The U.S. Air Force is working hard to expand the number of bases that can support the service’s most powerful warplanes for missions over the Arctic region.
Not coincidentally, the Russian military also is working hard to expand the number of bases that can support its most powerful warplanes for missions over the Arctic region.
Specifically, the Russian navy has tasked a regiment of upgraded MiG-31BM interceptors to skip and hop across Arctic airfields in order to range across the cold-but-rapidly-thawing North Pole.
Their mission—to protect the Northern Sea Route, an Arctic shipping channel that’s growing in importance to Moscow as the world warms and there’s less ice to clog Arctic waters.
The Russian navy’s 98th Guards Composite Aviation Regiment flies around a dozen twin-engine, twin-seat MiG-31BMs—plus a couple dozen Su-24 bombers and reconnaissance jets—from Monchegorsk airfield near Murmansk, in Russia’s north.
The Kremlin in recent years has rehabilitated more then a dozen airfields across Russia’s Arctic coast, including several very chilly airfields on the Russian Arctic Islands.
The MiG-31s can stage from many of these airfields. Combined with the MiG’s impressive, 900-mile combat radius, the base network allows the interceptors to range far and wide across the Arctic and cover the entire Northern Shipping Route.
That’s not just theory. In 2020, the navy tested the dispersal. “The command recognized the results of the maneuvers as successful,” Izvestia noted last week. A pair of MiG-31 interceptors flying from Rogachevo, one of the island airfields, briefly escorted a pair of Tu-160s as the bombers flew over the Arctic in early February.
And with more and more American bombers probing Russian defenses in the Far North—including four swing-wing B-1s that, starting in February, deployed to Norway for weeks of exercises—the MiG crews could have ample opportunity to put into practice Moscow’s Northern Sea Route protection-strategy.
This article originally appeared on Forbes