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Wings of the Arctic: how Russian planes and helicopters returned to the North


The Ministry of Defense is completing the creation of the basis for an aviation group in the Arctic. According to Izvestia sources in the military department, next year new planes and helicopters will be sent there, and a garrison management system will be created. Over the past few years, infrastructure has been continually being built and strength building beyond the Arctic Circle. For the first time in modern history, one of the countries of the world was able to create an aviation group operating in this region. Military historian Dmitry Boltenkov figured out what the Russian air force is in the Arctic and what tasks they can solve.

Forces of the North

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It is planned to create the basis of the Arctic aviation group by the end of the year, Izvestia sources in the military department told. In addition to the supply of new equipment, the control system of air units and garrisons will be changed. In addition, the formation of an effective communication system will be completed.

Today, two military units are responsible for the defense of Russian Arctic waters. The western and central sectors are in the area of ​​responsibility of the Northern Fleet (SF). The command of troops and forces in the north-east of Russia (OKVS) is responsible for the northeast and the Bering Strait. Both of these associations have at their disposal a fairly impressive naval aviation force by today’s standards.

As part of the Northern Fleet, it is represented by the 45th Air Force and Air Defense Army. The aviation component includes the 100th and 279th naval aviation regiments with MiG-29 and Su-33 fighters, respectively.

Wings of the Arctic

Su-33 shipborne fighter of the Russian Aerospace Forces

Su-33 shipborne fighter of the Russian Aerospace Forces

Photo: RIA Novosti / Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

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The 403rd mixed regiment is intended to conduct search and rescue, anti-submarine operations and conduct reconnaissance operations. It includes anti-submarine aircraft Tu-142M, Il-38 and Il-38 Novella, as well as An-12, An-26 and special aircraft based on the Il-18. These units are based near the main base of the Northern Fleet in the city of Severomorsk. Squadron Tu-142M is located in the village of Kipelovo, Vologda Oblast. From there, it is capable of operating over the wide expanses of the Arctic Ocean, and also flies around the corner – into the waters of the North Atlantic.

Another mixed air regiment, the 98th, is based in Monchegorsk and includes Su-24M reconnaissance bombers and MiG-31 fighters. The unit is responsible for supporting surface operations in the Barents Sea and providing anti-aircraft operations. Of course, the presence of two such different types of aviation equipment in one regiment gives rise to certain problems. With the expansion of deliveries of the upgraded MiG-31BM aircrafts, one can be sure of the deployment on the basis of this regiment of one more – purely fighter.

The helicopter component of the 45th Army is represented by the 830th Regiment. It includes the Ka-27 of various types, including the modernized Ka-27M and the transport-combat Ka-29. Also in the Northern Fleet there is the only regiment of unmanned aerial vehicles in the armed forces.

Wings of the Arctic


Ship transport and combat helicopter Ka-29

Photo: Izvestia / Alexander Kazakov

OKVS includes the 317th regiment. It is a unique piece in the structure of the army and navy. It consists of anti-submarine (IL-28 and IL-38 Novella) aircraft, transport aircraft, MiG-31 fighters, helicopters of various types, as well as drones. In the near future, several more separate formations may be deployed on the basis of the regiment, for example, a fighter aviation regiment on the MiG-31BM, a helicopter regiment, as well as a regiment of unmanned aerial vehicles. A squadron of Tu-142MZ aircraft is based near the port of Sovetskaya Gavan. Airplanes and helicopters, including such giants as the Mi-26 from the Military Space Forces, can be used to solve transport problems.

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High prospects

The vast expanses of the Arctic Ocean, the general change in the hydrometeorological situation, including the melting of ice, has led to the fact that ships and vessels of various countries can uncontrollably carry out their voyages in the Arctic waters in the summer. Therefore, naval aviation is in dire need of modern patrol aircraft and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles.

The naval aviation includes good Il-38 and Tu-142 aircraft. They are undergoing modernization, but the cars are not new, they are still built in the Soviet years. Now the fleet has an urgent need for a new patrol aircraft, which can be made on the basis of a passenger plane. In general, the creation of patrol aircraft based on passenger aircraft is a global trend. This gives large volumes for the placement of search and sighting equipment and ensures the economy of flights.

Wings of the Arctic

Long-range anti-submarine aircraft Tu-142

Long-range anti-submarine aircraft Tu-142

Photo: RIA Novosti / Alexey Danichev

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In recent years, US and UK nuclear submarines have been constantly maneuvering in Arctic waters. And such activities are another reason for the development of patrol anti-submarine aviation, including in the form of drones.

Long-range drones are seen as another necessity. Russia, unfortunately, lags behind other countries in their creation. At the same time, there are positive developments in resolving this issue. So, the first unmanned complex “Orion” entered service. However, the increased activity of the forces of the United States and other countries in Arctic waters requires more active deployment of long-range drones for reconnaissance and participation in various operations.

Naval aviation also solves the problems of air defense. In addition to the active rearmament of the squadrons of the 98th and 317th regiments with MiG-31BM aircrafts, the naval aviation literally became the driver of the development of new ways of mastering these unique fighters. These include flights to the stratosphere, and escort of domestic bombers, and the interception of foreign combat aircraft and cruise missiles. It seems that only at the present time the MiG-31 aircraft has begun to reveal all the combat potential inherent in its creation.

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Another “phoenix”, literally revived from the ashes, was the Ka-29 transport and combat helicopter. For many years, several dozen of these machines rusted on the outskirts of the airfields of Severomorsk and Elizovo. Currently, some of them have been restored. This is a very successful deck helicopter, capable of transferring a half dozen Marines and covering them with fire. Such machines are most optimal for suppressing any illegal activity in the wide expanses of the Arctic Ocean.

The transport component of naval aviation also needs development. In recent years, outposts and military bases on the islands of Franz Josef, Kotelny, Wrangel and others have been actively reviving. For their supply, aircraft and helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces are used. However, ferrying a Mi-26 helicopter from Khabarovsk to Wrangel Island for the delivery of goods is not its most rational use.

In general, the naval aviation of the Russian Navy today has a good fleet and trained personnel. So it is capable of solving a wide range of tasks in Arctic waters. At the same time, naval aviation is experiencing an urgent need for new patrol aircraft and longer range drones.


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