NORTHCOM on the Arctic–Reason Enough to Buy Icebreakers

EagleSpeak has a report on a conversation with NORTHCOM and NORAD Commander, Admiral Bill Gortney, and it seems to suggest that the US military may need a serious icebreaker capability in about ten years.

Q: Sir in the past couple of months, U.S. officials expressed desire for some sort of new multipurpose sensor in the Canadian Arctic, not just for the ICBMs for maritime vessels, airplanes, that kind of thing. Haven’t really gotten much details on that. Can you give us kind of what you’re looking for there? And what timeline …

ADM. GORTNEY: Yeah, well the — the — the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line — the air defense radars that we maintain on northern Canada and then the Canada-U.S. border are, you know, in a few years — I’d say 10 years I think is the number — you know, they’re going to reach a point of obsolescence and we’re going to have to reinvest for that capability.

The question is what sort of technology do we want to use to reconstitute that capability? We don’t want to put in the same sorts of sensors because they’re not effective against the low-altitude, say, cruise missiles. They can’t see over the horizon.

So now the question is, what’s the technology that’s going to work up there? Is it an over-the-horizon radar system that would work, but it has challenges in the Arctic?

So that’s — those are the questions we’re asking the community about.

When the DEW line was being built several icebreakers would go north every Summer escorting ships carrying building supplies and equipment.

Apparently the DOD is studying the problem and should have a report out soon.

Q: The loss of sea ice in the Arctic, what — what security issues does that raise as we see that whole area changing up there?

ADM. GORTNEY: Well, that’s part of what we’re going to be reporting out, the necessary threats.

You know, the reality is, is that it is. The sea ice is melting. The Arctic shelf is getting smaller.

That said, it is still a very inhospitable place, you know. And today, if we wanted to go up there, you know, we don’t have the ability to reliably navigate, communicate and sustain ourselves up there.

And so that’s huge investments for the services to figure out how to do that, and when do we need to lay those investments in to be able to communicate, navigate and sustain?

And — and before we can communicate and navigate, we have to — we have to do the sustainment. We have to supply ourselves. You know, it’s three times as expensive and takes three times as long to put anything up there in the Arctic. I mean, it is a very, very harsh place.

We are seeing more intermodal traffic from ships that are going in there, but we’re not seeing — we’ve worked with the shipping industry and talked with the shipping — the major shipping companies, and they’re not really interested. You know, they need ships that can make them money 350 days out of the year. They can’t rely on a particular period of time; they need to move large numbers of containers and a large number of crude or liquid natural gas that happens to be out there.

But the reality is, there’s going to be more activity up there, and it’s actually more dangerous today than when we had a stable shelf.

So that’s what we’re — I’m looking forward to reporting that out here in the spring.

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