Russia's military posture and the deployment of S-400s in its Western Arctic reflects the Soviet legacy of bastion defense comprised of "concentric circles" designed to protect strategic territory.
Russia's priority is to defend its northwest coast and the surrounding maritime domain housing the Northern Fleet, Russia's most capable naval force. It also aims to reduce its strategic vulnerability in its Far North. S-400s and other assets are the groundwork for an established anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) network.
GEOINT analysis confirms the deployment of the S-400 air defense system to Rogachevo Air Base on Novaya Zemlya archipelago from Russian public declarations. Press release vs. imagery validation methodology is simple yet effective when tracking progress or lack thereof.
Rogachevo Air Base is located approximately 9 kilometers north-northeast of Belushya Guba (Belushya Bay) on the southern Yuzhny Island of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. This air base routinely hosted long-range strategic bombers and fighter aircraft to intercept U.S. reconnaissance aircraft in the Arctic during the Cold War.1 Today, Rogachevo is commanded by the 45th Air Force and Air Defense Army of the Russian Northern Fleet which was formed in December 2015.2
Source: Google Earth
Satellite imagery indicates that sometime between July 2014 and August 2015 a new air defense missile base was established west of the Rogachevo air base accompanied by a regiment-sized unit equipped with the S-300P (NATO reporting name: SA-10 Grumble) surface-to-air missile (SAM).3 Upgrades to air defense capabilities on Novaya Zemlya occurred during 2018-2019 and included the deployment of additional radar, electronic warfare, signals intelligence forces and related equipment in addition to the deployment of the S-400 (an upgrade from the S-300P) with the latter occurring during the July-August 2019 time frame.
On September 16th the Russian Northern Fleet Press Service reported that the redeployment of forces and conversion to the S-400 system was complete.4 A few days later, on September 20th, the Press Service published a report on the ceremony celebrating the unit's achievement of operational status.5
The Importance of S-400s in the Arctic
Russia's military posture in its Western Arctic reflects the Soviet legacy of bastion defense comprised of concentric circles designed to protect strategic territory.6 The S-400s provide more advanced radar and electronic warfare systems capabilities which expand the range of Novaya Zemlya's air defenses. The airspace monitored and controlled from Rogachevo Air Base has now increased to 600 kilometers for detection and 400 kilometers for engagement, according to Russian assessments,7 although western analysts estimate the range to be between 200-250km based on the system's current configuration.The S-400 reportedly reduces deployment time from stowed position to launch to 5 minutes8and complements previously implemented enhanced defensive measures including the establishment of two Arctic motorized brigades, an Arctic naval group and a command and control center at the refurbished Severomorsk-1 airbase.
Russia's priority in the Arctic is to defend its northwest coast and the surrounding maritime domain around the Northern Fleet, Russia's most capable naval force which includes its only operational aircraft carrier, ballistic missile submarines, and surface combatants and submarines that are deployed worldwide. Russia's efforts to modernize its Arctic military posture includes refurbishing air bases and deploying advanced systems to defend and deny access to strategic bastions. The deployment of S-400 systems to Rogachevo Air Base enhances radar coverage around the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, plugging potential gaps between Nagurskoye Air Base on Alexandra Land and radar stations on the Kola Peninsula.
As Russia seeks to increase the Northern Sea Route's economic viability, Russia perceives greater strategic vulnerability in its Far North.9 The S-400s and similar air defense systems deployed across the Russian Arctic (Alexandra Land, Kotelny, and Wrangel Island among others) address this vulnerability as the growing network of assets seeks to restrict freedom of action and lay the groundwork for effective anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) operations.
The S-400s however pose a challenge to NATO in the region, potentially complicating aircraft freedom of operation in the Norwegian and Barents Seas, and potentially out to the North Atlantic. The system reinforces Russia's bastion defense and expands Russia's defensive capabilities potentially beyond the Barents Sea, while also complicating future efforts to reinforce regional allies during a time of crisis. On an operational level, the S-400 raises the potential costs for allies in the event of conflict, deterring them from deploying assets to the region.
Russian Exercising of Its Bastion Defense
Russia continues to demonstrate that its growing military capabilities in the Arctic can be deployed beyond the Kola Peninsula. In April, Russia issued a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) for the Norwegian Sea area along Norway's northern coast where Russian strike forces, including anti-submarine Tu-142s, long-range supersonic missile carrier-bombers Tu-22M3 aircraft, along with cruisers and submarines exercised bastion defense. It was reportedly the first time Russia has conducted such a complex exercise outside of the Kola Peninsula and Barents Sea, suggesting that Russia may be looking to expand its offensive operations and sea denial capabilities toward the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap. Although incomplete, Russia's layering of air defense systems enhances deterrence against, and costs to the U.S. and NATO in the Arctic.
Satellite imagery of the Rogachevo Air Base S-400 air defense missile base is located at 71.606747o N, 52.387603o E, approximately 3.2 kilometers west of the air base. It occupies an irregular shaped area that measures 700-meters-by-180-meters, encompasses approximately 104,600 square meters and is organized into a regiment-sized unit with:
A headquarters and support area that appears to include the regimental headquarters, target acquisition battery, missile technical battery, transport company and maintenance company. Among the equipment visible are a number of 55K6E command post vehicles, a 91N6E Big Bird acquisition and battle management radar, a LEMZ 96L6-1/96L6E acquisition radar, two 5P85SM/SE2 self-propelled transporter erector-launchers (likely as spares or for training) and a number of support vehicles and trailers.
Three firing battery areas. Each with four 5P85SM/SE2 self-propelled transporter erector-launchers and a single 92N6E Grave Stone engagement radar all these are positioned on concrete pads10and a number of support vehicles. A 42-meter-by-60-meter missile reload storage revetment that contains at least 39 S-400 twin missile reload packs (some double-stacked). A 42-meter-by-60-meter missile reload storage revetment that contains at least 39 S-400 twin missile reload packs (some double-stacked).
A42-meter-by-60-meter missile reload storage revetment that contains at least 39 S-400 twin missile reload packs (some double-stacked).
Several support, storage and parking areas are located around the base. The largest or which is the missile technical batteries parking area that contains 12 5T58-2 missile transporters and what may be a number of trailers.
At present, there are no permanent structures at the base. Major items of equipment identified in recent satellite imagery include,11
4+ 55K6E command post vehicles
1 91N6E Big Bird acquisition and battle management radar
90-100 Support vehicles, trailers and shipping containers of various types
Estimated S-400 Range
Russia's deployment of the S-400 system on Rogachevo Air Base signals the Kremlin's intent to further secure its northwest Arctic territory, exercise its military capabilities, and protect its most vital military assets in the Far North.