At the National Press Club Headliners Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 6, the Commandant discussed the Coast Guard’s Arctic presence. We noted the Commandant’s remarks on the Polar Security Cutter earlier, that he was guardedly optimistic, but the US Naval Institute report on the same presentation, brings us more information about the possibility of a new port facility in Western Alaska.
Long-term, Schultz said it’s possible the Coast Guard would look to create a permanent presence in the Arctic. Most likely, Schultz said, the Coast Guard would look for a sea base, possibly in the far northern Port Clarence area. One option, Schultz said, is for the Coast Guard to install moorings to provide a safe haven. Port Clarence, Alaska, had a population of 24, according to the 2010 Census.
Port Clarence was at one time a LORAN Station, and it appears it may still have a substantial runway, so it might also develop into a seasonal air station.
The Secretary of the Navy has already expressed an interest in having a strategic port in Alaska. From the Navy’s point of view it is near the potentially strategically important Bering Strait.
I took a quick look at Nome on Wikipedia and it does have a lot more in the way of civilian amenities, but looks like the possibilities of port development are very limited https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nome%2C_Alaska
This may provide more insight into our interest in Port Clarence. It also indicates that the runway there is currently not usable by Coast Guard aircraft.
Click to access NearTermRecommendationsArctic2018.pdf
If only there was already a strategic port, like in say…Adak. Guess what is old is new again?
But it is probably just as easy to build new than rehab what’s been abandoned for years now.
Port Clarence is seen as a place of refuge on a proposed spur of the Maritime Highway. They are looking for something further North than ADAK although I suspect we will see the Navy go back to ADAK some time in the future.
That did n[t take long. The Navy is talking about operating Maritime Patrol Aircraft out of Adak again, though they are not planning on reopening the base. Commercial aircraft are operating there now. https://breakingdefense.com/2018/12/navy-looking-to-fly-p-8s-from-cold-war-era-base-in-alaska/?_ga=2.229742300.1755020292.1544785324-1129681123.1531151063
it may be just me but don’t we want to operate in the north? Adak is pretty far south, especially as cutter response goes. not counting the navy, they seem to have an aversion to north of the arctic circle for the last few decades. port Clarence being a viable port/station/home port makes more sense but would require a shiton of cash.
Yes, Adak is far South of the Arctic Circle. Even Port Clarence is slightly south of the Circle. Adak is only in the Arctic because the US government defines the Arctic to include the Aleutians even though they are still far South of the Arctic Circle.
No indication yet how much work they plan to put into Port Clarence beyond using its natural availability as an anchorage.
More here about Navy’s renewed interest in the Arctic and a port in the Arctic. https://www.defenseone.com/news/2019/01/arctic-warms-us-navy-considering-summer-transit-bering-sea-port/154018/?oref=d_brief_nl
Arctic transit would provide an alternative to the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal.
Port Clarence is currently not feasible for anything other than a place of refuge. There doesn’t seem to be any discernible port infrastructure. I doubt they would be able to provide fuel and other supplies. Nome is probably more feasible in the long-term, but current harbor depth starts at 17 feet in the outer harbor and goes down to 9 feet in the inner. Bethel and Dillingham are both large towns for the region, but are both up rivers which presents challenges. Realistically, if you want a port closer to the arctic than Kodiak, Dutch Harbor is the only option at least for the near to mid-term. It is the only port in the region that is reliably re-supplied and has a large deep-draft port that is currently undergoing plans to deepen. The problem with Dutch is it’s not really that close to the arctic, it has less than reliable air transportation (primarily due to weather, but the small and awkwardly placed runway doesn’t help). On the other hand it is one of the larger towns in all of Alaska with existing infrastructure and a long history of Coast Guard activities.
They are talking about adding infrastructure where there is none. Port Clarence looks likely because of a well protected natural harbor and it already has an airfield that could be significantly improved without any earth moving.
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