“Coast Guard Sails Medium Cutter North of Arctic Circle as Nanook Exercise Kicks Off” –USNI

The US Naval Institute News reports that

“The Coast Guard for the first time in years sent one of its medium-endurance cutters to the Atlantic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, as the sea service joins the U.S. and Canadian navies for a yearly maritime exercise.”

This is Operation NANOOK-TUUGAALIK 2020, the maritime portion of Operation NANOOK. In past years, when the Coast Guard participated, we usually sent a buoy tender. I don’t believe it has ever happened before, but this year the US Navy is sending a destroyer. According to Naval Technology,

“Participating assets include USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) guided-missile destroyer, the Royal Canadian Navy ships HMCS Glace Bay, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and MV Asterix; DDG 116, US Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) 46.2, the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tahoma, French Navy coastal patrol vessel FS Fulmar, and the Royal Danish Navy frigate HDMS Triton.” (Photos below–Chuck)

The Navy seems to be particularly concerned about doing small boat ops in the Arctic environment.

“We’ve really heavily relied on partners, including the Coast Guard, who have recent experience operating there,” he said.

Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian G. Reynolds/Released)

Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec

Danish frigate HDMS Triton F358 in Reykjavik – Iceland (2016). Photo credit: CJ Sayer via Wikipedia

Royal Canadian Navy supply ship MV Asterix (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jimmie Crockett/Released)

Canadian navy Kingston-class maritime coastal defense vessel HMCS Glace Bay (MM 701) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rafael Martie/Released)

FS FULMAR P740. Description: Owned by French Navy and crewed by Gendarmarie. Built as fishing vessel ‘Jonathan’1991 at Boulogne,re-built 1996/97 at Lorient for French Navy as patrol boat, LOA 39M; beam 8.5M; draught 4.7M. Displmt:680 tons full load. Note French Coastguard (AEM) stripes on bow. Vessel based on St.Pierre et Miquelon,off S.West coast Newfoundland.Photo credit © tabarly

USCGC Tahoma (WMEC-908)

New Zealand Adds One of a Kind Ice Class Underway Replenishment Vessel

HMNZS Aotearoa Logistics Support Vessel

Naval News reports that the New Zealand Navy has commissioned what I believe is a one of a kind vessel, a Polar class underway replenishment vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa (not that it is an icebreaker, no icebreaking bow).

There is an excellent description of this ship here.

(Anyone know if the Polar Security cutters can do underway replenishment?)

Unlike US Navy replenishment ships, this will be armed and have a military crew.

I doubt the ice-strengthening and winterization really cost a whole lot. With the Arctic opening up, maybe the Navy should be thinking about something like this.

Wintering Over in the Arctic

A large number of research teams conduct very different experiments

As you may know, there is currently an expedition underway utilizing the German Icebreaker Polarstern to winter over in the Arctic, drifting with the ice. A German friend and blogger, Sven, pointed me to a 19 Sept 2019 German language interview that provides background on the purpose of the expedition and how it was to be conducted. The original article has more pictures and links to additional information. Using Google Translate I have provided a rough English translation below. Hopefully Deutsche Welle will forgive me. 

MOSAiC: Great Arctic Expedition Launches
For a year, the research vessel Polarstern will drift frozen through the Arctic Ocean. Researchers want to better understand the influence of the Arctic on the climate, says tour manager Christian Haas in the DW interview.

Deutsche Welle: On 20 September, a large-scale expedition of the Alfred Wegener Institute will take off with the research vessel Polarstern to the Arctic. What is it going to be about?
Christian Haas: On the expedition, we want to better understand the processes and energy flows between the air, the ocean and the ice. For this purpose, we will be freezing in the Arctic for a whole year with our research icebreaker Polarstern.
The processes and conditions there change greatly over the course of the seasons. In winter, we examine the factors that affect the freezing and growing of the ice. In the summer, the situation reverses. Then the ice melts and the ice sheet breaks open to form ice floes.
As the ice is several years old, it is necessary to know the interplay between winter freezing and summer melting in order to be able to assess whether the ice is getting thicker or thinner.

