While you weren’t paying attention over the past few years, the battles over the Arctic have been intensifying. For now they’ve been entirely diplomatic, but Russia just upped its own ante by deploying incredibly fast MiG-31 interceptors to an extremely Northern air base.
Before I go any further, let me make it absolutely clear that Russia’s not exactly doing anything completely unusual here. The US has deployed F-22 Raptors to Alaska for years, and regularly holds RED FLAG exercises up there.
But the diplomatic struggle over the Arctic is, if not at a boiling point, on its way. Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark have all rushed to establish their (often tenuous at best) claims to the Arctic, as vast reserves of natural gas and oil are thought to be buried underneath its seabed. Canada, for example, has been scouring the sea bed for remains of a failed British expedition that sought the Northwest Passage, and just a little while ago it found the remains of the storied HMS Erebus.
Though that really has nothing on the time in 2007 that Russia straight up dropped its own flag on the seabed at the North Pole, as if that meant something.
Basically, everyone is trying to claim that certain undersea ridges are attached to their continental shelves, in a complicated international legal bid for energy rights. But legal bids, especially speaking internationally, work a bit better when they’re backed up with weapons.
So it’s making a bit of a sense, then, that Russia is re-building a Soviet-era base and deploying the MiGs to its far northern reaches, according to Russian government mouthpiece RIA Novosti:
Starting from 2017, the Russian Air Force will base MiG-31 interceptor jets and tactical aircraft at a Russian Arctic airfield in the urban settlement of Tiksi in northernmost Sakha Republic, Commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said Wednesday.
And Tiksi is way, way up north, not far from Alaska.
In many ways, it’s just another extension of existing Russian government policy, as back in April, President Vladimir Putin established a specific state agency for development of the Arctic, and an Arctic military command sporting snowmobiles and hovercraft is on its way by 2017.
Oh, plus there was that whole thing last month when American F-22s intercepted a flight of Russian MiG-31s, Il-78 tankers, and Tu-95 bombers, and the Canadian CF-18s intercepted a pair of bombers of their own.
So we might as well start getting used to seeing more of that.
Especially seeing as how the MiG-31 works pretty well as a bomber escort, seeing as how it can top Mach 2.8 (or more than 1,800 MPH), has a long range, and a very powerful radar.
So will you see enormous and noisy Russian bombers soaring over your North American city any time soon?
Almost definitely not.
But you might hear a little more saber-rattling.