“Is the US Losing the Fight for Arctic Dominance?” –Military.com

Military.Com’s  4 Jan., 2021 podcast, “Left of Boom,” has an interview with RAdm. Matthew Bell, Commander District 17, Is the US Losing the Fight for Arctic Dominance? | Military.com

It is a little over a half hour. If you don’t want to listen to the podcast, an edited transcript is provided. Just continue to scroll down below the audio (an unusual and appreciated addition).

Don’t think there are any real surprises here, but the discussion does remind us of how large the area is, how little infrastructure there is, and how few Coast Guard units are in the area.

When I was assigned to Midgett, we medivaced a South Korean fishermen. A purse seine wire had parted and, whipping across the deck. It took off a leg. We sailed to meet them well out the Bering Sea. Used our helicopter to bring him to the ship and then turned toward Dutch Harbor trying to get close enough to transport by helo to a hospital there. We lost him during the night still many hours from the launch point. 

The other things that stands out for me, are the importance of subsistence hunting and fishing and the cooperative relationship with the Russian Border Guard.

Thanks to the reader who brought this to my attention. Sorry I lost track of who it was.

“New Year’s Eve Storm Breaks North Pacific Record” –gCaptain

Image NOAA

gCaptain reports,

” A Pacific storm of record proportions swept a remote stretch of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands chain on New Year’s Eve, battering a region…The center of what forecasters refer to as “bomb cyclone” was measured at a record-low barometric pressure of 921 millibars, equivalent to the eye of a Category 4 hurricane and the lowest documented over the Aleutians as far back as the 1950s.

The storm unleashed seas as high as 54 feet (16.5 meters) and winds topping 80 miles per hour (120 kph) – a force of Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale – in the western Aleutians, the weather service said.

Someone had a rough ride. Shemya was in the epicenter of the storm. Seems we have been seeing increasing reports of unusually severe weather in Alaska and the Arctic.

“Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Star Bound for the Arctic in December” –USNI

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, January 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.US Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

US Naval Institute News Service reports Polar Star will deploy to the Arctic in December. We knew this was coming, but we have been short of details of when and for how long. This at least indicates it will begin in December. (I will speculate, she will be gone about three months, returning in March to provide a little inport time before going into the yard.)

There seem to be a couple of errors in the story.

“For the first time in almost five decades, the Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker won’t be supporting Antarctic scientific missions in coming months…”

Coast Guard heavy icebreaker support has not been continuous over that period, at least once, and I believe more than once, the McMurdo break-in was done by non-Coast Guard icebreakers, either contracted foreign icebreakers or the National Science Foundation’s own smaller icebreaker.

“This would be the first Coast Guard operation in the Arctic Ocean since August 1994 when a now-deactivated heavy icebreaker with a Canadian Coast Guard heavy icebreaker reached the North Pole.”

This seems to be missing a qualifier. The Coast Guard has certainly operated in the Arctic since August 1994. There is better information on Polar class operations in the Arctic here, in a Military.com report.

“It will be the first deployment of a U.S. Polar-class icebreaker to the Arctic on a non-science mission (emphasis applied–Chuck) since August 1994, when the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea, now inactive, became one of the first two American surface ships to reach the North Pole.

“In 1998, Polar Star spent three months in the region on a science mission. And in 2009, the Polar Sea conducted a three-month Arctic deployment, also dedicated solely to science.”

“Military activity is picking up in the quiet waters between the US and Russia” and a Deep Water Port at Nome

Northeast Russia and Alaska are in close proximity and the U.S. Coast Guard will interact more and more as Russian maritime activity in the Arctic grows. Photo: Shutterstock

Business Insider gives us a post about the strategic importance of the Bering Sea and Aleutians. In addition, there is some news about the proposed “Arctic” deepwater port.

The US Army Corps of Engineers recently approved plans to expand the port of Nome, on Alaska’s Bering coast. That “will not only help from a national-security perspective but … help [local communities] to reduce the cost of living,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said at another event in October.

“Coast Guard concludes Operation Arctic Shield 2020” –D17

Below is a District 17 press release. 

united states coast guard

 

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska
Contact: 17th District Public Affairs
Office: (907) 463-2065
After Hours: (907) 209-8731
17th District online newsroom

Coast Guard concludes Operation Arctic Shield 2020

   Arctic Shield operations arctic shield operations

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard concluded its annual Arctic Shield operations Sunday with the seasonal closure of its Forward Operating Location in Kotzebue, Alaska.