The polar star will drift through the Arctic Ocean with the ice. How exactly does it work?
The sea ice of the Arctic becomes only a few meters thick. Because it is so thin, it can easily break and be driven away by winds and currents, so it is constantly moving. We use this movement, the so-called ice drift, to drift from Siberia over the North Pole to Greenland.
It also has a crucial advantage to drive with the same ice, because we can only judge how the ice is exposed to all the external influences and changes.

There have already been some expeditions to the Arctic. What makes MOSAiC so special?
The special thing about MOSAiC is that we are really there over the course of a year, i.e. throughout the freezing and melting season, and we can observe the processes in all their diversity. We are also a huge team of researchers from 19 nations. A total of 300 scientists are involved.
But everyone will only be on board for two months. We take turns and travel with Russian icebreakers to the POLARSTERN and away again. There are a total of six sections of the journey, each with 50 scientists on board. I myself will be there from December to February.

And what will be your task on the ground?
I am the tour leader of the expedition for my journey section. That means I take overall responsibility for the whole company during the two months. Our group deals with the properties of ice, with a focus on ice ceiling measurement.
In order to measure the thickness of the ice, it was necessary to drill holes earlier, which is very complex. We have developed a new procedure at the AWI. Using electromagnetic probes, we can measure the conductivity of the subsurface.
The ice is solid and therefore a bad electrical conductor while the salt water underneath is very good. This allows us to determine the distance between ice and water, i.e. the thickness of the ice, very precisely.
We will then compare the data with satellites, in particular the European CryoSat, which has been launched specifically for ice ceiling measurement. So we can then observe how the ice grows and becomes thinner.

You spoke of a variety of processes being investigated. What are the other groups exploring?
The main aim is to investigate why the thickness of the ice changes. This depends on a huge number of influences, such as the air temperature and humidity of the winds, solar radiation and also how much heat gets from the water to the ice.
All these factors are measured simultaneously in high temporal resolution – all with the question “How does this affect the thickness of the ice?”

Working at home and in the Arctic is certainly different. They have been there many times. What are the working conditions there?
Of course, there are risks that we do not have. You can get frostbite, break into the water or meet polar bears. I’ve met many polar bears. Everyone who moves in the Arctic carries a gun with them.
However, the Polarstern has never fired a shot at a polar bear. Because they are primarily curious and come because of it. Since they are also very anxious, they can easily be expelled with noise. So these are not risks that pose great dangers if you behave correctly.
The far bigger challenges are more in the extreme situation of being so far away from home, for so long. Especially in winter we work in complete darkness. In addition, we are constantly there with many other people, there is no more privacy.
In addition, all the means of communication that we are used to here, i.e. the Internet, satellite communications and telephone, are only possible to a very limited extent. Because there is only one satellite communication system that still works north of 75 degrees North.

Nevertheless, this expedition is very important – keyword: climate change?
The whole world is worried about climate change. The Arctic is the hotspot, or the epicenter of global climate change. Because in the Arctic we are seeing the most significant climate changes.
These are also particularly well observed due to the retreat of the ice. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world. That’s why you have to go to the Arctic to understand what’s happening there and to be able to make predictions for the world.
And how is sea ice doing at the moment?
The area of arctic ice in summer has decreased by more than 50 percent in the last 40 years. Now, in September, the ice retreats most every year before expanding again in autumn and winter.
This year we are seeing the second smallest sea ice extent ever observed in the Arctic. From this point of view, it is good that MOSAiC is starting this year. This means that the initial conditions are among the most extreme and we are just looking at how the Arctic has changed in recent years and what the state of the ‘new Arctic’ is.

Memorandum on Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions

The President has issued a memorandum, dated 9 June, 2020, regarding the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter Program. The Memorandum is relative short and is duplicated below. I have added emphasis to what I see as some of the more important points by making some of the text bold. Below that, I will provide my comments.

