The Pentagon is taking new steps to prepare for warfare in the Arctic by deploying B-1 bombers to Norway, bringing substantial aerial firepower much closer to the region in the vicinity of the Russian-dominated Northern Sea Route bordering the area.
The move introduces the possibility of a greater operations tempo for Bomber Task Force patrols in the area designed to preserve stability and naturally demonstrate power as a deterrence mechanism. A total of four B-1s will go to Orland Air Base in Norway for missions in the Arctic Circle and nearby areas, a CNN report states.
Increasing Arctic patrols, training and military war preparation operations with B-1 bombers raises the question as to whether the older airplanes are fully cold-weather hardened. Operating at sub-zero temperatures can place unforeseen strain upon aircraft electronics such as sensors, weapons guidance systems, cockpit windows, antennas and even certain kinds of navigational technologies. This is to a large degree why the F-35 stealth fighter, for example, has been specifically prepared for temperatures forty-degrees below zero through an elaborate cold weather preparation and hardening effort which included climate-controlled testing and specially engineered cold weather gear for pilots. Perhaps the B-1 is being modified, or even slightly adjusted in a particular way such that it can successfully operate at full mission capacity in the Arctic, despite environmental restrictions.
From a strategic point of view, bringing airpower in much closer proximity to the Arctic sends an unmistakable deterrence message to Russia, indicating a growing resolve to increase presence and operational readiness in the area. This would be consistent with what the other services are doing, as the Navy is also accelerating its Arctic war preparations by pursuing more icebreakers, a large optic in mission tempo and specific research efforts to engineer de-icing technology for ship hulls and weapons systems so they can function more effectively in harsh Arctic environments.
From a logistical point of view, having bombers in Norway certainly increases the likelihood that the U.S. can sustain an increased operations tempo of missions in a vital geographical area along the Baltic Sea and Russia’s well-known border with the Arctic.
Arctic sets could help counterbalance transparent Russian efforts to dominate the region, establish a large presence, seek strategic advantage and compete successfully for resources. Any kind of increased advantage emerging from a strong or imposing presence in the Arctic also brings an access and proximity advantage, as most places in the Northern Hemisphere are quickly and easily accessed from the Arctic, so potential aggressors could launch missions across much shorter distances.
“Recent Russian investments in the Arctic include a network of offensive air assets and coastal missile systems,” warned Barbara Barrett, former secretary of the Air Force during the Trump administration when the Air Force, according to the CNN report. “The U.S. assesses that Russia considers maintaining its own Arctic access increasingly vital with almost 25% of its gross domestic product coming from hydrocarbons north of the Arctic Circle,” Barrett indicated.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.