Air Station Kodiak air crews and two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters were forward deployed to Kotzebue to provide better response times and coverage to remote regions of Alaska during increased summer boating traffic.

In addition, the crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Kukui, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Sitka, Alaska; and the Healy, a 420-foot medium icebreaker homeported in Seattle, Washington, patrolled the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in support of maritime domain awareness, search and rescue, community relations, partnership building and scientific research.

Coast Guard crews deployed in support of Operation Arctic Shield, which commenced July 1, responded to 10 search and rescue cases, saving 25 lives.

To prevent hazards at sea, Coast Guard personnel from the 17th Coast Guard District and Sector Anchorage completed 172 facility inspections, and 405 commercial fishing vessel safety exams. The Coast Guard also continued its partnerships and provided critical support to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Office of Naval Research.

“The Coast Guard is dedicated to ensuring the protection of the Arctic maritime environment and all those who depend upon it,” said Cmdr. Molly Hayes, Operation Arctic Shield operational planner, Coast Guard District 17. “Our crews recognize and respect the sensitive environmental characteristics of the region and partner with Northern Alaskan communities to advance our shared interests in maritime safety and security.”

Operation Arctic Shield is the Coast Guard’s mobile and seasonal presence focused on performing the service’s 11 statutory missions throughout the Arctic to ensure maritime safety, security and stewardship. It is an annual operation that began in 2009.

Time to Revive Coast Guard’s ASW Capability?: “DOD MAP SHOWS RUSSIAN AND CHINESE SUBS ARE TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT” –Sandboxx

russian subs

Sandboxxx reports the release of a map illustrating the operations of the Russian and Chinese naval forces.

The Pentagon recently released a map showing the travel paths of Russian and Chinese naval vessels, alongside important undersea cables, as a part of its 2021 National Defense Authorization Act request, commonly referred to as the DoD’s budget. The map clearly shows the heavy traffic in both The Atlantic and Pacific oceans, with Russian subs encroaching on America’s eastern seaboard and Chinese submarines creeping up in the west.

The Russian Navy operations, including those just outside US territorial waters on the East Coast, are discussed in the post.

What I also see in the map, is a great deal of Chinese activity around Guam, significant activity around Hawaii, some activity extending to the Americas, and a surprising amount of Chinese activity in the Arctic, North of Siberia, that presumably passed through the Bering Strait. There is also Chinese activity near the Aleutians.

The Philippines, India, and Australia must also find this map interesting.

The map looks looks like more reason to consider providing cutters with an Anti-Submarine Warfare capability.

If we ever do have a “near peer” conflict with Russia and/or China, there is a good possibility, when we go to rescue the crews of torpedoed ships, cutters may find, they themselves have become targets. An ASW capability may be necessary just to allow the cutters to operate in a threat environment that could reach up to the US coast line.

If cutters were given an ASW capability, I would think their wartime role would be to escort logistics shipping from outload ports in the lower 48 to rear staging areas and return. Air and Surface threat levels would not be non-existent, but they would be low.

“Nation’s sole heavy icebreaker to deploy to the Arctic this winter” –News Release

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, January 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.US Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley

Below is a press release from Pacific Area, making it official that Polar Star will not make the trip to Antarctica this Winter. Instead they will be going to the Arctic this winter. Winter deployments to the Arctic are unusual, but it is something the Coast Guard expects to do, once the planned fleet of six icebreakers is complete. Really I do not  know if we have ever done this before. It will certainly be a unique experience. Much of the time, there will be no sun at all. 

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area
Contact: Coast Guard Pacific Area Public Affairs
Office: (510) 437-3375
After Hours: (510) 816-1700
Oct. 29, 2020
D11-DG-M-PACAREA-PA@uscg.mil
Pacific Area online newsroom

Nation’s sole heavy icebreaker to deploy to the Arctic this winter

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) is in the fast Ice Jan. 2, 2020, approximately 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 399-foot icebreaker is the only ship in U.S. service capable of clearing a path through the Antarctic ice to escort three refuel and resupply ships to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze. The ships deliver enough cargo and fuel to sustain year-round operations on the remote continent. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) is in the fast Ice Jan. 2, 2020, approximately 20 miles north of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 399-foot icebreaker is the only ship in U.S. service capable of clearing a path through the Antarctic ice to escort three refuel and resupply ships to McMurdo Station during Operation Deep Freeze. The ships deliver enough cargo and fuel to sustain year-round operations on the remote continent. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Senior Chief Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi


ALAMEDA, Calif. — The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) will deploy to the Arctic this winter to help protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security in the region. 