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND
BUDGET
THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL
SECURITY AFFAIRS
SUBJECT:    Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the
Arctic and Antarctic RegionsTo help protect our national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and to retain a strong Arctic security presence alongside our allies and partners, the United States requires a ready, capable, and available fleet of polar security icebreakers that is operationally tested and fully deployable by Fiscal Year 2029.  Accordingly, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:Section 1.  Fleet Acquisition Program.  The United States will develop and execute a polar security icebreaking fleet acquisition program that supports our national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

(a)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), shall lead a review of requirements for a polar security icebreaking fleet acquisition program to acquire and employ a suitable fleet of polar security icebreakers, and associated assets and resources, capable of ensuring a persistent United States presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions in support of national interests and in furtherance of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, as appropriate.  Separately, the review shall include the ability to provide a persistent United States presence in the Antarctic region, as appropriate, in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty System.  The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of OMB, in executing this direction, shall ensure that the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) Offshore Patrol Cutter acquisition program is not adversely impacted.

(b)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, acting through the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, acting through the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Energy, as appropriate, shall conduct a study of the comparative operational and fiscal benefits and risks of a polar security icebreaking fleet mix that consists of at least three heavy polar-class security cutters (PSC) that are appropriately outfitted to meet the objectives of this memorandum.  This study shall be submitted to the President, through the Director of OMB and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, within 60 days from the date of this memorandum and at a minimum shall include:

(i)    Use cases in the Arctic that span the full range of national and economic security missions (including the facilitation of resource exploration and exploitation and undersea cable laying and maintenance) that may be executed by a class of medium PSCs, as well as analysis of how these use cases differ with respect to the anticipated use of heavy PSCs for these same activities.  These use cases shall identify the optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers for ensuring a persistent presence in both the Arctic and, as appropriate, the Antarctic regions;

(ii)   An assessment of expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium PSCs not yet contracted for, specifically including the maximum use of any such PSC with respect to its ability to support national security objectives through the use of the following:  unmanned aviation, surface, and undersea systems; space systems; sensors and other systems to achieve and maintain maritime domain awareness; command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems.  This assessment shall also evaluate defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion;

(iii)  Based on the determined fleet size and composition, an identification and assessment of at least two optimal United States basing locations and at least two international basing locations.  The basing location assessment shall include the costs, benefits, risks, and challenges related to infrastructure, crewing, and logistics and maintenance support for PSCs at these locations.  In addition, this assessment shall account for potential burden-sharing opportunities for basing with the Department of Defense and allies and partners, as appropriate; and

(iv)   In anticipation of the USCGC POLAR STAR’s operational degradation from Fiscal Years 2022-2029, an analysis to identify executable options, with associated costs, to bridge the gap of available vessels as early as Fiscal Year 2022 until the new PSCs required to meet the objectives of this memorandum are operational, including identifying executable, priced leasing options, both foreign and domestic.  This analysis shall specifically include operational risk associated with using a leased vessel as compared to a purchased vessel to conduct specified missions set forth in this memorandum.

(c)  In the interest of securing a fully capable polar security icebreaking fleet that is capable of providing a persistent presence in the Arctic and Antarctic regions at the lowest possible cost, the Secretary of State shall coordinate with the Secretary of Homeland Security in identifying viable polar security icebreaker leasing options, provided by partner nations, as a near- to mid-term (Fiscal Years 2022-2029) bridging strategy to mitigate future operational degradation of the USCGC POLAR STAR.  Leasing options shall contemplate capabilities that allow for access to the Arctic and Antarctic regions to, as appropriate, conduct national and economic security missions, in addition to marine scientific research in the Arctic, and conduct research in Antarctica in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty System.  Further, and in advance of any bid solicitation for future polar security icebreaker acquisitions, the Secretary of State shall coordinate with the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify partner nations with proven foreign shipbuilding capability and expertise in icebreaker construction.

(d)  The Secretary of Defense shall coordinate with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to continue to provide technical and programmatic support to the USCG integrated program office for the acquisition, outfitting, and operations of all classes of PSCs.

Sec2.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)  the functions of the Director of OMB relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

DONALD J. TRUMP
Commentary:
Notably this is in reference to both Arctic and Antarctic. There are a number of issues raised here:
  • Optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers
  • What does “persistent United States presence” mean?
  • How the Medium icebreakers will be used differently from the Heavy icebreakers?
  • Expanded operational capabilities
  • Defensive armament
  • Nuclear power
  • Basing: “two optimal United States basing locations and at least two international basing locations”
  • “Leasing options, both foreign and domestic”
  • “Identify partner nations with proven foreign shipbuilding capability and expertise in icebreaker construction.”
In most cases these topics are not new. With few exceptions, the Coast Guard has certainly considered these topics and should have well thought out positions.

