PACOM Area of Responsibilty
Two officers, one Army and one Air Force, both with experience in Alaska Command, find that the organization of naval support for the Command is problematic and suggest that making CCGD17 the Naval Component Commander is the solution.
In 2014, the subunified Alaskan Command was reassigned from Pacific Command to NorthCom. Alaskan Command owns the joint force activities in the land and air domains over Alaska and the Arctic and coordinates with Naval Forces Northern Command (NavNorth)—based some 4,500 miles from Alaska—for maritime joint operations. The Alaskan Command commander also is responsible to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for the Alaskan region’s air defense and identification zone (ADIZ), which extends to the North Pole and along the eastern border of Russia. Currently, the maritime warning responsibilities in the Arctic are held at NORAD headquarters in Colorado, and maritime domain awareness responsibilities are retained with the NavNorth Commander in Norfolk, Virginia.
With three different chains of command, none of which own surface vessels around the waters of Alaska, Alaskan Command’s ability to conduct homeland defense is at risk because of a cumbersome command-and-control structure beset with the challenges of distance and limited expertise in operating in the Arctic. There is a more effective command-and-control structure to protect the homeland in the Arctic: establishing the U.S. Coast Guard as the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander of Alaskan Command.
This is recognition of a problem we looked at before, and my conclusion was that Alaska should be reassigned to PACOM. Short of that there is another alternative I will get to below, and they do seem to have a good workable proposal for a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North)
There has been almost no cooperation between the Navy and Alaska Command. That may be starting to change. In May the Navy conducted Exercise Northern Edge 2019. The Navy talked about this a relearning how to operate in the Arctic, but as far as I can tell, they never got into the Arctic. Apparently the Carrier Strike Group stayed in the Gulf of Alaska, but at least they did work with the Air Force in Alaska.
Admittedly the US Navy has limited capability in the Arctic.
“…the Navy’s minimal involvement in the region is for good reason: the Navy has limited Arctic capability, apart from submarines and patrol aircraft. Essentially, there are no current requirements levied on the U.S. Navy necessitating an Arctic presence.”
That also might be changing. It is not unlikely that the Navy will return in at least some fashion to Adak as it has in Iceland..
“Last year, the Navy indicated it would like to begin flying submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Adak Island hundreds of miles off the Alaskan coast in the Aleutian island chain, which would put US aircraft at the westernmost airfield that can handle passenger aircraft in the United States.”
Joint Force Maritime Component Commander
To be the Naval Component Commander you have to be ready for high end conflicts as well as the more routine requirements. Submarines and Maritime Patrol Aircraft are critical assets for success in any major conflict in the Arctic. They are also forces the Coast Guard is not ready to command.
US Navy Fleet Organization
Surely that Maritime Component Commander should be Third Fleet. Additionally, as I noted earlier, It makes no sense to divide the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea between 3rd Fleet and 7th Fleet. Third Fleet should assume responsibility for all of PACOM’s Arctic waters including the entire Bering Sea and the Aleutians. (7th Fleet already has more than enough to do in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.)
Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North):
Meanwhile it would make sense for the Coast Guard to participate in formation of a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North) for the purpose of Disaster Relief/Humanitarian Assistance, response to major SAR cases, and dealing with possible Russian, or even Chinese, Gray Zone operations in the Arctic.