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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

11 August 2015

Contesting the Arctic Region

Russia is seeking to increase its Arctic shelf borders. The Arctic consists of land, territorial waters and international waters. All land and territorial waters in the Arctic belong to one of five countries: Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark (through its autonomous territory Greenland), and the United States (via Alaska). Control of the area is regulated by international law; under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), international waters, including the North Pole and the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it, are not owned by any country. The five surrounding countries are limited to exclusive economic zones (EEZ) that stretch 200 nautical miles (370km; 230mi) from their respective coasts.

The waters beyond the territorial waters of the coastal states are considered the “high seas” (international waters). The sea bottom beyond the EEZ and confirmed extended continental shelf claims are considered to be the “heritage of all mankind” and administered by the UN International Seabed Authority. Following the ratification of the UNCLOS, each coastal country had a 10-year period to make claims to an extended continental shelf, which, if validated by the UN, would give it exclusive rights to resources on or below the seabed of that part of the extended shelf. However, in order to make such a claim, the country should prove that the shelf is a geological extension of its land territory. According to recent estimates, the Arctic shelf is believed to hold approximately 30% of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 15% of its oil, with the majority of these resources remaining offshore.

Canada ratified the convention in November 2003; ten years later it announced that it would file a claim which would include the North Pole but asked for more time to prepare the application.

Denmark ratified UNCLOS in November 2004 and in 2014 it submitted its claim for approximately 895,541sqkm of the Arctic seabed – an area 20 times larger than Denmark itself. It became the first country to claim ownership over the North Pole itself. It became the fifth Danish territorial claim in the Arctic, with previous attempts occurring in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. The application is set to be considered only after Russia’s claim.

Norway ratified the convention in 1996 and by 2006 it had submitted its claim to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. In 2009 it became the first Arctic nation to settle an agreement, according to which it got three new areas of its continental shelf, covering about 235,000sqkm, or three-quarters of the size of its mainland. The original Norwegian claims presented to the UN commission in 2006 had requested 250,000sqkm.

Russia ratified the convention in 1997. On 20 December 2001, Russia made an official submission to the UN, where it proposed to establish the outer limits of the continental shelf of Russia beyond the 200nm EEZ, but within the Russian Arctic sector. Russia's Federal Agency for Subsoil Use, Rosnedra, has suggested that energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom cooperate on the development of technologies for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Shelf. The territory claimed by Russia in the submission is a large portion of the Arctic within its sector, extending to but not beyond the geographic North Pole.

One of the arguments was a statement that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain ridge passing near the Pole, and Mendeleev Ridge on the Russian side of the Pole are extensions of the Eurasian continent. The application was rejected in 2002 due to a lack of geological evidence. On 2 August 2007, a Russian expedition called Arktika 2007, composed of six explorers led by Artur Chilingarov, employing MIR submersibles, for the first time in history descended to the seabed at the North Pole. There they planted the Russian flag and took water and soil samples for analysis, continuing a mission to provide additional evidence related to the Russian claim to the mineral riches of the Arctic. This was part of the ongoing 2007 Russian North Pole expedition, and was conducted as part of the 2007–2008 International Polar Year.

On 4 August 2015, Russia resubmitted its bid, which contained new arguments based on, “ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research,” regarding territory in the Arctic to the UN. Via this bid, Russia is claiming 1.2 million square kilometres of Artic sea shelf extending more than 350nm nautical miles from the shore. According to Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq, Russia's bid for the expansion of its Arctic shelf border will be considered by the UN not earlier than in February or March of 2016.

The US had not ratified the UN Convention and, therefore, has not been eligible to file an official claim requesting the extension of its control of the continental shelf. The major obstacles facing ratification are the provisions of Part XI of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, relating to minerals on the seabed outside the EEZ. It establishes an International Seabed Authority (ISA) to authorise seabed exploration and mining and collect and distribute seabed mining royalties. The US argues that the treaty was unfavourable to American economic and security interests, and is attempting to establish an alternative regime for exploiting the minerals of the deep seabed.

Clash of Geopolitical Interests 

Rich in natural resources, the Arctic is a potential arena for the clash of geopolitical interests of the Arctic states. Russia is actively developing territories in the Arctic region. In order to effectively use the new shipping routes, which are formed due to the melting of ice, as well as to optimize oil and gas production in the region, Moscow is carrying out massive modernisation of its northern coast and remote archipelagos.

A soldier demonstrates the Ratnik Soldier Combat Equipment Set during a military exercise at Alabino range, Moscow Region , for use in the arctic. 

In February 2013, Russian authorities unveiled a strategy to improve the country's military defence network in the Arctic, a programme that will continue through 2020. In April 2014, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had begun the construction of an integrated network of military facilities in its Arctic territories to bolster border defences. Russia is concentrating on the construction of a series of military bases, which will include search and rescue (SAR) stations, ports, runways and military headquarters. The other Arctic region neighbouring countries, do not have the same amount of bases in comparison.

In order to support new military bases, some of which were built during the Soviet times and now are undergoing modernisation, the Kremlin is also working to update the Northern Fleet. Altogether, Moscow plans to open 10 Arctic SAR stations, 16 deep-water ports, 13 airports, and 10 radar stations with air defence systems.

An integrated system to monitor conditions in the Arctic, including both civilian and military segments, will be created in Russia by 2025, developer RTI Systems concern recently said. The cost of the system is estimated at over $93 million. It will consist of several elements, specifically, primary sources of information received from surface wave radars, underwater lighting, a highly elliptical orbit space system and remote-controlled Unmanned Systems. The system will be amplified with transport and communications equipment.

By 2020-2025, a system to monitor conditions in the Arctic will be created. This includes the creation of a single information space, monitoring the situation in the air, on water, underwater and on land. It is a dual purpose system, both civilian and military,” a spokesperson for the concern said.

Russia is monitoring Arctic waters and airspace at a distance of over 300mi miles from the coastline, a representative of the country’s Defense Ministry said in late July.

Since February 2013, when Moscow announced a strategy to increase its presence in the Arctic and boost the region's development by 2020, Russia has been particularly active in exploring opportunities in the Arctic and is set to build a unified network of military facilities in the region in order to strengthen its border defence.

Red Flag 2015?

A number of fighter bombers and AWACS reconnaissance planes are taking part in RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3, a Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for US and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment; now underway in Alaska. Overall command is being exercised by the Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The ROKAF is participating in RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3.
During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, aircrews are subjected to every conceivable combat threat. Scenarios are shaped to meet each exercise's specific training objectives. All units are involved in the development of exercise training objectives. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 jet fighters can be operating in the same airspace at one time. Typically, RED FLAG-Alaska conducts two combat training missions each day.

All RED FLAG-Alaska exercises take place in the Joint Pacific Range Complex over Alaska as well as a portion of Western Canadian airspace. The entire airspace is made up of extensive Military Operations Areas, Special Use Airspace, and ranges, for a total airspace of more than 67,000 square miles.  Red Flag-Alaska 15-3 is slated to run until 21 August 2015.

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