U.S., Norway, UK Carry Out FONOP Mission off Russia's Arctic Coast

refueling tidespring
Image courtesy Royal Navy

Published Sep 14, 2020 2:16 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy is leading a task group of warships into Arctic waters for the first time in more than 20 years. 

The operation repeats a similar allied exercise in May, and it is intended to demonstrate freedom of navigation above the Arctic Circle - including areas of the Barents Sea that Russia considers to be nationally-administered waters. Russia tightly regulates navigation on the Northern Sea Route above its Arctic coastline; the waters off the Kola Peninsula are a particularly sensitive region, as they are home to Russia's Northern Fleet. 

 HMS Sutherland, supported by RFA Tidespring, commanded a task group comprising the United States Navy' destroyer USS Ross and the Norwegian frigate Thor Heyerdahl on a deployment to the Barents Sea. The ships undertook training in surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and underway replenishment, demonstrating their freedom to operate in international waters.

More than 1,200 military personnel from four nations took part, supported by US P-8 Poseidon and Danish Challenger Maritime Patrol Aircraft along with RAF Typhoons and refuelling tanker RAF Voyager. It is the first time the UK has operated Typhoons in the High North. 

In a statement, the Royal Navy said that the High North is witnessing a change in its security environment and represents a key area of interest. "Recent Russian attempts to control freedom of access and navigation in the region are of concern to the UK and its partners," the service wrote.

“The UK is the closest neighbour to the Arctic states. In addition to preserving UK interests we have a responsibility to support our Arctic allies such as Norway to preserve the security and stability of the region," said UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. “It is vital to preserve freedom of navigation when melting ice caps are creating new shipping lanes and increasing the risk of states looking to militarise and monopolise international borders.”