The United States is an Arctic nation, and the Coast Guard has served as the lead federal agency for homeland security, safety, and environmental stewardship in the Arctic region for more than 150 years.  As the nation’s primary maritime presence in the polar regions, the Coast Guard advances U.S. national interests through a unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority, and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance.

In April 2019, the Coast Guard released the Arctic Strategic Outlook, which reaffirms the service’s commitment to American leadership in the region through partnership, unity of effort, and continuous innovation.

“The Arctic is no longer an emerging frontier, but is instead a region of growing national importance,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The Coast Guard is committed to protecting U.S. sovereignty and working with our partners to uphold a safe, secure, and rules-based Arctic.”  

Typically, the Polar Star travels to Antarctica each year in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the annual military mission to resupply the United States’ Antarctic stations, in support of the National Science Foundation.

This year’s maritime resupply at McMurdo Station was cancelled due to COVID safety precautions, and a limited resupply will be conducted via aircraft.  However, Operation Deep Freeze is an enduring mission that requires a heavy icebreaker for a full resupply, and the Coast Guard anticipates resuming this critical deployment next year.

“Steer Clear of the Polar Regions” –USNI

 Photo: Official USCG Polar Star Facebook

The US Naval Institute Blog has a new post. Its bottom line,

For Semper Paratus to move beyond a mere slogan, the Coast Guard should steer clear of the Poles, decommission the two heavy icebreakers, and redirect resources toward coastal operations to better secure the homeland. As the smallest armed force, the Coast Guard must proactively roll back the nefarious reach of transnational human smuggling and narcoterrorism for the sake of national security. Leave the Poles to the Navy and to private sector research-and-development firms.

I am not going to comment, but I am sure someone will.

“34 VHF towers are down in AK; CH 16 not being picked up by USCG” –Alaska Fish Radio

BALTIMORE Ð A digital selective calling VHF-FM marine-band radio, set to channel 16, is shown energized for operations at Coast Guard Station Curtis Bay, Md., Dec. 9, 2010. DSC radios allow for a digital transfer between radios versus voice transmission which allows mariners to instantly send an automatically formatted distress alert to the Coast Guard, provided the radio is registered with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity number and connected to a compatible GPS unit. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandyn Hill.

A disturbing report from Alaska Fish Radio that a third of the VHF towers in Alaska are down and in many cases the Coast Guard is not monitoring channel 16 where it would be expected that we would.

Curious how we got in this situation?

Thanks to Eric for bringing this to my attention. 

“China Can’t Be Trusted in the Arctic –USNI

A picture taken on November 16, 2011 from a South Korean helicopter shows Chinese fishermen wielding sticks to stop an attack by South Korean coastguard commandoes armed with clubs aboard rubber boats during a crackdown on alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea off the southwestern coast county of Buan. South Korea’s coastguard mobilised 12 ships, four helicopters and commandoes for a special three-day crackdown on illegal fishing by Chinese boats this week. REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT AFP PHOTO / DONG-A ILBO (Photo credit should read DONG-A ILBO/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Naval Institute Proceedings has a post by Commander William Woityra, U.S. Coast Guard

China’s failure to enforce treaties and sanctions and lack of corporate accountability should serve as a warning for the international community when it comes to Chinese participation in international agreements and instruments. Of recent interest is their 2018 signature of the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The signatory parties committed to curbing high seas commercial fishing in the Arctic until the ecosystem is better understood, no sooner than 2034. Beijing’s participation in the negotiations, and signing of the fisheries moratorium, helps bolster its long-term narrative of China’s identity as a “near-Arctic state” with a legitimate right to involve itself in decisions about the future of the region.

Lately I have come to suspect that China’s lax attitude toward Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) Fishing is not due to poor enforcement or even corruption, but that it is actually state policy and a part of a strategy to impoverish third world countries dependent on fishing, so that, encouraged by bribery, they will turn to China for loans for poor investment, that will default and ultimately allow the Chinese to take over their assets. Overfishing is perhaps an element in a new form of economic colonialism.