By Zhang Chi
F-35 fighter jets participate in the Arctic Challenge-2023 exercise on May 29.
NATO countries held the Arctic Challenge 2023 joint military exercise in the Arctic region from May 29 to June 9. This is one of the largest air exercises conducted in Europe this year, and the exercise took place at the strategic Arctic stronghold near the Russian border, which triggered a strong reaction from Russia.
The Arctic Challenge Exercise is held within the framework of Nordic cooperation and is conducted every two years since 2013. This year's exercise is the sixth of its kindand is co-hosted by Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The Finnish Air Force takes the lead in planning and directing the training activities. The venues of the exercise include Rovaniemi and Pirkkala in Finland, Luleå in Sweden and Åland in Norway.
In terms of the scale, the exercise spans a long time and lasts for 12 days. Nearly 3,000 troops and 150 military aircraft such as fighter jets, early warning aircraft, transport aircraft and tanker aircraft from 14 countries including Finland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Italy, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and the US are involved in the exercise.
The subjects of the exercise include organizing and implementing air operations, executing tactical tasks, as well as commanding and controlling. Norway dispatched F-35 stealth fighter jets to test the coordination between the fourth-generation and the fifth-generation fighter jets. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the lead ship of the Ford-class aircraft carrier, left Oslo, the capital of Norway, on May 29 for the Vesterålen in north Norway to participate in the exercise.
NATO also held several exercises at the same time to build momentum for the Arctic Challenge-2023 exercise. Finland and the US held a joint ground exercise with about 7,000 troops from May 26 to June 2. Exercise Saber Guardian 23 launched in Romania on May 29 involved 10,000 troops and 1,700 pieces of equipment from 13 countries. And more than 14,000 troops, fighter jets and helicopters from many NATO countries participated in the Exercise Spring Storm in Estonia from May 15 to 26.
Clear strategic intention
The outside world believes that NATO's large-scale air military exercise in the Arctic region has two main strategic intentions.
First, strengthening the deterrent pressure on Russia. Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the Russian National Defense magazine, believes that under the current military and political situation, any military exercises by Western countries are rehearsing potential combat operations against Russia in some way. In response, the Russian Navy conducted exercises in the Baltic Sea with subjects including attacking imaginary enemy ships and coastal targets.
Second, competing for Arctic operational superiority. Foreign media commented that the Arctic has special significance as a potential battlefield for future military operations and a "resources bank" for many countries in the world considering the new reality. The main aim for NATO to exercise a whole set of operational planning decisions and actual action plans of troops is to ensure its military superiority in the Arctic region. Nikolay Korchunov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, said that conflicts in the Arctic are currently intensifyingas energy resources in the Arctic region are becoming more and more accessible due to climate change and the development of new technologies. The region has also become increasingly important geopolitically.
Intensified military confrontation
Judging from the Arctic Challenge-2023 and other military exercises, The US-led NATO is trying to demonstrate internal cohesion, enhance deterrence against Russia, and strengthen control over the Arctic region through high-frequency, multi-directional, and large-scale joint military exercises. In the future, NATO may combine exercises, forward deployment, and military cooperation to maximize its own strategic interests.
On the one hand, NATO has been frequently conducting joint military exercises. Three days after the end of the Arctic Challenge-2023 military exercise, 250 military aircraft from about 25 countries will participate in Exercise Air Defender 2023 under the command of Germany with about 10,000 troops involved. Although NATO stated that the exercise will mainly be carried out in German airspace, the information released by Germany showed that the scope of the exercise also includes the Baltic Sea region bordering Russia. NATO's series of large-scale military exercises with strong intentions to flex musclesare not only provocative to Russia but will also aggravate tensions in Europe.
On the other hand, NATO has pressed the "accelerate button" of the Arctic game. The Arctic region has become a hot spot for major military powers to compete against each other in recent years. The Biden administration's Arctic policy emphasizes "military deterrence" against Russia, and the US military has rebuilt the 11th Airborne Division to carry out combat missions in the Arctic. As a response, Russia has introduced the latest Arctic policy and fine-tuned the previous version to highlight national and territorial security. Russia has also built and renovated hundreds of military facilities in the Arctic including six military bases, 19 airports, and 16 deep-water ports.
Next, the U.S. and its NATO allies will rely on exercises such as Cold Response, Arctic Edge, Polar Bear and Arctic Challenge to continuously improve Arctic combat and integrated deterrence capabilities. Russia will also rely on the construction of the Arctic Strategic Command to strengthen its standing military forces in the Arctic. The game between the two sides in the Arctic region will further intensify.