Gavin Williamson, Britain’s Defense Secretary has announced the UK’s plans to expand its military presence in the Arctic, amid a significant buildup of Russian forces within the region.
For years, Russia has dominated expansion in the Arctic, thanks in no small part to President Vladimir Putin’s belief that the waterways being freed up by climate change will represent some of the most strategically and economically important of the latter 21st century. Russia’s fleet of icebreakers compares to most other developed nations like America’s Navy does to conventional sea warfare: with more ships, more firepower, and more capability than any two competitors put together.
The United States, whose barely functional fleet of icebreakers fall under the scope (and anemic budget) of the U.S. Coast Guard, has plans to field a single new large icebreaker in the coming years. This new vessel will dramatically expand the Coast Guard’s capabilities within the Arctic region as compared to the current fleet of two somewhat functional boats and a third that’s primarily used for parts. However, despite the billion dollars being invested in this new ice-breaking vessel, America and its allies still have far to go before mounting a respectable arctic force, as Russia alone has 41 operational icebreakers in its fleet, with 11 more already under construction. They are also the only nation on earth with nuclear-powered icebreakers, not beholden to fuel supply lines like the rest of the world’s (though China is now developing one, as well).
Russia has recently stood up six new military bases in the Arctic, in addition to the already operational 16 deepwater ports suitable for large commercial or military vessels and 13 airfields. Not only that, but Russia has already deployed their advanced S-400 air defense systems and even hypersonic Bastion anti-ship missiles, among the most advanced in the world, to defend their arctic assets against incursion from air or sea.