Basing “two optimal United States basing locations and at least two international basing locations”

The Basing question seem the most original and may suggest the US may want to have icebreakers based in the Atlantic. First it is not clear what is meant by bases. Does it mean homeports, permanent US Navy/Coast Guard overseas bases, or just a place to replenish?
We already know the Coast Guard plans to base the first Polar Security Cutters (PSC) in Seattle.
When bound for Antarctica, icebreakers operate out of Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. At one time there was consideration of basing icebreakers there, but it seems unlikely New Zealand would actually welcome a year round Navy or Coast Guard base, and there seems to be little reason to seek one. Perhaps this could qualify as a base if we are only talking a regular replenishment station.
The US unlike the rest of the world includes the Aleutians and Bering Sea as part of the Arctic, although they are below the Arctic Circle. There has been a lot of discussion about an “Arctic (really near Arctic) Base” for the Navy and Coast Guard. Likely candidates are Adak, Port Clarence, or Nome. We talked about it here, here, and here.
Seattle, Christchurch, and the Alaskan Arctic base might account for three of the four bases referred to, two domestic and one “international,” all on the Pacific side of the World. What about the fourth base? I don’t see need for another base in the South Pacific. Could he actually be thinking about having icebreakers based on the Atlantic side? There might be reason to base some icebreaking capability with easier access to the Atlantic side. We discussed that here. If that is the case, he is really talking two homeports, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic or perhaps Great Lakes, plus two supporting locations, one in the South Pacific and one closer to the Arctic on the Atlantic side. (We don’t need an “international” base to access the Pacific side of the Arctic.) An Atlantic support base could mean Canada, Greenland, Iceland, or least likely, Norway. If we wanted to count the proposed Alaskan near Arctic base that would mean two homeports and three support locations.

Optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers:

The High Latitude Study, now at least eight years old, has been what the Coast Guard has hung its hat on for an establish requirement, specifically three heavy and three medium icebreakers.  Based on the rule of thumb, that you need three ships to keep one fully operational (one in maintenance, one in training, work-up, or standby, and one operational), that would mean we could have one heavy and one icebreaker underway essentially year round. Problem is that we need heavy icebreakers for both the Arctic winter and the Antarctic summer which occur at the same time. We might even need heavy icebreakers to operate in the Arctic Spring and Fall, and we would really like to have two heavies go south to provide a rescue capability.

This suggest that since the price of the Heavy PSC has come down to close to what we had anticipated for the Medium PSC, perhaps we should simply continue building the more capable ship.

Six Heavy PSC would still not provide any icebreaking capability on the Atlantic side and would preclude the possibility of ever using the ships in the Great Lakes. Maybe there is a place for medium icebreakers there?

What does “persistent United States presence” mean?

Do we really need an icebreaker in Antarctic waters year round? We do have a presence in the form of people who winter over in Antarctica.

In reference to the Arctic, presence might be in the form of a continuous Icebreaker presence, but it also might be in the form of surveillance with an icebreaker on call somewhere below the Bering Strait which the US considers the Arctic, where it might be useful for SAR and fisheries enforcement.

Does Presence include an Atlantic side presence? We need some better definitions here.

How the Medium icebreakers will be used differently from the Heavy icebreakers?

This might be a back door way to ask if we really need two different classes? One of my impressions was that the while Heavy icebreakers might go North or South, the medium breakers would operate exclusively in the Arctic. The lack of treaty obligations gives us more flexibility in how to equip ships that would not be subject to inspection, so medium breakers might have heavier weapons, ESM, classified sensors, or intelligence spaces. None of this however precludes equipping Heavies this way, if they will not be going South.

Expanded operational capabilities:

The memorandum specifically mentions unmanned aviation, surface, and undersea systems; space systems; sensors and other systems to achieve and maintain maritime domain awareness; command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems.

