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Russia Builds a New Navy to Dominate the Arctic Ocean

The mightiest force on the high seas, the United States Navy boasts a fleet 283 warships strong. In comparison, Russia's navy, once America's archrival, has only 208 warships -- but Russia is closing the gap, and quickly.

Russian Kirov-class nuclear-powered missile cruiser at sea. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Just last week, in an interview with RIA Novosti, deputy commander of the Russian Navy Rear Adm. Viktor Bursuk confirmed plans to add 40 new vessels to the Russian fleet this year alone -- taking the fleet to within just 35 ships of U.S. fleet strength. Surface warships will make up the bulk of the additions, but a Borey-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and a Varshavyanka-class diesel-electric submarine are both on order as well. An advanced search-and-rescue ship, the Igor Belousov, will further backstop Russia's submarine forces by extending the country's ability to assist submarines in distress. 

Building a nuclear navy
Nor is this the end of Russia's expansion plans. Bursuk told RIA that Russia is working quickly to upgrade the "mothballed" Kirov-class nuclear-powered missile cruiser Admiral Nakhimov, and refurbishing three nuclear-powered attack submarines. Plans may even include the addition of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier -- Russia's first.

Russia's only active aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why the sudden spate of shipbuilding? President Vladimir Putin gave us a hint last year. In a statement delivered to the Russian Defense Ministry in December, Putin averred that one of Russia's "top defense priorities" going forward is to increase Russia's influence at the North Pole. 

And for good reason. 

The Cold War is over. Now we're talking global warming

Global warming has opened up 1 million square miles of new navigable waters in the Arctic Ocean. Already commercial shipping companies are beginning to exploit new routes. More crucially to Russia are the mineral resources made accessible by a shrinking ice cap. Already, 95% of Russia's probable natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic, with sizable deposits found in Russia's adjacent Barents and Kara Seas. 60% of the country's believed oil reserves are located in the Arctic as well. Local oil and gas giants Rosneft and Gazprom (NASDAQOTH: OGZPY  ) , therefore, have a vested interest in defending these deposits... and searching for new ones.

Earlier this month, Russia announced plans to up the tempo of air patrols in the Arctic "significantly," flying Tu-142 and Il-38 reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The country also intends to reopen upwards of a half dozen Arctic airfields and ports, shuttered since the days of the Cold War.

According to reports, many of Russia's new warships may be tasked for Arctic duty to defend these interests. And if Russia actually does build itself a nuclear aircraft carrier, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, former Commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, thinks it should be sent to the Arctic to support the country's nuclear submarines.

America responds... sort of
America isn't standing entirely still in the face of this Arctic military buildup. Last week, word began filtering out about a new Navy report advocating a program to "harden" U.S. warships to enable them to operate in an Arctic environment -- at a cost of up to $8.4 billion. Talk of a project to build up to 10 new Arctic icebreakers, at a further cost of $7.8 billion, has also begun. If these projects get under way, it could mean billions of dollars of new revenues for America's three main military shipbuilders: Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) , General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) , and Huntington Ingalls (NYSE: HII  ) .

But while America talks, Russia is forging ahead at flank speed -- and building a new Arctic Navy.

Flagship of the American Arctic fleet? The 38-year-old icebreaker USCGC Polar Star. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Invest in an even bigger gun
Maybe America will respond to Russia's Arctic push in time to make the defense contractors a good bet -- but maybe not. Could it perhaps be smarter to invest in more of a "sure thing?"

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Read/Post Comments (19) | Recommend This Article (19)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:20 AM, SCenTex wrote:

    Russian leadership, though perhaps despised by western media, uses logic and is concise about taking steps to rebuild the Russian sphere of influence. Western leadership is showing it's love affair with corruption in almost every quarter, and is perceived as weak and indecisive. The US will have a very difficult task to maintain it's current world influence, in short our lawmakers are their own worst enemy.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 8:33 AM, JoeMahma wrote:

    OH NOZ!!!!! Will the Russkies invade America????

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:53 AM, Charos wrote:

    That US flagship, the Polar Star, would that be the type of ship you have to shovel coal into the boilers? Things aren't that bad, or are they? Also, lets not forget about LomonosovOil and LomonosovGas.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:54 AM, ghelmz21 wrote:

    Sounds like Putin is using Reaganism on Obama!

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 10:13 AM, TKK1959 wrote:

    Sounds like the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Norway, & Iceland better be keeping better tabs on Ol' Mudder Russia. They want ALL of the North Pole for themselves.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 11:20 AM, forrest wrote:


  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 12:04 PM, alkiers wrote:

    This article is beyond ridiculous. it is essentially saying that the Russian Navy, with the addition of 40 new ships this year, will essentially have parity with the US Navy.

    The author's in-depth analysis is essentially giving a Russian PT boat the same value as a US Nimitz class aircraft carrier. The man is either completely ignorant of the truth, or is intentionally trying to mislead his readers.

    In reality the US Navy has over 10 times the annual budget of the Russian Navy. In the 1990's and early 2000's, the Russian navy was essentially a rust-ridden wreck. They decommissioned the vast majority of their ships, and basically sold any ships other countries were willing to buy (India and China both bought carriers and many other ships).

    This is not 1985. The US Navy now contains 70% of the tonnage of all of the world's navy combined.

    If this article passes as advice by Fool "experts", I think I will pass in the future.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 1:32 PM, TMFDitty wrote:

    alkiers: Firstly, "closing the gap" is not "parity." It's only approaching parity.

    Your comment on tonnage is valid, but it ignores a few crucial points. E.g., the U.S. Navy has to pull duty in multiple oceans, whereas Russia's expansion focuses on only one. It's also worth considering how much of U.S. fleet strength will be comprised of lightweight LCSes in the future, and how much will *not* be hardened for Arctic conditions.

