As global temperatures rise and sea ice melts, the Arctic has emerged as the frontier for countries to strategically position themselves on top of the world for resources, sea lanes and projection of military power. Recent military exercises by both NATO forces and the Russian Navy underscore the strategic importance of this under iced and overlooked region. In early May, four U.S. Navy ships from its 6th Fleet, as well as British Royal Navy, held exercises in the Barents Sea, territorially shared by both Norway and the Russian Federation, to “conduct maritime security operations, assert freedom of navigation and demonstrate seamless integration among allies.” This marked the first U.S. Navy-led exercise in the Barents Sea since the mid-1980s and in return, the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet held live-fire drills of its own in the area and claimed to have been “monitoring the activities of the NATO strike group.” NATO Exercise Dynamic Mongoose is currently underway off the coast of Iceland featuring Anti-Submarine warfare (ASW) and Anti-Surface warfare training. This comes as US warplanes have intercepted four Russian reconnaissance aircraft off the coast of Alaska for the fourth time this month.
Tensions are high in the Arctic fueled by the reemergence of Russia and China as a threat and competing as near peer competitors. Their early successes in hypersonic technology threaten American national security. Though these new hypersonic weapons, such as the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) and the newly developed anti-ship cruise missiles of the Russian 3M22 Tsirkon, were not displayed yesterday at Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade, Moscow unveiled its latest Pantsyr-SM surface-to-air missile/gun system with a longer range capability against artillery munitions, drones and missiles. Russia’s world-class submarine fleet continues to grow with the development of a new category of submarines known as the ‘Khabarovsk,’ set to launch later this month. Each sub will be armed with six Poseidon “mega-torpedoes,” also known as Russian Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) with nuclear propulsion systems, nuclear warheads and a reported range of 5,200 nautical miles. The Poseidon relies on supercavitation to reduce friction and travel significantly faster than traditional torpedoes, ultimately reaching speeds of up to 108 knots.
The buildup of the Russian threat in the Arctic, has led the groundwork for a renewed effort to strengthen European and US Homeland Defense through coordinated exercises and arms strengthening between allied nations. As the U.S. Naval Forces Northern Command (NAVNORTH), The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG), as well as US Navy submarines and aircraft in coordination with Canada, Denmark, and the USAF built collaboration amongst services and combatant commanders while advancing tactical and operational proficiency in maritime warfare during Exercise Vigilant Osprey. The buildup of the HSTCSG, a naval powerhouse of various Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) abilities, has given naval forces an ability to have increased strength in various European Seas in their efforts towards Integrated Air and Missile Defense capabilities. Exercise Formidable Shield, started in 2017, has exemplified this with ships from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the UK, and the US participating in more than a dozen successful live-fire and simulated engagements against subsonic, supersonic, and ballistic targets.
While these exercises and capability demonstrations are an essential step, they are not sufficient to build robust capabilities and proficiency demanded across multi-domain warfare. The extension of launch platforms to surface and undersea assets as well as space, air and ground launched weapons bring all facets of the maritime composite cross domain warfare command into play. It is not just an Integrated Air and Missile Defense problem in the arctic region. Anti-Surface and Anti-submarine forces must be effective against these expanded launch capabilities. It means US and Allied naval forces must continually adapt to these expanding challenges along with robust investments in technical capabilities for long range detection, tracking, and countering well before these launch assets can deploy these weapons.
With the exception of France and England who have nuclear deterrents in their Navies, NATO maritime forces have been working many years to step up to the Integrated Air and Missile Defense challenge, led by the Royal Netherlands Navy and its intention to modernize its 4 air defense frigates with the ability to detect and track ballistic missiles. The Federal German Navy’s F-124 SACHSEN Class Frigates have the same air defense systems as the Royal Netherlands Navy and are actively considering upgrading them with the same BMD capability. The Royal Danish Navy is also considering upgrading its three air defense frigates. All of these ship classes are equipped with the MK 41 Vertical Launch System that could be adapted to include SM3 and SM6 missiles if a future decision to include engagement capability were made. Most promising is the Spanish Armada’s program to build a new F-110 Multipurpose Frigate with the most modern Aegis Combat System and a Solid State S Band phased array radar that will have the potential be fully upgraded to IAMD capability. While these are important steps, they are not moving fast enough nor are they technically sufficient to keep paced with the rapidly evolving threats nor be fully integrated with the U.S. These ships along with existing Aegis equipped ships from Spain and Norway must be upgraded to augment the US commitments in the region. They must be able to accurately discriminate lethal objects, accurately track to fire control quality, and integrate both upper tier and lower tier effectors such as SM3, SM6, Patriot PAC3MSE, and non-kinetic options. Robust integrated fire control options capable of real-time coordination across NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense Operational Capability (BMDOC) and US elements are a must requirement for the future.
It is not just expanding capabilities across the air and missile threat spectrum, but the ability to execute multi-mission counters against the full list of launch assets, air, sea, and land based. This landscape will demand focus on complex multi-mission ships versus single mission or focused mission ships that currently exist in most NATO Navies. Additionally, incorporating advanced capabilities like the F35, which is being deployed by a number of NATO nations into the kill chains of Integrated Air and Missile Defense systems such as Aegis, Patriot, and THAAD to extend the sensor grid and effects options. The Patriot user nations of the Netherlands and Germany, along with Aegis equipped ships from Spain and Norway and F35 users UK, Netherlands and Denmark should focus on these capabilities.
NATO members and the United States must be unified in this fight. It will take robust integration of all of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense contributors across Europe and North America to be effective to be a credible deterrent against the near peers. That means integrating the full array of sensors from Space, Maritime Forces, and Land Based Radar with the US BMDO and NATO BMDOC and all of the assets in multi-mission to achieve the effectiveness needed. It also means improvements in investments across all member nations and more equitable burden sharing is critical to effectiveness against these advanced air and missile threats.
In this modern world of evolving relationships and advancing interests, European Deployed Cross Domain Integrated Air and Missile Defense with the United States cools the potential for conflict in Arctic ice cap and freezes near peer competitors.
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