Maritime Threats to the North Atlantic
ROBBIN LAIRD
© 2017 FrontLine Defence (Vol 14, No 4)

The rebuilding of Russia’s Northern fleet and its defense bastion built around the Kola Peninsula creates a direct challenge to the Norwegian area of interest. Clearly, the expanded reach of Russia into the Arctic also affects the nature of the air and sea domains of strategic interest to all of the Arctic Council States.

Norway
In its Long Term Plan (issued on 17 June 2016), the Norwegian Ministry of Defence notes that “the most significant change in the Norwegian security environment relates to Russia’s growing military capability and its use of force. The military reform in Russia has resulted in a modernization of Russia’s conventional forces as well as a strengthening of its nuclear capabilities.”


Dark areas above represent sea oil and natural gas reserves of the Arctic region. It is estimated that approximately 25% of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves are located under the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.

It goes on to mention Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and the continued destabilization of Eastern Ukraine. Both “constitute violations of international law, which have had a dramatic effect on European security,” the document asserts. “Russia has repeatedly proven itself willing to use a wide range of measures, including military force, to sustain its political dominance and influence.”

Even though Russia is not considered a military threat to Norway, the combination of military modernization and the will to exert military power is a “central factor” in Norwegian defense planning.

The country recognizes that areas in Norway’s immediate vicinity are also “central to Russian nuclear deterrence,” and that “Russia’s military presence and activities in the North have increased in recent years.”

The High North, it asserts, continues to be characterized by stability and cooperation, and Russian strategies for the Arctic still officially emphasize international cooperation. However, as the report notes, “we cannot rule out the possibility that Russia, in a given situation, will consider the use of military force to be a relevant tool, also in the High North.” 


The Royal Norwegian Navy has six of these superfast, stealth missile Skjold-class corvettes in its fleet. (Photo: Forsvaret)

Allied Interoperability
The United States, the UK and Norway are all bringing new capabilities to bear on maritime threats in the North Atlantic. The commitment to the new maritime surveillance and strike aircraft, the Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (P-8), and the introduction of the new Triton UAV are part of refocusing attention on the North Atlantic.

The Norwegians are procuring the P-8 in part to deal with this challenge and are looking to collaborate with both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Navy in the region as British and American P-8s (and in the American case, the Tritons) come into the region for maritime defense.
 
Major General Skinnarland, Chief of Staff of the Norwegian Air Force, commented that “with the P-8s operating from the UK, Iceland, and Norway, [the Allies] can shape a maritime domain awareness data capability which can inform our forces effectively as well, but again, this requires work to share the data and to shape common concepts of operations.” She noted the importance of exercising “often and effectively together” to shape effective concepts of operations. This, she says “will require bringing the new equipment, and the people together to share experience and to shape a common way ahead.”


During a February 2017 Norwegian ­Airpower Conference, a Norwegian officer highlights, from a threat perspective, the Russian bastion built around the Kola Peninsula.

After the last RAF Hawker Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft was retired in 2011, the challenge became how to keep those key skill sets alive. NATO exercises provided interim opportunities, however in 2016, the MoD announced a decision to purchase nine Boeing P-8s. I visited RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland earlier this year, where the Brits are standing up their new P-8 base. The new base will also allow Norwegians to train, and the U.S. to operate as well.

Indeed, what was clear from discussions at “Lossie” is that the infrastructure is being built from the ground up with broader considerations in mind, notably creating a 21st century maritime domain awareness information and strike network. The RAF is building capacity in its P-8 hangers for visiting aircraft such as the RAAF, the USN, or the Norwegian Air Force to train and operate from. In many ways, the thinking is similar to how building the F-35 enterprise out from the UK to Northern Europe is being shaped. 


Boeing P-8 aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth. (MoD photo: LAC Charlotte Hopkins) 

Flying the same ISR/C2/strike aircraft will create synergies with regard to how best to share combat data in a fluid situation that demands timely and effective decision-making. 

The UK is clearly a key player in shaping the way ahead on both the P-8 and F-35 enterprises, not just by investing in both platforms, but in building the infrastructure and training a new generation of operators and maintainers as well.

At the heart of this learning process are the solid working relationships among the professional military in working towards innovative concepts of operations. This is a work in progress that requires infrastructure, platforms, training and openness in shaping evolving working relationships.


Northrop Grumman Triton UAV. (photo: Todd Miller)

Having visited Norway earlier this year and having discussed among other things, the coming of the P-8 and the F-35 in Norway, it is clear that what happens on the other side of the North Sea (the UK) is of keen interest to Norway. In talking with the RAF and Royal Navy, it is evident that changes in Norway are part of the broader UK consideration when it comes to the reshaping of NATO defense capabilities in a dynamic region.

To lay down a foundation for a 21st century approach, the U.S. Navy is pairing its P-8s with the Triton – a new high altitude, long endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman – and is working an integrated approach between the two. 

In a very narrow sense, the P-8 and Triton are “replacing” the P-3. However, the additional ISR and C2 enterprise being put in place to operate the combined P-8 / Triton capability is a much broader capability than the classic P-3. Much like how the Osprey transformed the U.S. Marine Corps prior to flying the F-35, the P-8/Triton team is doing the same for the US Navy as the F-35 comes to the carrier air wing.


RCAF Commander LGen Michael Hood (Photo: Sgt Paz Quillé, RCAF PA Imagery)

The team at Naval Air Station Jacksonville is building a common Maritime Domain Awareness and Maritime Combat Culture and treats the platforms as partner applications of the evolving combat theory. The partnership is both technology and aircrew synergistic.

