Last week, three Russian ballistic missile submarines participated in Arctic training drills near the North Pole, and the Russian Ministry of Defense shared footage on Friday of the submarines bursting through the ice.
The drills entailed Russian submarines breaching the ice and Russian troops conducting cold-weather ground maneuvers on the open ice. A pair of MiG-31 Foxhound jet interceptors also flew over the Arctic, with support from an Il-78 aerial refueling tanker. According to Russia’s Navy, about 600 Russian military personnel and civilian personnel were present and about 200 models of Russian weapons and military equipment were involved.
The types of Russian submarines involved were not specified, but The Drive identified two of the submarine tower sails as consistent with those seen on Russia’s Delta-IV class submarines. The third submarine may be Borei class submarine or even the lone Borei-A class submarine currently in service with Russia, the Knyaz Vladimir. The Borei and Borei-A class submarines are considered Russia’s most advanced ballistic missile submarines.
The drills were part of Russia’s Umka-21 expedition, which began on March 20, 2021, around the Franz Josef Land archipelago and Alexandra Land island. Russia’s Navy said that during the drills, an unspecified nuclear submarine trained to fire a torpedo from under the ice, which blew a hole through the ice to reach the surface. The Russian Geographical Society was also involved in the latest Russian Arctic drills.
The Arctic training drills come as the region has become more accessible in recent years and Russia has sought to expand its presence there.
According to Russia’s Navy, the drills took place under cold weather conditions between -13 and -22 degrees Fahrenheit and with wind speeds gusting up to 71 miles per hour.
“Based on the results of the measures taken, the samples of weapons, military and special equipment participating in military-technical experiments have generally confirmed their tactical and technical characteristics in conditions of high latitudes and low temperatures,” Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, Command-in-Chief of the Russian Navy said.
The Russian submarines aren’t the first to breach through the Arctic ice sheets. The U.S. frequently conducts its own Arctic submarine ice-breaching drills, known as ICEX.
In March 2020 U.S. Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, then-commander of the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), testified to the House Armed Services Committee about Russian aircraft that loitered around the U.S. ICEX2020 to spy on the U.S. drills.
During his remarks, O’Shaughnessy also warned about other nation’s increasingly being able to access the Arctic.
“The Arctic is no longer a fortress wall and the oceans are no longer protective moats,” He said. “They are avenues of approach to the homeland.”