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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Arctic Operations: We Really, Really Need the Right Equipment and an Arctic Port

The U.S. Chief of Naval Operations has a nice tweet regarding the "Arctic region" here.

However, as noted in the March 2020 Seapower here:

Unlike the South China Sea and other contested areas, the U.S. Navy does not have the capability to conduct freedom-of-the-seas operations in the icebound waters of the Arctic, a key Pentagon official conceded.

With only one heavy and one medium icebreaker and no Navy ships with hulls hardened against ice, “We do have limitations in the Arctic right now,” James H. Anderson, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, told a readiness subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 3 during a hearing on U.S. military readiness in the Arctic.


In addition to a deficit of ice-hardened hulls, Sullivan said the U.S. lacks a strategic port on — or even near — the Arctic Ocean that could handle repairs or refueling of large Navy or even U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

“Russia has close to a dozen or two dozen ports,” he said, noting the closest viable port at Anchorage or Dutch Harbor, Alaska, was 1,000 nautical miles or more from Arctic waters. In addition to ports and military bases, Russian President Vladimir Putin has 54 icebreakers, Sullivan said. “He’s got all the cards.”

The dearth of ice capable ships is not this CNO's fault, but goes back years and years.

For example, here are a couple of posts I put up in 2007 and 2008, reproduced in their entirety:

From 2007

Reported here. Assuming that the ice caps are melting away and there is an ice free passage across the North Pole, then...

When the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard thinks of future trouble spots, his focus is increasingly to the north — the vast waters around a melting polar ice cap.

Once almost totally inaccessible to shipping and oil drilling, the region poses new opportunities for economic activity, as well as new challenges for those who patrol its frigid seas.

"If you go into a life raft 20 miles off the coast of North Carolina, chances are you are going to see the Coast Guard in a few hours," Adm. Thad Allen says. "If you go into life rafts at the edge of the Arctic ice cap, there are questions about when you should expect help to arrive."

The Arctic is still relatively empty but stands to become more crowded in coming years as several countries stake their claim to its rich oil and gas reserves. The increased maritime traffic has made the Arctic a more significant focus for the Coast Guard in the past six months, Allen says.

"We're like the cop on the beat up there," he says. That beat is massive — about half of the USA's 90,000 total miles of coastline is in Alaska.


Ice in the Arctic sea has decreased by nearly 20% over the past two decades, and "it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to have an ice-free route across the top of Russia sometime in the next five or 10 years," Allen says.

Such a route would shave up to 5,000 miles — a week's sailing time — off the journey between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, he says, attracting ships that otherwise would have transited the Panama or Suez canals. Allen says there has also been heavier traffic in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. He says it could become an international waterway similar to the English Channel or the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The reduction in ice sparks competing claims among the eight nations that border the Arctic: the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark (which controls Greenland).

Russia claims 460,000 square miles of the Arctic as an extension of its continental shelf under a 1982 treaty that set guidelines for dividing undersea resources.

See earlier post on the on-going land grab effort here.

From 2008

From the Heritage Foundation The New Cold War: Reviving the U.S. Presence in the Arctic:

As an Arctic nation, the United States has signif­icant geopolitical and geo-economic interests in the High North. The U.S. should not only have a place at the table, but also seek a leadership role in navi­gating the nascent challenges and opportunities, such as disputes over the Outer Continental Shelf, the navigation of Arctic sea-lanes, and commercial development of natural resources and fisheries.

To play this role and to vindicate its interests, the U.S. needs to continue swiftly mapping the Arctic, build a modern U.S. icebreaker fleet, and work with its Arctic partners in bilateral and multilateral ven­ues. The U.S. needs to revitalize its Arctic policy and commit the necessary resources to sustain America's leadership role in the High North.

Read the whole thing. Check earlier posts on this topic by clicking on labels below, especially "arctic", "polar sea routes."

Fault finding will get us nowhere, the need is to look to our allies who operate in these waters and see if, among the hull types we need they have some ice-hardened ships whose designs we can obtain. Now.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:47 PM