The heavies are large vessels with lots of space, plus organic weight handling equipment. They should be readily adaptable for operation of unmanned systems. Maritime Domain Awareness in the Arctic is challenging, but unmanned air systems should expand the ship’s horizons. There should be space for command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems but what they actually carry and the choice of installed or containerized system would depend on anticipated employment.

Defensive armament:

It may be significant that it specifies defensive armament. The Commandant has referenced the Russian’s building of Project 23550 armed icebreakers illustrated with containerized cruise missile systems on their stern. Adm. Zukunft suggested that given the unpredictability of the situation in the Arctic the Coast Guard might need to add Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM) and consequently the PSCs were being built with reserves as a hedge against such future additions.
So far the only armament seen on illustrations of the PSCs appear to be 25mm Mk38 Mod2/3 mounts like those being fitted to the Webber class WPCs. That is probably adequate for law enforcement.
Given the Navy’s desire to have distributed lethality, it might make sense to put ASCMs on icebreakers that do not go South to Antarctica.
All icebreakers should have the option of adding defensive systems. If we ever have a conflict in ice covered area, the icebreakers will be critically important, perhaps irreplaceable. There should be provision for providing adequate defense including perhaps two SeaRAM, Electronic Warfare systems, decoys, and torpedo warning system and countermeasures,
Nuclear power:
The Coast Guard did consider this, quite a while a go (back when I was a cadet). The Navy at that time had, not only nuclear powered carriers and submarines, but also a number of nuclear powered surface combatants. Since then, the Navy has backed away from nuclear power except for subs and carriers. After serious consideration, the Coast Guard decided they could not maintain a cadre of nuclear trained engineers.
Nuclear power is very expensive, especially if you take into account the cost of disposing of the waste at the end of the vessels life.
There is also the consideration that nuclear powered ships are not welcome at all ports.
We have apparently succeeded in providing sufficient endurance for the Polar Class icebreakers that they could winter over in Antarctica if necessary, so it does not appear there is a strong case for nuclear powered icebreakers.
“Leasing options, both foreign and domestic”:
The question of leasing has come up repeatedly in Congressional hearings. The options are limited and none can do what the Polar Star can do when its operational. The Coast Guard has decided to invest in keeping the Polar Star operational until the second PSC is fully operational.
Should the Polar Star have a catastrophic failure that leaves her stuck in the ice the Coast Guard have to hustle to find a way to get her out, but the same would apply to any leased icebreaker.
There might be an opportunity to lease vessels to fulfill the Medium PSC role, but so far the Coast Guard has not moved in that direction.
“Identify partner nations with proven foreign shipbuilding capability and expertise in icebreaker construction.”
I think the Coast Guard has done that. Building Coast Guard icebreakers in a foreign yard is against established policy and would probably be a non-starter politically–too many jobs at stake. In developing the PSC the Coast Guard cooperated with Canada and it appears sought advice around the world.
Conclusion: 
The Coast Guard is probably ready to answer this memorandum. Most of these questions were addressed in preparation for the PSC contract. I don’t think there is anything here that will require a contract modification to the existing PSC program.
Still, I am a bit mystified by the basing question.

Thanks to the readers alerted me to this topic and particularly Tups who found the original memorandum.

“Why NATO Needs a Standing Maritime Group in the Arctic” –CIMSEC

NoCGV Svalbard (W303), an icebreaker and offshore patrol vessel of the Norwegian Coast Guard (Kystvakten).

A recent CIMSEC article makes a case for a standing NATO group in the Arctic.

“…NATO needs to improve its capability and capacity to operate on the Arctic front. In order to deter the Russian threat and safeguard maritime security, sustained presence in the region is needed. To this end, NATO should create a new standing maritime group dedicated to the Arctic and separate from the maritime groups focused elsewhere.


“Instead of relying exclusively on frigates and destroyers from NATO navies to form the new group, NATO should look to its coast guards as well, recognizing that many of these forces field ships that are optimized for Arctic operations.”