It should be noted that the P-8 and the Triton (which draws heavily on F-35 systems) as well as the F-35 are a new generation of software-upgradeable aircraft, whose software will be reworked in interaction with the sharing of data and the reworking of core platform capabilities.

It is about shaping a combat-learning cycle in which software can be upgraded as the user groups shape, in real time, the core needs they see, to rapidly deal with a reactive enemy.


July 2017 – MCpl Kevin Hardy, lead Airborne Electronic Sensor Operator (AESOP); Patricia DeMille, Fishery Officer for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; and Cpl Brett Galliford, AESOP and the Non-Acoustic Sensor Operator for the CP-140 Aurora, work together to identify possible vessels of interest engaged in illegal fishing during Operation Driftnet(Photo: Sgt Shilo Adamson, CFB Borden)

As the COS of the Norwegian Air Force put the challenge: “We should plug and play in terms of our new capabilities; but that will not happen by simply adding new equipment – it will be hard work.”

Canadian Perspective on Maritime Threats
I recently had a chance to talk with the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant-General Mike Hood, about the Canadian approach and contribution to the evolving threats and challenges in the North Atlantic to maritime defense and security. Obviously, Canada is a key partner and occupies key geography as Russia returns to significant maritime operations from the Kola Peninsula into the High North as well.

As the Brits, Norwegians and Americans build new capabilities to operate in the North Atlantic, what is the Canadian approach and contribution? And what new investments and capabilities might be offered by Canada to the coalition effort?

Canada’s current anti-submarine warfare capabilities are built around an upgraded CP-140 Aurora, a new CH-148 Cyclone ASW helicopter developed by Sikorsky (although grounded earlier this year due to a “momentary change in descent rate”), and frigates recently modernized by Lockheed Martin Canada – all integrated into coalition ASW operations. 

“Out of all the NATO ASW platforms in there,” says LGen Hood, “the most effective one has been our CP-140. I am exceptionally proud of our ASW capability, and when I couple it with the new advanced capability on our upgraded frigates, I see us a backbone of NATO’s ASW capability.”

Over the decade ahead, as the maritime domain awareness and strike enterprise is reworked with the coming of the P-8 and the Triton (among other assets) Canada will add an unmanned capability, continue upgrading the CP-140, and work closely with allies in reshaping the maritime domain awareness and strike networks. New satellite sensor and communications systems will also be added.

According to LGen Hood, this will allow the RCAF to leverage developments in the next decade to determine what needs to be put on their replacement manned air platform and to determine which air platform that would be. “The government’s new defence policy lays out a 20-year funding line that recapitalizes our air force.” 


11 Jul 2016 – David Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stand with Royal Air Force crew members in front of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon at the Farnborough International Air Show.  (U.S. Air Force photo: Master Sgt. Eric Burks)

He acknowledges that the eventual replacement of the CP-140 is funded in that policy but explains that this is not a near term need. “We have better capability from an ASW perspective in the CP-140 than comes off the line presently in the P-8. We have just gone through a Block III upgrade that has completely modernized the ASW capability as well as adding an overland ISR piece. We have replaced the wings on many major empennage [tail assembly] points and the goal is to get our CP-140 out to about 2032 when we’re going to replace it with another platform.”

He notes that next year, the CP-140s will receive a Block IV upgrade which will include new infrared counter measures, a tactical data link 16 to complement link 11 and full motion video, imagery, email, chat, and VOIP.

Canadians have also contributed to keeping the RAF in the game prior to the P-8 acquisition. “We have been flying two members of the RAF crews on our ASW aircraft in the interim between the sunset of Nimrod and the sunrise of the P-8.” Canadians have helped manage the “GIUK gap” by operating from either Lossiemouth in Scotland or Keflavik in Iceland. The Greenland-Iceland-UK “gap” is an area in the northern Atlantic Ocean that forms a naval choke point between the three landmasses.

The General also notes that the new defence policy has authorized adding a unmanned aerial systems capability for the ASW effort as well. “In the next three years, we’ll be under contract for a medium altitude UAS that is going to have both domestic and coastal abilities as well as expeditionary strike capabilities.


12 Jul – The ground crew for the CP-140 Aurora prepares the aircraft for its daily mission on Operation Driftnet in Hakodate, Japan. (Photo: Sergeant Shilo Adamson, CFB Borden)

LGen Hood confirms that Canada is among the allies funding the NATO AGS (Alliance Ground Surveillance) programme to acquire an airborne ground surveillance capability on five remotely-piloted Global Hawk aircraft. NATO will operate and maintain them on behalf of all NATO member countries.

There is a satellite component to ASW, and Canada’s new RADARSAT Constellation (planned to launch in 2018) will provide enhanced sensor coverage. There are also plans to launch a polar constellation satellite system to provide for High North communication needs. “That is actually going to finally allow us to operate UASs up above 70° North.”

The evolving maritime domain awareness network and the reshaping of its capabilities as new sensors, platforms and C2 systems come on line adds new opportunities. The integration of new UAS capabilities with manned capabilities will reshape expectations of the platforms, and it is from this context of evolution that the head of the RCAF sees the question of a replacement aircraft for the CP-140. 

“Canadian industry has played a key role in shaping capabilities onboard the CP-140 and I would see that role continuing on our replacement manned aircraft. It’s less about the platform, [and more about] the brains of that platform.” 

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Robbin Laird is an international defense analyst based in Virginia.

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