NORAD NEWS

NEWS | April 15, 2021

U.S. Must Get 'On the Field' in Arctic to Defend National Interests There

By C. Todd Lopez DOD News

As changes in climate affect ice melt, opportunities are developing in the Arctic for both resource development and transportation. Russia is already there defending what's theirs and seeking out new opportunities. China is a player as well, as a "near-Arctic nation." But the U.S. is going to need to develop more "persistence" in the region if it wants to be a player there, according to the commander of U.S. Northern Command.

A submarine is surfaced near a large sheet of ice. Snow is piled up on top of the submarine.
USS Hartford
The submarine USS Hartford surfaces near Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 19, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Thompson
VIRIN: 160319-N-QA919-540

"To compete in the Arctic, you have to be on the field," said Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command, during a hearing yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee. "And currently, our capabilities, I would assess that we're in the game plan development [stage]. We're not able to have the persistence that I need to compete day-to-day in the Arctic."

The general said the U.S. military, along with the Canadian Armed Forces, are now in the early stages of modernization in building additional military capabilities in the Arctic. A priority for VanHerck, he said, is domain awareness.

A tiny military camp is surrounded by a vast expanse of snow.
Camp Sargo
Camp Sargo housed participants of Ice Exercise 2016, a five-week exercise designed to research, test and evaluate operational capabilities in the Arctic Circle.
Photo By: Adam Bell, Navy
VIRIN: 160324-N-ZZ999-108

"It starts with the ability to communicate and provide data and information so that we can operate and have persistence in the Arctic," he said, thanking lawmakers for $46 million in funding the department received toward that effort.

It's incumbent upon us to be persistent, working with allies and partners and like-minded nations to ensure that we maintain the consistency of the international rules-based norms and laws that have served us well over time.''
Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, U.S. Northern Command

He said the U.S. currently has 10 satellites in orbit that help with that domain awareness, and about 100 more of those satellites will come in the future.

But communications and domain awareness are only part of the picture, he said. Perhaps even more critical is actually having presence on the water there.

"To be persistent, you also have to be on the playing field and that requires fuel so that Coast Guard cutters, Navy destroyers and cruisers, can remain persistent in the Arctic," he said.

Eerie green lights streak across a dark sky.
Northern Lights
The Northern Lights can be seen above Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 11, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Yanez
VIRIN: 160311-N-SG283-002

Right now VanHerck said he has a requirement for fuel at Dutch Harbor, Alaska — in the Aleutian Islands — that will help with that persistence and will also provide infrastructure for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms and fighter aircraft.

All of that, he said, will help the U.S. better compete in the Arctic and continue to be aware of Russian activities in the region.

VanHerck said Russia pulls about a quarter of its gross domestic product from its activities in the Arctic. Moreover, they have reopened and strengthened Cold War military installations that were once shuttered. "They absolutely have a vested interest in the Arctic, and they also want to ensure that it's secure for their efforts, if you will," he said.

A man’s face is almost obscured by winter clothing and a snow-dusted mask.
Standing Watch
Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Wendler, warfare development officer, Submarine Force Atlantic, stands watch during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 19, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Thompson
VIRIN: 160319-N-QA919-698

China is not actually in the Arctic, but considers itself a "near Arctic" nation and seeks increased influence there, Both Russia and China are interested in changing international rules-based norms to better serve themselves, he said.

"It's incumbent upon us to be persistent, working with allies and partners and like-minded nations to ensure that we maintain the consistency of the international rules-based norms and laws that have served us well over time," he said.

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