In part 3, I will focus more on the political side of winter warfare, including the Arctic Council and the Russian and Chinese futures in the Arctic. I will finish with my opinion on the future of winter warfare for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
Although this 3 part article was supposed to be focusing mainly on the training and operations related to winter warfare, I couldn’t go without talking about the political side of it. One of the main future stakes in the next few years will be the Arctic. So it goes without saying that both the political and the military are important to look into.
The Arctic Council
Before we go into detail, let’s look at the establishment of the Arctic Council.
The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 formally established the Arctic Council as a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
Arctic Council Member States are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America.
In addition to the Member States, the Arctic Council has the category of Permanent Participants.
The Arctic Council has no mandate for defence of military matters. The Department of National Defence (DND), alongside the Russian and the United States, all agreed that there is no military threat in the Arctic. It seems like the three countries are trying to avoid the issues altogether in the Arctic Council context.
The Arctic council focuses more on environmental issues and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. A lot of people would think that such an organization would put defence as a top priority but it is not the case.
Canada is the current chair for the council until May 2015. It will be replaced by the United States from 2015 to 2017.
Russia’s Increasing Military Presence in the North
Russia intends to spend more than 1.3 trillion rubles, approximately $44 billion USD, in the Arctic until 2020. Although this amount will not be entirely spent on the Defence, it clearly indicates the renewed interest of providing a strong Arctic presence, both domestically and militarily.
While Canada has announced extending its Arctic territorial claims, Russian’s president Vladimir Putin also vowed to step up Russia’s military presence in the Arctic.
Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Vice-Admiral Viktor Chirkov, told reporters in September 2012 that:
“The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will fully implement the task of permanent military presence in the Arctic to secure the legal access of the country to resources and spaces of this region. This will be a constant presence”
This is where Canada is severely lacking on its Arctic policy. Canada has no intentions, in the near future, to have a constant presence in the Arctic.
Putin told his defence senior leaders to concentrate on more infrastructure and military units in the Arctic on the basis of being a key region for national and strategic interests.
Russia is also building the world’s largest nuclear icebreaker that will be added to the fleet of five it already has. 10 deep-water naval ports are already in service, capable of servicing nuclear submarines and it’s Northern Fleet.
Airfields, from the Cold War era, are also being restored to be able to receive new fighter jets. The Russian Air Force will also be supplied with new aircraft such as Sukhoi Su-30SM, Su-34 and SU-35s intended to those airfields.
Russian Army Special Forces were sent into the Arctic for their first training sessions last October. Colonel Oleg Kochetkov, the Western Military District’s spokesman, told the press that Russian Special Reconnaissance units carried out training mission on the Kola Peninsula. Sniper duels in polar conditions were also conducted.
“Combat training missions involving elements of mountaineering in the conditions of the extreme north are a new experience for reconnaissance units that normally train in the mountains in southern Russia,” Kochetkov said.
The Russian military plans to deploy two full Arctic brigades in the next few years. A Russian brigade is approximately 4,400 soldiers.
China, a New Player in the Arctic?
China became one of the permanent observers of the Arctic Council in May 2013. We all know China needs a very important amount of natural resources to sustain their production. The Arctic is known to be one of the richest areas in the world regarding natural resources. They are also trying really hard to become one of the Member States, alongside the eight other members.
There are rich deposits of fossil fuel, nickel, copper, coal, gold, uranium, tungsten and diamonds in the Arctic. Fossil fuel can provide the long-term energy resources and China needs it. The Northwest Passage is also one of the main focuses that China has in the Arctic. They could save a huge amount of money in trade-related costs by crossing it.
China openly states that the Arctic belongs to all the people around the world and is against nation sovereignty.
But will the Chinese Military get involved in the Arctic? Only the future will tell us. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy is slowly refocusing its resources towards ships that could withstand the Arctic weather. Same applies to their Air Force.
My main concern here is the relationship between Russia and China. While the Russians are spending a great amount of money to “remilitarize” their Northen Fleet and Air Force, China could become a strategic partner by offering a more logistical role. Russia could also provide Beijing with a gateway to the North in its Far East.
It is my intention to dig deeper in that subject and provide more information in the near future as China is slowly becoming one of the world’s superpowers.
The Future of Winter Warfare and the Canadian Armed Forces Presence in the Arctic
I wrote an article in November 2013 about the Arctic being one of the main strategic stakes for Canada. You can find it here. In that article I was focusing on the importance of having our first deep-water port in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. It came to my attention recently that there was a debate between the senior leadership of the CAF and the Government of Canada on whether it was the CAF’s role to provide security in the North as it is a domestic operation.
In that case, I firmly believe that it is the role of the CAF to provide a capable force for any situation, especially domestic operation as it is on our own territory. We can read on the Canadian Army website about domestic operations.
The main role of the Canadian Army is protecting Canadians at home. On any given day, the Canadian Army is ready to defend Canada and North America and to provide assistance to populations and regions affected by natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods.
Under the Canadian First Defence Strategy, protecting our own territory is the main priority. When it comes to the CAF presence in the North, Canada answers with a least three major operations, but has no plan to station troops in the Resolute Bay area, where Canada has recently established the Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Training Centre (CAFATC).
The Canadian Army could send an infantry company reinforced with other important elements such as engineers, logistics and administration soldiers. In other words, we don’t need a large amount of soldiers but a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to intervene while reinforcements are sent from the Operational Bases.
Sending an infantry company would require an upgrade of our Arctic-capable equipment. A new fleet of snowmobiles, upgraded BV-206, for the time being, and better clothing would be essential for success in the North. CANSOFCOM is currently testing stealth snowmobiles, who are worth approximately $620,000 each, but these wouldn’t be available for conventional troops.
But back on the BV-206. ST Kinetics developed the Bronco All Terrain Tracked Carrier, commonly named the Warthog by the UK Armed Forces. While the BV-206 is a good temporary solution, due to its age and upgrade problems, the CAF should be looking at the Warthog to replace them. The Warthog can carry a bigger payload and is capable of a better top speed. It does offer the same capabilities as the BV-206. The British Army used the Warthog in Afghanistan, thus making it a very versatile tracked personal carrier.
A source of mine has also confirmed that an R&D company in Canada is working on a track adapted to Arctic condition for the TLAVs. The track is larger and threaded for providing more grip on ice and snow. TLAVs have been used in Afghanistan very successfully.
Other ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) assets would also be vital to provide troops on the ground valuable information. Drones, such as Heron and the CP-140 Aurora aircraft would be a perfect match for the Arctic ISR.
The stakes are high for the Arctic and we should put our full attention towards the next few years, as they will shape our future. While some countries are getting a stronger presence in the North, it is important for Canada and its allies to provide capable forces to respond to any threat and to intervene in major cases.
Whether it’s an environmental issue, a Search and Rescue operation or a military intervention, I firmly believe in NATO cooperation in the Arctic. History has shown us that countries will fight for resources and not try to find a peaceful solution.
As the world’s resources are getting thinner, the eyes of the G20 and G8 countries are now turning to our Great North. We can’t afford to have half the planet harvesting and exploiting the North both for environmental and strategic issues.