Russian navy announces comprehensive naval exercises off Northern Norway

The exercises may be intended as a signal to NATO, observers said.

Russian Navy’s large anti-submarine ship Severomorsk sails during the Navy Day parade in Saint Petersburg, Russia July 28, 2019. The Severomorsk is among several ships set to take part in exercises in the Norwegian Sea. (Aleksey Nikolskyi / Sputnik / Kremlin via Reuters)

A group of Northern Fleet warships is sailing north for live-fire exercises in the Norwegian Sea near the Arctic Circle, and NATO has deployed extra maritime patrol aircraft to track the ships.

The Russian naval vessels are currently sailing outside the west coast of Norway en route back north after participating the exercise Ocean Shield in the Baltic Sea.

“Four NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) are announced for areas off the coast of Helgeland and Lofoten for the period August 14th to 17th,”Sigurd Tonning-Olsen, press spokesman with the operational headquarters of the Norwegian Armed Forces, told the Barents Observer in a phone interview.

He says this is “unusually high activity” by the Russian Navy.

The press service of the Northern Fleet says that two tactical groups of navy ships are formed in the North Sea and they “will continue with planned combat training missions as they are crossing the sea.”

Missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov, the large anti-submarine ship Severomorsk and the rescue tug SB-406 forms the first group, while the second consists of multi-purpose logistic support vessel Elbrus, the rescue tug Nikolay Chiker and the frigate Admiral Gorskhov.

As reported by the Barents Observer this weekend, the Oscar-II class nuclear-powered submarine Smolensk was also sailing with Elbrus and Nikolay Chiker.

Warships normally sail without the AIS turn on, but the support vessels can be tracked on MarineTraffic.com. Tuesday evening, the ships were north of Bergen, a few days voyage from where the exercise is said to take place.

A P-8A Poseidon aircraft is parked on the flight line of Naval Air Station Keflavik, in Iceland. (Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Newman / U.S. Navy)

Sigurd Tonning-Olsen says three U.S. Navy P8A Poseidon Maritime surveillance aircraft are deployed to Andøya military airfield in Northern Norway.

“It is very important both for us and for our allies to have a good situation understanding,” he says and adds that Norwegian Orion aircraft will also be on the wings as the Russian Navy group sails north.

Last autumn, during NATO’s large scale exercise Trident Juncture, Russia’s Northern Fleet announced NOTAMs for three areas, one outside the Møre on the west coast of Norway, one area outside Lofoten just north of the Arctic Circle and one area off the coast of Finnmark in the Barents Sea. Actual shootings, however, only took place outside Finnmark where the Northern Fleet’s largest nuclear-powered battle cruiser Pyotr Velikiy was one of the participating warships.

Russian Navy exercises in the Barents Sea and Arctic waters are normal. What is new since 2018 is live shootings in the Norwegian Sea, waters west and south of North Cape.

A map shows areas where Russian Naval exercises are set to take place in the Norwegian Sea. (Barents Observer / Google Maps)

Kristian Åtland, a senior research fellow with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI),  told the Barents Observer this spring that Moscow, by announcing live-shootings in the Norwegian Sea, may be intending to send a signal to NATO that Russia is capable of expanding its bastion defense beyond the Barents Sea, conducting sea denial operations in the maritime spaces of northwestern Europe, all the way to the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) gap.

“While adhering to international law and conforming to international notification requirements, the Russian Northern Fleet seems to be in the process of expanding its exercise and weapon testing activity in a southwestern direction,” Åtland said.