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CHIPS Articles: Arctic Roadmap: Charting the Navy’s Arctic Presence

Arctic Roadmap: Charting the Navy’s Arctic Presence
By Heather Rutherford with Robert Freeman, N6E6C - April-June 2014
With the changing climate, the Arctic region suddenly finds itself host to a plethora of prospective opportunities. Since 1980, Arctic summer sea ice has reduced by approximately 40 percent, giving way to freedom from “normal” Arctic summer conditions — icy, impassable waters — and opening up the possibility of exploration into the region’s potentially rich, natural resources such as oil, gas and minerals. Commercial fishing, shipping, even tourism — as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert put it, the Arctic is a “new maritime frontier.”

No stranger to Arctic missions, the Navy currently provides presence both undersea and in the air in support of Combatant Commanders, U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies. However, the Navy’s strategic importance in the Arctic is increasing rapidly. Last May, the White House released a new national strategy for the Arctic region which tapped the Navy to play a significant role, including “advancing US security interests.” This was followed by the November unveiling of the Department of Defense’s strategy, which heavily emphasizes the Navy’s role in the Arctic, including the need for research into new types of naval equipment and infrastructure needed in the Arctic region over several decades.

Mapping the Future of the Arctic

Originally created in 2009, the Arctic Roadmap laid the foundation for the Navy’s approach to the changing environment and its impact on future readiness. On Feb. 24, the Navy released an updated version of the Arctic Roadmap (http://www.navy.mil/docs/USN_arctic_roadmap.pdf ) which aligns with both DoD and Presidential directives. The newest iteration of the roadmap details necessary capabilities to operate in the Arctic Ocean and focuses mainly on near-term (present-2020), but also spans years in the mid-term (2020-2030) and far-term (beyond 2030). In addition to providing sea and air support, the Navy will concentrate on improving operational capabilities, expertise and capacity with an eye toward proactive planning to prepare the Navy for future deployments.

The Environment: A force to be reckoned with

Rear Adm. Jonathan White, Oceanographer of the Navy and Task Force Climate Change (TFCC) director, is responsible for overseeing the current roadmap’s implementation. He and his staff worked closely with the office of Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Deputy CNO for Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5), on the creation of the updated roadmap. White believes that the Navy will be “operating routinely in the Arctic with an appropriate presence that includes more than just submarines,” but said that preparations needed to start immediately.

The Arctic poses significant challenges for surface and air operations, including harsh weather conditions, vast distances, remoteness, and lack of supporting infrastructure. Weather in the Arctic can be very dangerous, and it’s difficult to forecast due to weak understanding of polar weather dynamics, insufficient satellite data for analysis, and the lack of sophisticated atmosphere and ocean computer models that are optimized for the high north. Infrastructure challenges include lack of deep water ports, reliable airports, accurate nautical charts, aids to navigation, and fuel and supply depots. In addition, there are few currently serving in the Navy with experience operating in the Arctic, and little formal training available. The roadmap states that operating in the Arctic “will require special training, extreme cold weather modifications for systems and equipment, and complex logistics support.”

Keeping the Peace

Equally important to the success of Arctic operations are the Navy’s partnerships with allied Arctic nations such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. The Navy also partners with the U.S. Coast Guard, a decades long relationship of collaboration that ensures a peaceable presence in the area.

"The Navy will work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and other Arctic nation sea services to ensure we can meet the same mission requirements in the Arctic as we do in, on, and above every other ocean in the world," White said.

White has also stated that he believes that the presence of well-meaning naval forces acts as a stabilizing influence toward mutual prosperity and safe maritime activity.

"Nobody wants to militarize the Arctic or make it a military-controlled region," White said. "We believe the presence of the U.S. Navy, and all well-meaning navies, acts as a force for security, which leads to stability and prosperity."

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