New Russian fighter jets are deployed to an upgraded Arctic air base

It's the first time supersonic interceptor planes have been deployed to Novaya Zemlya.


Russian MiG-31BM aircraft are parked at an air base on Novaya Zemlya. (Northern Fleet via The Independent Barents Observer)

New supersonic fighter jets took over combat alert duties at the Rogachevo air field in Novaya Zemlya in early January.

This weekend, the head commander of the Northern Fleet’s air force and air defense division paid a visit.

General Lieutenant Aleksandr Otroshchenko himself flew a MiG-31MB from the Kola Peninsula to Rogachevo, a distance of more than 800 kilometers.

The visit was made in connection with the first shift of crews and aircraft, according to the Northern Fleet.

Arctic flights

In a comment to military news site Zvezda, Otroshchenko underlines that the MiG-31BM operates without problems at the extreme altitudes.

“The machine works excellently [and] there is no difference from the altitudes where we normally fly around Monchegorsk,” he said.

“A month has passed and we therefore needed to shift the aircrafts and their personnel, and also have a closer look at the conditions for the servicemen and their life conditions,” he explained.

Aircraft navigator Aleksandr Kharitonov has spent a month at the remote base. He underlines that the Mig-31 is well suited for the harsh conditions.

“They can fly in temperatures down to minus 60 degrees C, which has been confirmed in experimental operations in the area of the Northern Sea Route,” Kharitonov told Zvezda.

“The main nuance here is the weather, which is very complicated,” he says. “Now, for example, the wind has for a week blown with a speed of about 100 km/h,” he said.

Arctic infrastructure

It is the first time that supersonic interceptor aircraft is deployed in Novaya Zemlya. The deployment is still conducted on test basis.

According to the Northern Fleet, there were not detected any violations of Russian air space in the area in the course of the month of duty.

The MiG-31M is a modernized version of the MiG-31. The efficiency of the modernized MiG-31BM is believed to be 2.6 times greater than its original. The Russian Armed Forces is in the process of modernizing many of its MiG-31 aircraft to the enhanced version.

The Northern Fleet’s 45th Air Defense Division was formally established in December 2015. It includes a big number of airfields and air defense bases across the Russian Arctic, from the airfield of Temp in the New Siberian Islands in the east to the Nagurskoye base in Franz Josef Land in the west.

General Lieutenant Aleksandr Otroshchenko has been in charge of the division ever since its establishment.

“Defensive purposes”

The establishment of combat alert duties for the MiG-31 at Novaya Zemlya comes as military tensions in North Atlantic and Arctic waters are on the increase.

The U.S. Air Force is reportedly planning a Bomber Task Force deployment, with four Rockwell B-1B Lancers, to the Norwegian base of Ørland in February this year. The base is located 1,000 kilometers from Russian territory, but the American aircraft have still triggered a harsh reaction from Russian authorities.

In a comment posted on Facebook, the Russian Embassy in Norway underlines that Norway is putting security in the north of Europe and Arctic in jeopardy with the deployment.

Meanwhile, the Russian buildup in the Arctic has “only defensive purposes”, the embassy underlines.

According to the diplomats, the modernization of military infrastructure in the Arctic is to help promote economic activities in the region, and also improve Arctic monitoring, search and rescue, oil preparedness and fishery management.