“Rushing Navy Ships into the Arctic for a FONOP is Dangerous” –USNI

Map of the Arctic region showing shipping routes Northeast Passage, Northern Sea Route, and Northwest Passage, and bathymetry, Arctic Council, by Susie Harder

An interesting discussion of the Navy’s proposed Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Arctic which would presumably require Coast Guard assistance.

Within these stories are three different ideas: first, that the Navy is interested in expanding its physical presence in Alaska, through returning to Adak and/or a port on the Bering Strait ( Nome has been discussed for years); second, that Navy personnel need to regain operational familiarity with the Arctic environment; and third, that the Navy appears to be considering a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the Arctic for summer 2019.

The first two ideas are unremarkable. Given the dearth of infrastructure and the challenging environment, both improved facilities and practical learning opportunities are required to ensure Navy vessels and aircraft operate safely and effectively.

The third idea—conducting a FONOP in the Arctic in just a few months—is a bombshell.

I seem to remember hearing that this had been discussed, and the Commandant had taken the position that the Coast Guard could not support the idea of a Freedom of Navigation Operation given the state of our icebreaker “fleet,” but apparently the idea is still alive, at least as of mid January.

6 thoughts on ““Rushing Navy Ships into the Arctic for a FONOP is Dangerous” –USNI

  1. I think the most interesting statement in the discussion is this; “1972, a RAND report noted the lack of U.S. icebreaking capacity, and observed that this inadequacy rendered FONOPs in the NSR unacceptably risky: “If an American icebreaker were to get stuck in heavy ice during such a traverse attempt, the United States would be in the embarrassing position of having almost no choice but to ask the Soviets to free it.” Forty-seven years later, the United States remains in the same position. ”

    47 years and we haven’t improved our ability to exert our rights in the Artic. It clearly points to the need to do a block buy of new heavy icebreakers and not remain in this position for the next 10 to 20 years.

    • That 47 years includes commissioning the world’s most powerful non-nuclear-powered icebreaker duo – one for each Arktika-class icebreaker in service at the time – and then failing to replace them as they came to the end of their service life. So, the capability was there for a while, but has since been lost again.

  2. It’s really hard not to be a smart alec about this, but considering the conclusions drawn in the secret, unauthorized-release, report on the Fitzgerald incident, I predict the USN sinking at least one DDG from inept seamanship in ice environment, and *then* Congress getting excited about spending a few billion on purchasing 3-4 new heavy icebreakers…

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