According to the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service and Associated Press, the Russian nuclear submarine Tula is seen here as it gets ready to carry out a simulated launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

According to a recent Norwegian intelligence report, Russia will likely expand its presence in the Barents Sea and Atlantic Ocean in 2021, with more extended submarine deployments [1].

On Feb. 13, the Norwegian Intelligence Service put out its yearly document in which it noted that Russia is utilizing its Northern Fleet more and more to give a regional deterrent.

The report declared that the Northern Fleet’s naval forces are set to persist in performing regular flotilla drills while increasing the length of submarine patrols in the Barents Sea and executing submarine operations in the Atlantic. Moreover, acquiring new hushed multi-purpose submarines augments the fleet’s capacity in the Norwegian Sea and the Atlantic.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the fleet currently has six ballistic missile submarines in action, with one undergoing repair and three in the process of being built. Additionally, four cruise missile submarines are active, plus three more are in the works.

Pavel Luzin, a visiting scholar of Tufts University’s Russia and Eurasia Program, pointed out that Russia is completely revising its maritime strategy in response to Sweden and Finland’s aspirations of joining NATO.

The nuclear submarine Kazan has arrived at a permanent base in the Northern Fleet. (Source: Ministry of Defense of Russia/Wikimedia Commons)

Luzin stated to Defense News that the Baltic Fleet would become ineffectual, and in contrast, Moscow would attempt to make the Northern Fleet stronger and search for methods to answer NATO in an unbalanced way.

The Norwegian report also suggested that the Northern Fleet’s aircraft inventory will remain the same and proceed with its operations as usual. Additionally, the report said that due to Russia’s strategic bombers being concentrated on the Ukrainian invasion, Norway would likely observe fewer of those aircraft near their border.

In October 2022, satellite images were reported in the media, which showed seven Tu-160 and four Tu-95 planes stationed at the Olenegorsk airbase, located roughly 100 miles away from Norway’s border.

The agency added that, due to the rising significance of nuclear weaponry and strategic deterrence, the Northern Fleet’s safeguarding of the military outposts on Kola, the northern stronghold, and the Barents Sea would become more critical.

Then, in a Feb. 16 update, the agency declared that no alteration is anticipated about the arming of the Northern Fleet’s surface ships by Russia.

Luzin highlighted that Russia’s plan to equip the Northern Fleet with nukes would be carried out by introducing new Borei-class and Yasen-class submarines and the battlecruiser Admiral Nakhimov once it is brought back from repair.

The Norwegian Northern Fleet

The Norwegian Northern Fleet has a long and storied history. Dating back to the 1700s, the fleet played an essential role in protecting and preserving Norway’s regional interests. During World War II, for example, the fleet actively engaged German forces, sinking seven U-boats and scaring off several more. The fleet also protected Norway’s coastline from invasion attempts by Allied forces during the war.

Since then, the Northern Fleet has evolved into a modern maritime force capable of providing deterrence and security from threats to Norway and its regional allies. The fleet comprises 26 submarines, 10 surface combatant ships, 16 patrol and coastal vessels, eight mine warfare/mine countermeasure ships, and eight amphibious platforms. The range of capabilities this provides ensures that Norwegian territorial waters are secure and allows it to operate further afield in areas such as the Atlantic Ocean or Arctic Sea.

The latest report from the Norwegian Intelligence Service indicates that Russia is taking advantage of this increased capability by lengthening submarine deployments in both these areas. This trend could have far-reaching implications for security in northern Europe and beyond. For instance, a long submarine deployment could allow Russian forces to conduct intelligence-gathering activities or even interfere with international shipping lanes if necessary. 

It is for this reason that General Hakan Syren of NATO’s Joint Warfare Centre believes that increased submarining by Russia should be taken very seriously by all countries in the region: “Russia’s submarine operations are one of their most dangerous strategies given their capabilities – they must be monitored closely.” To do so effectively, however, all nations involved must have access to real-time data about Russian naval movements, which can then be used to track any movements that may be deemed suspicious or potentially hostile. 

For this kind of visibility into Russian naval operations to occur, however, closer collaboration must be between countries across the region. This could take many forms, such as sharing information on ship movements or working together on joint exercises that test new methods for detecting submerged targets. Whatever form it takes, it is clear that increased cooperation will be most effective if done on a regional scale rather than just within individual nations – something which should serve as an incentive for those nations wishing to protect their interests from potential threats from Russian operations at Sea.