Russian bombers Tu-160 refuel in polar night over Arctic waters

The two supersonic heavy bombers proceeded across the Arctic Ocean, the Barents Sea and the White Sea in a show of force aimed at NATO forces.
January 20, 2021


The two strategic bombers conducted the planned air operation over neutral waters, the Russian Defense Ministry informs. The flights lasted for 14 hours and included aerial refueling in the polar dark. They reportedly took place on Tuesday this week.

It was all made in strict line with international air space regulations, the Russian military underlines.

Military buildup

The Russian Air Force has over the last years significantly stepped up its presence in the Arctic, and Tu-160 bombers in 2020 made several long-distance operations across the region. In September, two aircrafts spent 25 hours in the air on a 20,000 km long flight from the Engels air base in southern Russia, via the Barents Sea to the central part of the Arctic Ocean, over the Northern Sea Route towards the Pacific with return over Siberia back to the airport.

That operation included three times mid-air refueling.

Russia has also developed new Arctic air infrastructure and logistics. The Nagurskoye base in Franz Josef Land is to be capable of handling “any kind of aircraft”, and the Rogachevo base in Novaya Zemlya is being developed to house a fleet of fighter jets MiG-31.

In early January this year, the MiG-31 fighters officially took over combat alert duties at Rogachevo, the Russian Armed Forces inform.

U.S bombers in Norway 

The military buildup is leading to increasing tensions in the High North. From the western side, U.S aircrafts have stepped up operations in the region, including with use of Norwegian air bases.


According to Dutch aviation society Scramble, the U.S Air Force is planning a Bomber Task Force (BTF) deployment, with four Rockwell B-1B Lancers, to Ørland (Norway) in February this year.

The deployment has not been confirmed by the Norwegian side. In an email to the Barents Observer, Lieutenant Colonel Vegard Norstad Finberg underlines that the Norwegian side “does not comment on operational deployments, neither on other nations’ plans.”

Moscow complains

The Russian side has repeatedly accused NATO of military buildup along its borders, including in the Arctic.

That same mantra was conveyed by the country’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Norway’s Ine Eriksen Søreide in an online meeting Tuesday this week. Lavrov underlined that Norway’s “escalation of military activity and advance of NATO infrastructure along out border is fraught with negative consequences for the Arctic.”




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