    Finally, Russia doesn't necessarily need to build Nimitz-class carriers for the Arctic. Each airbase it reopens up north becomes, in effect, an unsinkable aircraft carrier.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 2:30 PM, Joe455 wrote:

    Pretty ridiculous, this man does not have any idea how long takes to built a battleship...years and years, 10 years for a carrier and a Submarine!!!!

    You can not but buy this for immediate delivery!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 4:38 PM, siezetheidea wrote:

    Consider the facts:

    China and Russia are increasing their overall military preparedness (navies and air forces in particular). Both China and Russia should never be underestimated in terms of their capabilities and technological capabilities when comparing them to U.S. forces. That long held conception is based on ignorance, arrogance and short sightedness. The U.S. military has been downsizing for a long time and facts are facts. The argument that we maintain superiority based on greater technological capability is not quite true nor is it sufficient to operate on a level that would allow the U.S. military to employ overwhelming force (if needed) to achieve military success for defense, counter strikes, or actions required to maintain security, peace and stability.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 4:44 PM, AlexeyTitov wrote:

    40 new ships in one year? Ehhh, I'll take that as US compliment to Russia. Used to think that 4-5 ships, build time 3 years, was very cool production

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 5:22 PM, jimmychurch wrote:

    Our leader pushes pot and makes deals to send weapons to terrorists muslims.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 5:54 PM, EdwardInFlorida wrote:

    Perhaps some of you so called "patriots" don't have even an inkling of some of the ships that Russia has in it's arsenal that can more than hold it's own even in smaller numbers than what is in the fleets of the US Navy. Kirov class missile destroyers for example were designed from the ground up to obliterate an entire carrier battle group all by itself. That said, no worries as Russia is only interested in their part of the Arctic Ocean.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 7:13 PM, tommy1954 wrote:

    big deal if they run there navy like the one caught in Antarctica we've got nothing to worry about and chances are EOE will happen way before anything catostrofic can happen.but then again with the Chinese in space and ivan on the high sea's might have build more gravitydynamic craft to keep and eye on these rascals.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 10:26 PM, rodney6226 wrote:

    If the Russians are launching 40 ships this year they have been building them for a while...Who cares? I served on the USCGC Polar Star WAGB-10, it is a peace mission vessel, however, I will match the U.S. Navy to any fleet in the world, most have NO CLUE the amount of power of our resources. It's classified for the most part, however, I will say this we have the best trained best equiped arsenal in the world period. If we were not a Nation with a sense of fair play, there is no situation we could not end in a week conventionally. However, we don't look at civilians as collateral damage.

    The Polar Star cannot get stuck in the ice, I have served in both the Artic and Antartic, our newest breaker the USCGC Healy WAGB-20 is a Northern Breaker, the ice in the artic is not as thick and hard as in the antartic, so you don't need a breaker with the Star's capacity, I am sure they will retool the USCGC Polar Sea WAGB-11 as well. However, these are humanitarian ships, they break ice for the sake of resupplying our science stations. They are not war vessels. Though we could switch our choppers to Blackhawks and add Guns and Missiles...I doubt that happens...

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 10:39 PM, rodney6226 wrote:

    The Polar Star runs on Diesel Engines, and Gas Turbines, it has up 75,000 hp when needed to break thick ice. The Star is by far the most powerful icebreaker in the world, far more powerful than the Russians Nuclear Breaker, it is a Northern Breaker, actually their entire fleet of breakers is not designed to break ice as thick as the Star can break. This isn't even news, and if Motley knows about it, our intelligence agencies know it as well.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 9:41 AM, pilgrim007 wrote:

    Once again the USA remains quiet when Russia flexes its mussel. Yet we will send untoald troops in to a poor third world country because they won't submit to US indoctrination.

    " nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines"

    I don't hear any US protests about Russia adding nuclear powered vessels to power nuclear weapons!!!!

    And we wonder why Countries like Iran want nuclear capabilities????

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 10:25 AM, maxoverload wrote:

    our admistration is blinded by how to settle debt , and give away what is left of our capability , Nothing imanufactured and built here , its all outsourced , from our rivals . were we to need to go to a major conflict , our manufacturing sector would be at least 10 years building the needed facilities . Our largest importer C , is buying this country out acre by acre , with the money we pay them in interest alone , Unless we get an administration in our offices that gets a grip instead of giving everything away , we are doomed to becoming a 3rd world country , Persons here consider Russias navy rusting hulks , (the bear is not asleep , just sharpening its claws) They however are refit them with newer Guns , not scrapping them for a dollar , to a scrap yard as our geniuses do , here we are building ultra light tin cans that cannot even pass sea trials or be fit with modules they need to go to action . Blinded by technology , that in a hard core street fight situation , cant stand up against the armor , we build , 50 - 300 million dollar problematic aircraft , to use against two thirds of a world using proven hardened armor . Were in trouble folks. Imagine wht it would cost In todays dollars , to build what they consider to be scrap , Its like the brick / stone / iron buildngs , vs the toothpick / plastic construction , build it to last and survive , or have the rest of the world recycle US

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 10:44 AM, maxoverload wrote:

    when they stop selling out our steel mills , our refineries , and shipping ports to foreign countrys , we might have a chance of being as Once in the past , a self sustaining world power , some citizens , need to take of the blinders , unless they are indifferent to living being a subject , of a one world power (its not us folks) , siezetheidea summed it up well . comparing polar star a contender against a fighting navy is foolhardy.

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Rich Smith

As a defense writer for The Motley Fool, I focus on defense and aerospace stocks. My job? Every day of the week, I'm monitoring the news, figuring out the winners and losers, and tracking down the promising companies for you to invest in. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the most important developments in defense & aerospace, and other great stories.

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