Russia has announced plans to position a new coastal defense military division along its eastern coast, with some troops expected to be stationed approximately 50 miles from Alaska.
The new division, expected to be in place by 2018, will be responsible for defending Russia’s sparsely populated Far East, stretching from the Alaskan border to the Kuril Islands, which are disputed with Japan.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu indicated the new division will be expected to “ensure control of the closed sea zones of the Kuril Islands and the Bering Strait, cover the routes of Pacific Fleet forces’ deployment in the Far Eastern and Northern sea zones, and increase the combat viability of naval strategic nuclear forces.”
“It’s obvious that this is not just ordinary news, not least because what we’re talking about is the creation of a serious military force just a stone’s throw away from the United States: only the Bering Strait will separate the Russian coastal defense division from Alaska,” Sergei Ishchenko, a defense analyst for Svobodnaya Pressa, said. “At its narrowest point, that’s only 86 km away.”
“Therefore, it’s worth taking a closer look at this announcement.”
The Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, directly across the Bering Sea from Alaska, once housed SS-20 Saber intermediate-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Long range Tu-22M Backfire and Tu-95 Bear bombers once used Ugolny Airport, located just east of the city of Anadyr, as a base to conduct air patrols in the Pacific. Those same bombers have begun using Ugolny Airport again, this time as a stopover for air patrols off the Alaskan and American West coasts.
Nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, submarines and long-range bombers positioned along the Russian Far Eastern coast should serve as a significant cause of concern for anyone concerned about the prospect of nuclear war.
Clear Air Force Station, which houses a radar station designed to detect ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, Eareckson Air Station, which houses the Cobra-Dane radar system, and Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, site of Alaska Command, NORAD Alaska, the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division and the 11th Air Force, would all be under direct threat of attack.
“In any case, the staff at the Elmendorf base, and the troops at Fort Richardson will go to bed at night with an uneasy feeling, as they did during Cold War days,” Ishchenko added.
F-22 Raptors based at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson will also have difficulty responding to Russian air incursions, as they have done in the past, if the Iskander ballistic missile system were deployed to the Russian Far East. The Iskander is a mobile missile system capable of targeting aircraft and launching nuclear-armed missiles at targets up to 300 miles away.