Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fun facts about operating in the Arctic

Here is a grab bag of interesting things I came across in my wanderings through the "internets" about the Arctic.

1) Arctic deployment timescales - A company size formation can stay deployed on the arctic ice pack for about a month with continuous resupply. There is a small window in spring and winter when this is likely to be less dangerous. If you go outside the window, either the temperatures drop too low or the ice pack becomes unstable and you risk falling into a crevasse.

2) 55 Gallon Oil drum lasts 3 days - A 55 gallon drum can be used for about 3 days for heating and cooking. A company size formation will go through about 5 drums in a day. For small formations, the drums can be air dropped and recovered for sustained operations, recovery can be non-trivial given the prevalence of crevasses. This IIRC is almost as bad as the Saltoro AGPL. To support larger formations you would need to use a heavy ice breaker (like those 75000 HP nuclear powered guys they have at Severomorsk). If you have a lot of equipment like the RU stuff you see on Pintrest - you need a lot more fuel and those guys are heavy - so they can't be deployed on anything as thin as arctic ice packs. To learn more check out this RT video about the RU outpost - Barneo.

3)  Heavy icebreaker is king - Russia's strength in the region relies on its dominance in nuclear powered icebreaker technology. The Russian icebreakers are capable of cutting through 10 ft of ice at 15 kts. They produce something like 75khp and they only need to be refueled every 5 years. These ships are truly amazing! As things stand, using nuclear powered icebreakers might be the key to opening the Transpolar Sea Route for commercial shipping. They may have better economic characteristics and the Russians keep building bigger more powerful ones. There is a very informative video here.

4) Admiral Kuznetsov needs to stretch its legs - In its arctic home, the Admiral doesn't get a enough sunlight to practice air operations, especially in the winter when you get maybe 1 hour of sunlight and the weather is crap. They remedy his deficiency by taking it to the Med and bringing it back. This voyage typically takes about 60-90 days. In an ideal world the Russians would send their carrier from Murmansk (Kola Peninsula, RU) to Tartus (Syria) every year, and carry out a series of naval deployment exercises every year but they don't have the money. There have only been six such voyages so far spaced roughly a few years apart. After each voyage, they have had to spend a few years repairing and readying the ship for its next long journey.

5) Money is running out in Russia -  Putin's Russia saw a boom due to the high price of oil on the world market, but then the boom went bust. Russia has been living on the earnings of that boom, that money is running out right now. The Russian military modernization program is only half complete, and all military regions are competing for scarce resources. The Kola peninsular military formations and the Arctic units are in direct conflict with commands in Crimea and the Baltic sea for money to conduct and sustain operations. RU mil is overstretched.

6) Arctic Bdes might be a mirage - We have seen lovely videos of RU special arctic troopers on RT and other places. These images have raised the profile of the RU Mil in global circles. Unfortunately the images do not tell the full story. Maintaining large formations in these climes requires a lot of money and serious exertion. The bdes can only deploy under certain weather conditions, they can only populate bases during a small window of Arctic summer. Rumors have it that many of the contractors working in the supply chain for these formations have not been paid properly. It is unclear if these are combat effective formations.

7) Backfires, Blackjacks and Spirits roam - You have to ask yourself what is gained by using a high value asset like a Backfire, Blackjack or a Spirit to go after a Toyota pickup truck in Syria or Libya. The answer is simple - nothing - however since one can't visibly exercise a Spirit, Backfire or Blackjack without making everyone crap their pants, a transparent excuse like a ISIS dinghy on the coast of Libya or a donkey cart in Aleppo can be used to practice all manner of things.  Yes - we do live in a terrible world - and we are all terrible people!

8) Are there any heroes anymore? - A small group of academics, environmentalists, economists, scientists, diplomats, soldiers and common people ( I call these the "Chosen Few") on all sides are attempting to penetrate the fog of human stupidity that surrounds discourse on Arctic issues. They are facing an uphill task given how much ignorance there is on these issues. Some of these people are actual explorers who have been to the region and formed a deep personal bond with it and still others actually live near it. These people are working to reduce tensions in the region, to educate people and prevent a totally pointless shooting war in the Arctic. These people are heroes. With a little help and luck - they may prevent humanity from defaulting to its baser instincts.


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