Inevitable Confrontation in the Arctic?

The Arctic area is like an Ali Baba treasure trove with abundance of raw materials. Alongside with the hydrocarbons there are also huge deposits of mercury, lead, etc. We are witnessing an arms race in the Arctic, which could obtain even a larger scale.

A new device has just hatched in the military aerospace market. A strange machine with a new propellers concept and a payload increase in comparison to the French SuperPuma helicopter seems to enter into service just in the near future. French Airbus Helicopters wants to produce it in cooperation with Poland. Moreover, the new helicopter is designed for combat actions in the Arctic which promises to become a new theater of confrontation with Russia.

Valdaiclub.com interview with Richard Labévière, French investigative journalist and writer, editor-in-chief of [email protected]/Observatoire de la Défense et de la Sécurité, a network of experts in defense and security issues.

The X6, a frost resistant long-range modification of SuperPuma, would become a new Arctic helicopter. Why this choice, especially in cooperation with Poland?

This helicopter project was in the Airbus dossier for a long time. It is a new device to replace the heavy SuperPuma. In fact, this is a 10-years project that is already to be finalized. The device does not have a commercial trade name yet. It is called X6 concept. This is a heavy helicopter that can carry up to 19 people and 10 tons of cargo. It also features a much longer range in comparison to SuperPuma H201 which is about 650 kilometers.

The new copter could reach a range of 850 km. The Poles, who purchased H225s, are interested in the long-range helis. It's true that Airbus Helicopters cooperates with the Poles on X6 version for the most extreme latitudes, or the Arctic.

I presume that there won't be an official announcement soon, but a continuation of serious program by Airbus Helicopters that is based on tests and trainings in northern areas.

Members of the so-called Arctic Club dispute with each other about the region riches. France is following the events in this part of the globe. Can we say that this long-range helicopter is intended to help Canada which is prepared to defend its territorial possessions in the Arctic with "weapons in hand"?

In this part of the world Canada grapples with Russia and the United States. In the Arctic great game we observe confrontation of countries. 5 concerned states, namely USA, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark, have territorial claims with completely contradictory approaches, based on the extension of their respective coastlines by geological ridges. Russians know it very well because the Lomonosov Ridge should support a claim for the Russian economic zone up to the North Pole. This was the request formulated by the Russian ministries to international bodies.

It is clear that in this "race with shallots" between 5 countries in the Arctic area such equipment as new heavy long-range military helicopter would interest not only Canada but also Denmark and other countries, which have partnership agreements with France. France is not directly involved in the Arctic problems, but in the European context the French leadership and especially the French Navy are very interested in the Arctic sea routes, crossed by most of Russian, American, Chinese, French and British nuclear attack and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (NSSN and SSBN).

So beyond 5 so-called Arctic states plus China other countries are also strongly interested in natural resources in this area, which are now accessible with the melting of the sea ice. The Chinese regularly probe the ground in Greenland, and Japan with its huge industrial fishing fleet is also interested in this region because of global warming.

The Arctic area is in most aspects like an Ali Baba treasure trove with abundance of raw materials. Alongside with the hydrocarbons there are also huge deposits of mercury, lead, etc. Surely, we are witnessing an arms race in the Arctic, which could obtain even a larger scale. For example, the Thule base in Northern Greenland, which was built at the beginning of the Cold War, can accommodate up to 30 thousand soldiers. It has a deep water port for SSBNs/NSSNs and an airport for strategic bombers. The base of Murmansk, a major Russian military-industrial facility, should provide military control of the so-called Northern Sea Route from Barents Sea to the Bering Strait.

Thus, a very important strategic configuration will require new arms race, new weapons and equipment such as Mistral-type assault helicopter carriers. Two boats that still dock in Saint-Nazaire have been specially designed for polar latitudes. Unfortunately, the tense circumstances caused by the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis made French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stop the delivery of these warships to Russia. This is completely incomprehensible because for the first time in history of the military market the deal was canceled for political reasons. And at the same time France, the United States, Great Britain and Germany are supplying weapons to Pakistan, India and other conflicting countries, experiencing tense political conditions.

So the X6 project matters the Arctic and détente is not on the horizon. France and other European countries have aligned themselves with position of NATO and the United States in a rather incomprehensible diplomatic confrontation with Russia. Thus we understand that with this new helicopter France only takes into account its strategic and geopolitical interests.

Here are some considerations about the program of new helicopter adaptation to polar areas. It may fall into the same absurdity that the case of two undelivered Mistrals, even if Russia signed the contract in due form. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.