Northern Fleet stages war games to protect Arctic shipping
Several of the Northern Fleet’s large warships sailed out from Severomorsk on Tuesday and are currently conducting combat tasks outside the coast of the Kola Peninsula. One aim, the navy said, is to protect shipping along the Northern Sea Route.
One of the warning areas pre-announced is in international waters but within Norway’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) north of the Varanger fjord.
“We have not seen any activity within this area that would require a warning zone,” said spokesperson with the Norwegian Armed Forces, Lt. Col. Ivar Moen, in a phone interview with the Barents Observer.
NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) is a warning to civilian ships and aircraft to be aware that a military drill takes place, with either shootings or special flight patterns that could pose a danger to civilian activity. Last year, Norwegian fishermen said they were deeply troubled by increasing Russian military exercises in the Barents Sea.
Lt. Col. Ivar Moen said the exercise this week was announced and expected.
“We are monitoring the [Russian] activity to obtain a best possible situation awareness,” he said.
There are several other warning areas in the Barents Sea activated for the coming days with the largest being in the eastern Barents Sea along the coast of Novaya Zemlya.
The exercise in Arctic waters comes in addition to the group of Northern Fleet vessels that sailed out from Severomorsk last Saturday and currently are steaming south along the coast of Norway towards the Irish Sea where another warning area is activated in early February, a move by the Russian navy that has spared strong criticism by the Government in Dublin.
The Barents Observer yesterday published photos taken by the Norwegians of the five Northern Fleet ships sailing south. A U.S. Air Force P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft flying out of Keflavik on Iceland has both Tuesday and Wednesday been over the Russian warships. On Wednesday, a U.S. KC-135T tanker aircraft based at Mildenhall in the UK flew north over the Norwegian Sea to provide fuel to the P-8 from Keflavik that for hours was monitoring the movement of the Russian navy group.
Meanwhile, in the Barents Sea, the Northern Fleet exercise includes up to 30 ships, 1,200 personnel, about 140 units of military equipment and up to 20 aircraft, according to the press service in Severomorsk.
A video posted by the Defense Ministry in Moscow shows some of the vessels now exercising in the north, among them the anti-submarine destroyer “Severomorsk”, the frigate “Admiral Gorshkov” and the large landing ship “Ivan Gren”. Interestingly, the video also shows that Russia’s largest combat vessel, the nuclear-powered battlecruiser “Pyotr Velikiye” stays at port and is not involved in any of the ongoing navigations.
Amid international tensions over Ukraine and the security architecture of Europe, Moscow earlier in January said all fleets of the country would hold a coordinated exercise, from the Pacific in the east to the Arctic Ocean in the north and the Black Sea in the South, as well as in the Baltic Sea and west Atlantic.
The Northern Fleet based on the ice-free coast of the Kola Peninsula is the largest of Russia’s four fleets.