International Air Force exercises Arctic Challenge 2015 are going on in the High North with Norway as the lead nation and 9 states (including, remarkably, Switzerland) participating with squadrons of various jet fighters (as well as NATO AWACS E3 planes). Russia found it necessary to respond with snap military exercises of its own, engaging not only air assets, but ships of the Northern Fleet and the newly-deployed Arctic brigade.
There is quite a lot of coverage of these overlapping exercises in the Russian media (this article in Nezavisimaya gazeta provides an overview), but the statement that strikes me as pretty odd comes from Russian envoy to NATO Aleksandr Grushko, who ventured the proposition that there is absolutely no need for NATO to be present in the Arctic region.
Despite the tall number of troops and aircraft involved in the Russian exercise (250 planes in total, though mostly in the Central military district and not in the Northern theater), Moscow is worried that its long-range aviation is growing old, and the plan for developing a new generation bomber cannot possibly come to fruition by the end of this decade – and most probably by the middle of the next one. Seeking to bridge this gap, the Defense Ministry announced a new addition to the 2020 Armament Program (which is prohibitively expensive) – 50 relatively modern Tu-160 strategic bombers are to be ordered and produced at the Kazan Aviation Plant.
The clash of exercises certainly involves security risks, but at least no incidents similar to the “intercept” of US destroyer Ross by Russian Su-24 fighter-bombers in the Black Sea last week, as proudly reported by Rossiiskaya gazeta.