As part of its growing focus on Arctic warfare and countering Russia on NATO’s flanks and more vulnerable states, such as Poland and the Baltics, the Pentagon has deployed supersonic B-1 strategic bombers to Norway. CNN reported that four B-1s will go to Orland Air Base in Norway for missions in and around the Arctic Circle.
The new move, notes Warrior Maven’s Kris Osborne, brings “substantial aerial firepower much closer to the region in the vicinity of the Russian-dominated Northern Sea Route…” It also allows for a greater operations tempo for Bomber Task Force patrols in the area.
Ultimately, Osborne notes, it “sends an unmistakable deterrence message to Russia, indicating a growing resolve to increase presence and operational readiness in the area.”
This added firepower and resolve is needed due to Russia’s aggressive return to the Arctic and push against NATO’s northern flank. CNN quoted former Trump Secretary of the Air Force, Barbara Barrett, as warning:
Recent Russian investments in the Arctic include a network of offensive air assets and coastal missile systems. The U.S. assesses that Russia considers maintaining its own Arctic access increasingly vital with almost 25% of its gross domestic product coming from hydrocarbons north of the Arctic Circle.
However, fighting in the frigid arctic brings a host of challenges to both planes and personnel. Osborne notes that:
Operating at sub-zero temperatures can place unforeseen strain upon aircraft electronics such as sensors, weapons guidance systems, cockpit windows, antennas and even certain kinds of navigational technologies.
This raises the important question, writes Osborne, “as to whether the older airplanes are fully cold-weather hardened.” He adds:
This is to a large degree why the F-35 stealth fighter, for example, has been specifically prepared for temperatures forty-degrees below zero through an elaborate cold weather preparation and hardening effort which included climate-controlled testing and specially engineered cold weather gear for pilots. Perhaps the B-1 is being modified, or even slightly adjusted in a particular way such that it can successfully operate at full mission capacity in the Arctic, despite environmental restrictions.
Let’s assume the Pentagon and Air Force are on top of this cold weather issue, and the four recently deployed B-1 bombers now in Norway will continue to operate effectively throughout the region.