cruiser “Admiral Scheer” rose in August 1942 to high latitudes up to 77 degrees north latitude and fought with armed steamers and the coastal battery of the Soviet port of Dikson. The Germans acted autonomously, quite often fell into solid ice, sometimes the cruiser’s speed did not exceed one knot; but they had an ice reconnaissance plane, and so they went, as they say, from polynya to polynya.

In the same 1942, the leader of the destroyers “Baku” and the destroyers “Enraged” and “Reasonable” (“Scheer”, by the way, tried to intercept them, but was unsuccessful) from the Pacific Fleet to the Northern Fleet along the Northern Sea Route. On the cruise, the “Furious” lost its propeller, and the “Reasonable” was covered with ice for 2 weeks. Nevertheless, all three ships came to Severomorsk and fought in the waters of the Arctic until the end of the war.

Hitler’s submarines sporadically operated in certain sections of the Northern Sea Route until September 1944, even reaching the 86th eastern meridian (and this is, for example, the longitude of the city of Kemerovo), however, throughout the Patriotic War, navigation along the Northern Sea Route from east to west and from west to the east went constantly, stopping only due to meteorological conditions.

In general, limited-scale naval operations on the communications of the Northern Sea Route are possible. Is sealskin worth the candle? This is another question, but for now the probable adversary is persistently feeling the approaches to our Arctic.

Now, since I always mention meteorological conditions, without taking into account which the war at sea is impossible, we just have to look into the pilot. Presumably, the main area of ​​operations of the future Arcticflot is the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea. There is also the East Siberian Sea, but if we swing so wide, we won’t have enough alcohol to wipe the astrolabe.

The pilot teaches us that at the latitude of Dikson the polar night lasts 70 days, the average annual temperature on this section of the Northern Sea Route is from minus 12ºC to -6⁰C. In the Ob-Yenisei polar sea basin, where the Northern Sea Route caravans pass, freeze-up begins around October 20, and the sea clears in July, and ice continues to occur during almost all navigation, which in the Kara Sea lasts from early August to late September. There were cases when navigation began in the second half of July and ended in the first ten days of October. The ice thickness reaches 2 meters closer to the beginning of melting. The thickness of hummocky ice reaches 4.5 meters. Only ice-class vessels are allowed to navigate in these seas.

Current warships can operate in open water here from 2 to 4 months a year. The same “Admiral Speer” held out in the phase of active actions for only a week. The rest of the time, warships without icebreakers will not even be able to leave their bases. While Russia does not have ice-class warships, the first such “combat icebreaker” of project 23550 “Ivan Papanin” was laid four years ago, it is planned to hand it over to the Navy in 2024. It is believed that ice up to 1.7 meters thick is within his power.

What else does a sailor want? That’s right – bays and anchorages, supplies and repairs. In this regard, the Northern Sea Route is well equipped, you have all heard about Dudinka, and about Khatanga, and about Tiksi, and about Pevek, all these are developed objects of maritime infrastructure. It is obvious that the warships of the future Arcticflot will be based on these ports. Or they will need new bases at the mouths of the great Siberian rivers.

This is already a regularity of recent years – they talk about the Arctic, argue about the Arctic and, it seems, are even ready to fight for it with the use of military force. These vast expanses of ice, which, although significantly reduced due to warming, are located on an area of ​​5.02 million square kilometers. The total area of ​​minerals here (oil and gas) only in the Russian, the largest Arctic sector, according to the most conservative estimates, is estimated at $ 30 trillion. Plus – the Northern Sea Route, the importance of which in the logistics of the future is of colossal economic importance. Plus – Russia’s security in the region. And this is perhaps one of the most important components in our country’s policy in the Arctic.

No one is hiding the plans that our country is ready to ensure the security of all its borders, including those from the Arctic Ocean. And one of the priorities for the development of the Armed Forces in the near future will remain the creation of infrastructure in the Arctic. This has been repeatedly stated by both Putin and the Russian Defense Minister. Sergei Shoigu… “The available resources are concentrated on such main directions of the development of the Armed Forces as the creation of military infrastructure in the Arctic, the improvement of the airfield network, the introduction of advanced technologies related to the material and technical support of troops,” says the head of the military department.

The Arctic Group of Forces has been created here and has already begun to fulfill its tasks. It included the forces of the Northern Fleet, two motorized rifle arctic brigades, airborne units, fighter-interceptors, and transport aviation. Arctic brigades carry out the tasks of patrolling the coastal zone, protecting objects and territories along the northern seas (Barents, Kara, Laptev Sea) and the Arctic Ocean, providing passage and escorting ships along the Northern Sea Route. And, of course, they demonstrate our military presence in the Arctic.

It is also quite logical to create a new Arctic fleet as an independent unit within the Russian Navy. It is clear that at the first stage it will be the forces and means of the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet, with the use of Atomflot icebreakers, but with the prospect of equipping the new formation with its own ice-class warships.

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