It was like a scene out of a Hollywood movie — in fact, reminiscent of the 1968 Rock Hudson feature film, Ice Station Zebra.
Three Russian nuclear ballistic submarines, smashing through the Arctic ice just feet from each other, Russian warplanes flying overhead, and Russia’s top winter shock troops, conducting maneuvers on the wintry tundra as part of Umka-2021.
What is it about President Vladimir Putin? The guy loves staging a show of force with a touch of the dramatic.
This week’s drills were conducted around Alexandra Land, an island that is part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago where the military has recently built a base, the UK’s Daily Mail reported.
Moscow has prioritized beefing up its military presence in the Arctic region, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas.
Putin has in the past cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at £22 trillion, Daily Mail reported.
Russia, the US, Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, as shrinking polar ice opens new opportunities for tapping resources and opening new shipping lanes.
The Russian military has rebuilt and expanded numerous facilities across the polar region in recent years, revamping runways and deploying additional surveillance and air defense assets, Daily Mail reported.
Defence Ministry videos featured the submarines breaking through the ice, along with MiG-31 fighter jets being refuelled by a tanker plane.
Navy chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmeno said the sophisticated maneuver was carried out by submarines “for the first time in the history of the Russian Navy.”
The submarines surfaced within a 300 meters radius and the ice they broke was 1.5 meters deep, the admiral added.
Putin said the manoeuvres have also proven the reliability of Russian weapons in polar conditions, Daily Mail reported.
“I order to continue Arctic expeditions and research in the Far North to help ensure Russia’s security,” the president told the navy chief.
The Russian military has expanded the number and the scope of its war games amid bitter tensions in ties with the West, which have sunk to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Calling on a historic visage, Putin said: “The Arctic expedition… has no analogs in the Soviet and the modern history of Russia.”
According to Joseph Trevithick at The War Zone, the video appears to show at least two sails belonging to Delta IV class submarines, also known as Project 667BDRM Delfins.
It’s possible that the third boat could be either a member of the Borei class, or the lone Borei-A class submarine presently in service, the Knyaz Vladimir.
The Borei and Borei-A designs are Russia’s most advanced ballistic missile submarines.
Both of these types can be loaded with up to 16 RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles, each one of which can be armed with between 6 and 10 Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRV), depending on the type of nuclear warhead.
The Delta IVs can be armed with up to 16 R-29RMU Sineva submarine-launched ballistic missiles, themselves capable of each carrying either 4 or 10 MIRVs, again depending on the warhead type.
It is known that Russian ballistic missile submarines conduct deterrent patrols under the protection of the Arctic ice, where it is especially difficult to track their movements.
They do, of course, still have to move out from under the ice to unleash their deadly payloads.
A pair of MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors, supported by an Il-78 aerial refueling tanker, also flew over the North Pole and troops have been conducting maneuvers on the ground in extreme cold weather conditions as part of Umka-2021, War Zone reported.
Average temperatures in the exercise area, at present, are ranging between -13 and -22 degrees Fahrenheit, with fierce winds, according to state-run media outlet TASS.