U.S. Releases Revised Arctic Strategy

A HH-60G Pave Hawk Helicopter, assigned to the 210th Rescue Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard, and a UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter, assigned to the 1-207th Aviation Regiment, Alaska Army Air National Guard, fly over USS Hampton (SSN 757) during Ice Exerci

Published Feb 3, 2017 4:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Department of Defense has released an updated Arctic Strategy identifying threats and shortfalls for the military in Alaska.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, pushed for an upgrade to the Arctic strategy. “After nearly two years of advocacy and bipartisan efforts, I am pleased that we finally have a much more serious military strategy for the Arctic region,” Sullivan said on the document's official release.

“It is a dramatic improvement from the 2013 version, which was more platitudes and pictures than actual substance,” Sullivan said. “I am hopeful that the entire Department of Defense, our new president, and the country will take a serious look at this document and begin to formulate how our country will safeguard our interests, and that of our allies, in this strategically-important region.”

The report notes U.S. disagreements with Canada and Russia over the regulation of navigation in Arctic waters. Canada claims all waters within the Canadian Arctic islands as territorial, requiring Canada’s permission to transit, including the waters of the Northwest Passage.

Russia also makes similar claims for three straits along the Northern Sea Route, whereas the U.S. believes the passages to be international waters. 

“In support of the U.S. national security interest in preserving all of the rights, freedoms and uses of the sea and airspace recognized under international law, the Department of Defense will preserve the global mobility of U.S. military and civilian vessels and aircraft throughout the Arctic, as in other regions. This includes conducting Freedom of Navigation operations to challenge excessive maritime claims when and where necessary.”

The strategy also states that in light of the Russian violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and Russia’s efforts to “intimidate its neighbors,” the Department of Defense will continue a robust cycle of training and exercises in Europe under Operation Atlantic Resolve. The Department’s required capabilities include the full spectrum of U.S. forces, including nuclear and cyber forces.

Attention is drawn to oil and gas reserves in the region, saying: “Competition for economic advantage and a desire to exert influence over an area of increasing geostrategic importance could lead to increased tension. These economic and security concerns may increase the risk of disputes between Arctic and non-Arctic nations over access to Arctic shipping lanes and natural resources.”

Key challenges identified in the 2013 Strategy persist in 2016: shortfalls in remote sensing capabilities, ice prediction and weather forecasting; lack of navigational aids; challenges in high-latitude electronic communications; limited inventory of ice-capable vessels and infrastructure. 

The strategy states that the Department of Defense will boost existing limited polar communications capabilities, particularly satellite coverage. It will also seek to improve its threat detection and tracking capabilities in coordination with the Department of Homeland
Security and partner nations.

The report was completed in December while former President Obama was still in office. 

The strategy is available here.