US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The Barents Sea is the most pleasant place for visitors. “Frequent storms … have been raging for hours in this region,” wrote an unfortunate British submariner who was sent to that area to spy on information during the Cold War. “We were faced with the most severe streams of waves and splashes that turned into ice even before we hit our faces.”
Therefore, it is not surprising that American warships have not entered this sea since the mid-1980s, but they returned there last week.
Their presence is part of the consistent northward movement of the NATO naval forces. In 2018, the North Atlantic Alliance, together with Sweden and Finland, conducted exercises in Norway called the “Trident Juncture”, the largest since the end of the Cold War. In the course of these exercises, for the first time in 30 years, an American aircraft carrier was sent to an area located beyond the Arctic Circle.
After that, western warships became frequent visitors to this water area. On May 1, a “surface action group” consisting of two American destroyers, a nuclear submarine, a support vessel and a long-range patrol aircraft of the US Navy, as well as a British frigate, were developing skills in tracking submarines in the Barents Sea .
Such teachings are not special. However, on May 4, several ships separated from the main group and headed further to the north of the Barents Sea along with the third destroyer. Although American and British submarines regularly visit this region to covertly collect information about Russian military installations and exercises, surface ships have not been engaged in such work for the whole generation.
On May 7, the Russian Navy welcomed uninvited visitors with a message about conducting its own exercises in the Barents Sea, in addition with live firing. On May 8, after celebrating Victory Day in the backyard of Russia and completing the “successful and high-level operations” that lasted several days, NATO warships left the Barents Sea.
This was an important decision. The deployment of destroyers with anti-aircraft missile systems on board, as well as cruise missiles to destroy ground targets, is a particularly aggressive action. Ultimately, this region is the heart of the Russian Navy, including the center of submarines with nuclear weapons on board. The base of the Russian Northern Fleet is located in Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula, east of the borders of Norway.
The Western naval forces really want to show that covid-19 is not able to blunt their battle swords at a time when both America and France lost one carrier each because of the coronavirus. However, their interest in the Far North manifested itself long before the current pandemic. One of the reasons for the invasion of the Barents Sea was to “ensure freedom of navigation,” as emphasized in a statement by the US Navy.
Russia has introduced rules for the passage of vessels along the Northern Sea Route – a route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, which is becoming more and more open to shipping due to global warming, contributing to the melting of the Arctic ice cap.
America openly ignores these demands and insists that foreign ships, in accordance with maritime law, must be able to freely pass through the territorial waters of a foreign state. Although the NATO warships participating in the exercise last week did not enter the area of the Northern Sea Route, it can be assumed that the NATO leadership will want to do this in the future.
In addition, the Arctic is becoming an increasingly important factor in NATO’s defense policy. In recent years, Russia has strengthened its Northern Fleet and at the same time deployed additional anti-aircraft missile systems, missile storages and new ships. Russia is inferior to the United States in the number of submarines, emphasizes Michael Kofman of the Center for Naval Analyzes.
However, their activity is constantly increasing. According to senior NATO officers, today their activity is the highest since the end of the Cold War. Last October, ten Russian submarines entered the North Atlantic region in order to explore the possibility of covert movement.
“Today, the activity of the Russian Navy is much higher than it was in the 1990s and 2000s, but this return was inevitable, because at that time there was neither activity nor adequate funding,” Kofman emphasized. But such a buildup of activity is causing concern among NATO planners.
The new Russian submarines are quiet and well armed. As a result, the Alliance’s “acoustic edge,” its ability to detect submarines at a greater distance than Russia, “has been significantly reduced,” Nick Childs from the London-based International Institute noted in a recent article. strategic research (International Institute for Strategic Studies – IISS).
Russia mainly uses its strike submarines to defend the “bastion” – the waters of the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, where it patrols its own nuclear submarines with nuclear ballistic missiles on board. A separate Russian naval agency, known as the Main Directorate for Deepwater Research (abbreviated GAGI), can also monitor a large number of cables crossing the Atlantic.
Such a challenge is not new. During almost the entire period of the Cold War, NATO allies tried to clog the Soviet fleet in the Arctic through a surveillance system on the so-called Faroe-Icelandic line (GIUK hole), in the area of the transit route between the shores of Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, where submarines were previously located acoustic sensors. “We will go through all the imperialistic speaker networks and no one will find us,” said Captain Ramius, commander of Red October, a Soviet submarine from Tom Clancy’s first novel, published in 1984.
This section of the route has again become a fashionable topic, and NATO is once again beginning to invest in acoustic tracking systems after a break of several decades. America has increased the number of flights of its jet P8 patrol aircraft from the squadron stationed in Iceland. Their task is to detect Soviet submarines, as well as to create threats for them at an early stage, since even one Russian submarine in the Atlantic can create problems in a large area of ocean water.
However, having a protective perimeter alone may not be sufficient. A new generation of missiles deployed aboard Russian ships is capable of hitting NATO ships or territories, located much to the north of the GIUK line, and they are likely to be able to do this from a safe area near their bases. “Such technological development poses a new and serious threat to NATO forces,” says the Institute for International Strategic Studies.
The same concern drove the Reagan administration to opt for a more offensive naval strategy and send ships to the immediate locations of Soviet naval bases, as well as to nearby areas. “I am amazed at the similarity of the current situation to what happened in the 1980s, Said Niklas Granholm of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, referring to the Anglo-American presence in the Barents Sea. “This is a naval frontier strategy, the goal of which is to approach the Russian fleet in the north of Russia, rather than meeting it in more southern latitudes.”
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