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Updated September 28th, 2022 at 06:32 IST

US patrol boat spots Chinese guided missile cruiser, Russian destroyer off Alaskan island

The area where Chinese and Russian vessels were sailing in a formation was 200 nautical miles offshore, where the US holds jurisdiction in the Arctic region.

Zaini Majeed
Russia
IMAGE: AP | Image:self
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At approximately 86 miles north of Alaska's Kiska Island, a US Coast Guard cutter on patrol in the Bering Sea had a close encounter with a Chinese guided missile cruiser traversing in a formation with two other Chinese and at least four Russian naval convoys. Type 055 destroyer Renhai CG 101 missile cruiser was navigating 138km (86 miles) north of the Aleutian island of Kiska, roughly 1,300 miles to the southwest.

While Kiska islands in the northern Pacific fall under the sovereignty of the US state of Alaska and is located near "Alaskan Bush," some of the archipelagoes are administered by the Russian federal subject of Kamchatka Krai and Moscow labels them as Komandorski Islands in Far East Bering Sea. The Kiska Island, part of the Aleutian Islands, lies just 700 miles from Russia 

The crew of the Honolulu-based 127-metre (418-foot) US Coast Guard Cutter Kimball sailing in the Bering Sea spotted the Chinese guided-missile cruiser Renhai at about 75 nautical miles triggering an alert during the monitoring operation. The four Russian naval vessels — including a Russian destroyer—and two additional Chinese naval vessels were operating within the United States exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, less than 100 miles off the US coast.

The formation was operating as a “combined surface action group,” US Coast Guard said in a statement. The area where Chinese and Russian vessels were sailing in a formation was 200 nautical miles offshore, where the US holds jurisdiction over the natural resources. Kimball commenced the sail under the guidelines of Operation Frontier Sentinel, which designates matching “presence with presence” when it comes to “strategic competitors” the Coast Guard stated. A US C-130 Hercules aircraft was flown from the major shore installation of the United States Coast Guard, located in Kodiak for air support. 

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak is the Seventeenth Coast Guard District (D17) unit located on Kodiak Island approximately 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. It is the first permanent and the largest United States Coast Guard aviation resource in the entire Pacific Area (PACAREA). The US conducts patrols and operations over approximately 4 million square miles that include the Gulf of Alaska, Bristol Bay, Bering Sea, and the Pacific Ocean above 40 nautical miles. 

When the Russian and Chinese vessels discovered the presence of the 127-meter US cutter Kimball they broke the formation and dispersed.

"While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms, we will meet presence with presence to ensure there are no disruptions to US interests in the maritime environment around Alaska," Rear Admiral Nathan Moore said.

Credit: CSIS

Russia's expanding military build-up, China's growing influence in Arctic

The belligerent formation of the Russian and Chinese naval vessels comes just a month after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned about China's growing influence and Russia's expanding military build-up whilst he visited Canada’s Arctic region, the first to do so in the history of the Alliance. NATO chief warned that Moscow has set up a new Arctic Command and operates hundreds of new and former Soviet-era Arctic military bases, including deep-water ports and airfields.

The North Pole is the shortest route for Russian missiles and bombers to target North America, secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted. There are at least six countries that surround the Arctic, mainly Russia, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. NATO's Stoltenberg stressed that with Finland and Sweden joining the NATO military alliance, seven of the eight Arctic countries will have been NATO members, except only Russia which dominates the region's vital resources.

Credit: Think tank Chatham House

It is estimated that by 2035, the Arctic will be freer to navigate due to the receding Polar ice impacted by Climate Change. Vessels now easily sail through the Arctic to and from Europe and northern Asia as most of the ice had melted. These sea lanes are also the shortest route over Suez or Panama canal. NATO has been pressurizing Canada, a member nation, to boost military spending to secure NATO territories in the region. 

“Beijing and Moscow have also pledged to intensify practical cooperation in the Arctic. This forms part of a deepening strategic partnership that challenges our values and interests,” Stoltenberg said speaking during visit to Canada’s north.

Shifting geopolitical realities

While the Canadian Prime Minister had previously been wary of Canada’s military posture in the Arctic, he affirmed that Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine had altered the geopolitical and military situation. "It is important that we all recognise the shifting geopolitical realities that the world is now facing and across the NATO alliance countries are investing more in the ability to secure NATO territory including across the Arctic," Trudeau said. He also pledged a €3.8 billion investment in modernizing its NORAD facilities during the NATO chief’s visit.  NORAD, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is a joint venture with the United States to detect incoming Russian aircraft or missiles. 

China, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s steadfast ally, has been planning to construct the world's largest icebreaker fleet in the Arctic. But what concerns US-led military alliance NATO is the Russian unmanned stealth ‘super-weapon,’ the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo, powered by a nuclear reactor that will escape past the coastal defences of the US military on the sea floor across the Arctic.

Soldiers stand at a radar facility on the Alexandra Land island near Nagurskoye, Russia. Credit: Associated Press

Once a desolate home mostly to polar bears, Russia's northernmost military outpost is bristling with missiles and radars. Credit: Associated Press

Moscow’s stealth torpedo in the Arctic can launch the warheads of multiple megatons to “inundate US coastal cities with radioactive tsunamis,” as put by Christopher A Ford, the former assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation. Head of Norwegian intelligence, Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensønes, in a televised interview revealed that Russia’s nuclear deterrent weapon Poseidon was still in a testing phase but will have influence far beyond the Arctic region. 

While the US has stationed its B-1 Lancer bombers in the eastern Barents Sea, the military challenges from Russia in the Arctic are befitting. Moscow has revamped its Soviet-era war bases and has installed new military bases in the Kola Peninsula near the city of Murmansk, north Atlantic.

Nagurskoye base of Russia. Credit: Maxar Technologies

Nagurskoye Airbase. Credit: CSIS

In Nagurskoye, Arkhangelsk, approximately 1,350 kilometres north of Murmansk, Russia has refitted extremely remote Arctic bases from the Cold War era and has established several trefoil bases, coastal defence missile systems, radar installations, ports and search and rescue military centres that were constructed by the Soviets in the 50s. Russia now has a Quick Reaction Alert force at two Arctic airfields – Rogachevo and Anadyr and has also successfully tested Nagurskoye airfield. It is in process of building its fleet of nuclear and conventionally powered icebreakers, and Tsirkon, a “new technology with hypersonic speeds that will be near impossible to defend against, in order to de facto control the entire Arctic and beyond. 

An Icebreaker makes the path for a cargo ship with an iceberg in the background near a port on the Alexandra Land island near Nagurskoye. Credit: Associated Press

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Published September 28th, 2022 at 06:32 IST

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