The post also sees a standing NATO Group as a counter to Chinese militarization of the Arctic as well,

“How China might move to militarize the Arctic is anyone’s guess, but its 2018 white paper on the Arctic, as summarized by Lieutenant Commander Rachel Gosnell, USN, clearly states China’s interests in the region, and it has plans to protect them. While much of the paper touts adherence to international law, the world has very little reason to believe China will do so. One example of how China could move to militarize the Arctic is on the back of its seemingly benign fishing fleet. China has stated it has inherent rights to the fish migrating to the Arctic because of its large population. And where China’s fishing fleet goes, militarization will soon follow, as has been demonstrated already by Chinese fishing “militias.””

My take:

While I earlier I suggested something similar for the Western Pacific, a “Combined Maritime Security Task Force Pacific,” a maritime law enforcement alliance between Asian nations and other interested parties (probably including the US, Australia, France, and New Zealand) to ensure a rules based maritime environment in the Western Pacific, the situation in the Arctic is very different. 

A picture taken on November 16, 2011 from a South Korean helicopter shows Chinese boats banded together with ropes, chased by a coastguard helicopter and rubber boats packed with commandoes, after alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea.
Credit: Dong-A-Ilbo

In the Western Pacific, multi-unit cooperation is desirable to push back against Chinese bullying of her neighbors. Huge numbers of fishing vessels including many that are Chinese maritime militia, backed by Chinese Coast Guard vessels, can overwhelm and intimidate individual enforcement vessels. They have even been known to be violent. Having numerous international witnesses on scene can counter the Chinese narrative. So far we are not seeing huge Chinese fishing fleets in the Arctic.

Certainly we can benefit from international cooperation and coordination in the Arctic, for now at least, a wide ranging dispersal of assets, rather than concentration seems more appropriate.

A Combined Interagency Task Force (or maybe two), modeled on our Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) but including staff from other Arctic nations rather than a grouping of ships, might be a better near term solution. (In considering a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” through the Northern Sea Route, former USCG Commandant, Admiral Zukunft, even suggested formation of a JIATF–Arctic based on an augmented JTF Alaska.)  Missions potentially include SAR, Environmental Protection, and Fisheries Protection. Those concerns, have been to some extent addressed by the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. For now at least, Russia shares those interests. 

The limits:

In the CIMSEC article, there is discussion about the possibility of “Freedom of Navigation Operations” through the Northern Sea Route. Canada is likely to side with Russia on this question, because they consider the North West Passage Canadian internal waters.

Communications in the far North are still difficult. Recently the Commandant noted the difficulty of maintaining communications with USCGC Healy.

Western nations’ access to the Arctic is limited to widely separated Pacific and Atlantic Approaches. Inevitably we have to see the Arctic as two separate theaters. The Arctic Ocean that we approach from the Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean approached from the Pacific.

While Russia actually has naval bases in the Arctic, Western nations generally do not. The only exceptions are Sortland Norway where the Norwegian Coast Guard has their headquarters and Northern base, and Nanisivik, where Canada has converted a former mining site to a refueling station near the Eastern Entrance to the North West Passage.

The US has no Navy bases in Alaska. On the Atlantic side, the US Navy has no surface vessels based north of the Virginia Capes. The US Coast Guard has no ice-capable vessels larger than large buoy tenders (WLBs) based on the Atlantic side. Basing for future USCG medium icebreakers has not be made public. 

Canada is building eight Harry DeWolf class ice-strengthened “Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships,” six for the Navy and two for their Coast Guard.

Canada has no true naval bases in the Arctic, though their bases are further north than those of the US. Denmark patrols Greenland waters from Naval Base Frederikshavn on the Jutland peninsula. Sweden and Finland extend above the Arctic circle, but they have no coast line on the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle.

What we can do: 

A comprehensive common NATO operational picture of the Arctic and its approaches is desirable and doable. There are probably economies possible in maintaining air surveillance over the Arctic access points.

Icelandic Coast Guard Cutter Thor. Photo credit: Claus Ableiter

What is in place?:

We have the Arctic Coast Guard Forum.

Denmark has a Joint Arctic Command for the defense of Greenland and the Faroe Islands Area.

Canada has a Joint Task Force (North) and exercises annually under the name Operation Nanook. The US Coast Guard has participated in Operation Nanook at least three times.

Pacific Area Coast Guard, Third Fleet, and Canada’s Maritime Forces Pacific have been in discussion, but it does not appear that the Arctic was high on their agenda.

What we lack:

Seems a good next step would be a standing staff, to maintain maritime domain awareness of activities in the Arctic, and coordinate cooperative international monitoring efforts.

Do we include the Russian? Good question, but they may currently have the best information about what is going on in the Arctic.

Arctic Smorgasbord

USCGC Healy and CCGC Louis S St-Laurent  (Photo by Jessica Robertson, US Geological Survey)

Defense News’ Early Bird Brief has, for some reason, provided us with a whole series of stories related to the Arctic. For Convience I have linked them below.

Frozen Pathways
The US Navy returns to an increasingly militarized Arctic
(Defense News) The U.S. Navy’s Barents Sea patrol is the latest sojourn into an increasingly militarized Arctic, where questions of international law are becoming proliferating.
Failure to communicate: US Navy seeks faster data transfers amid Arctic ice
(Defense News) Research in the Arctic Ocean is no small feat. The area can prove inaccessible at times, and sensors can fail to communicate data from under the ice or get crushed by slabs of ice.
Sen. Sullivan of Alaska talks military strength and strategy in the Arctic
(Defense News) When it comes to boosting the U.S. Defense Department’s role in the frigid Arctic, nobody in Congress seems hotter under the collar than Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
SpaceX could fill the US military’s Arctic communications gap by the end of this year
(C4ISRNET) The U.S. Defense Department relies on a mixture of military and commercial satellites to connect its war fighters all over the world. And while users can complain that terminals are too bulky or that they should have the roaming capability exhibited in commercial cellphone technology, the system largely works.
China’s strategic interest in the Arctic goes beyond economics
(Defense News) In its Arctic policy published in 2018, China proclaimed itself as a “near-Arctic state,” a label that has since invited controversy.
A view from Finland: Security and defense in the Arctic
(Defense News) Just by looking at the map, it is evident why the Arctic region matters so much to Finland.
Sweden adjusts to rising tensions in the High North
(Defense News) When I look at the map, it is obvious that the North Atlantic, the Artic and the Baltic regions are strategically connected — and of considerable importance to trans-Atlantic security.
NATO’s Camille Grand on the alliance’s Arctic tack
(Defense News) Though the Arctic falls outside the Western military alliance’s traditional focus, NATO officials have begun paying closer attention to the region.
Gallery: Great power competition in the Arctic
(Defense News) Reports of increasing temperatures around the world are proliferating. But amid the heat, great military powers are eyeing the Arctic Circle, where in July 2019 at Canadian military post CFS Alert, the temperature hit 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Davie to become Canada’s third National Shipbuilding Strategy strategic partner” –Marine Log

To no one’s surprise MarineLog reports that Davie Shipbuilding, Lauzon, Quebec, Canada’s largest shipyard, has been selected as the third shipyard partner in Canada’s “National Shipbuilding Strategy” and will build six icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.

“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.

“The United States Needs a Deep-water Arctic Port” –USNI

Nome, Alaska location. Adapted from Wikipedia’s AK borough maps by en:User:Seth Ilys.

The US Naval Institute Proceedings for Sept has a short article by By Captain Lawson Brigham, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired) advocating development of a deep-water port in Nome, Alaska.

Interest in a deep draft port in northern Alaska has been expressed in Congress, by the Secretary of the Navy, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard. Earlier we talked about the possibility of locating this facility at Port Clarence.

Port Clarence actually seems the larger natural harbor and has some infrastructure, including a runway, left over from when there was a Coast Guard LORAN station there. Nome (terminus for the Iditarod dog sled race) has a much larger population (about 3800 vs 24) and would require less supporting infrastructure development.

Aerial view from the West of Nome, Alaska, in July 2006, by ra64

In any case it seems likely that the ability to control the Bering Strait will become strategically important some time in the future. Both are within 160 miles of the Russian side of the Strait, with Port Clarence being about 50 miles closer.

Alaska and the Bering Strait

Until that time, it seems likely that the Coast Guard may establish a seasonal air station.

Full disclosure, Captain Brigham and I attended the same Naval War College class.