“Coast Guard, North Slope Borough Search and Rescue to conduct exercise near Utqiagvik, Alaska” –D17

Utqiagvik, the city formally know as Barrow, AK (File photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

This may look like a routine announcement, but I found it interesting because of where it is, and the fact that it will include “Coast Guard helicopters, and Coast Guard cutters” –both plural. Utqiagvik, Alaska, formerly Barrow, is the Northern most city in Alaska, 71°17′26″N, 284 nautical miles above the Arctic Circle. The helicopters will probably come with the cutters (maybe not?), but what cutters? USCGC Healy, an icebreaker, seems likely, but there has got to be at least one more. Maybe Alex Haley, out of Kodiak, or a Bertholf class NSC on Alaska Patrol?

Hopefully we will hear more.

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska

Coast Guard, North Slope Borough Search and Rescue to conduct exercise near Utqiagvik, Alaska

JUNEAU, Alaska – The 17th Coast Guard District and North Slope Borough Search and Rescue are scheduled to conduct an exercise near Utqiagvik, Alaska, August 31, 2022 through September 3, 2022.

The exercise is a small-scale search and rescue mission offshore of Utqiagvik named Operation Itqanaiyaq, meaning Get Ready or Get Prepared in Iñupiaq. The purpose of the exercise is for the Coast Guard and North Slope Borough Search and Rescue to practice procedures for maritime distress response.

The public will notice an increase in emergency responder and military presence in the vicinity of Utquiagvik during the exercise dates. The increased presence will consist of Coast Guard helicopters, and Coast Guard cutters.

“This search and rescue exercise provides a great opportunity for the Coast Guard to train alongside the North Slope Borough in an Arctic environment,” said Lt. Lindsay Wheeler from the 17th Coast Guard District. “We never know when we will need to respond with our aerial or surface assets to help find and rescue missing or injured people.”

“Coast Guard teams to deploy for summer operations in Kotzebue, Alaska” –D17

Northwest Arctic Borough Alaska incorporated and unincorporated areas Kotzebue highlighted. From Wikipedia by Rcsprinter123

Below is a D17 news release reporting deployments to Kotzebue, AK. Thought you might want to know where that is.

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk aircrew, deployed to forward operating location Kotzebue, Alaska, conducts a pre-flight brief before flying a mission to Point Lay, July 13, 2017. FOL Kotzebue houses two Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and crews in support of Operation Arctic Shield. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Brian Dykens.

This is not the first time helicopters have heen deployed to Kotzebue, here and here. If this follows the previous pattern, the deployment will last until about the end of October.

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska

Coast Guard teams to deploy for summer operations in Kotzebue, Alaska

Coast Guard Marine Safety Task Force conducts inspections during 2021 season  Coast Guard FOL Kotzebue Operations

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Coast Guard teams to deploy to Kotzebue, Alaska, in support of 2022 summer operations. 

Members of Sector Anchorage’s Marine Safety Task Force (MSTF) will be in the region July 6-16, 2022, for a multi-mission deployment focused primarily on facility inspections. 

“Facility inspections help mitigate the potential for oil pollution in the region,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Houvener, a marine science technician and team lead. “These facilities are crucial for providing oil to warm homes during winter months. Alaska experiences harsh environmental conditions, so it’s important to inspect the safety and integrity of such waterside facilities to decrease the risk of an oil spill.”

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak crews are also scheduled to open a seasonal forward-operating location for aircraft mid-July in Kotzebue to reduce response time to the Bering Strait and Northern Slope regions in anticipation of historically increased maritime activity there. 

The use of forward operating locations in Alaska helps the service make the best strategic use of limited resources.


The Modern War Institute at West Point published an article that suggests that NOAA ships can help provide presence in the Arctic and that this will contribute to the defense of the Homeland.

Looks like NOAA has about 16 active ships. None are very large and I don’t think any of them are ice rated.

Certainly, NOAA has business in the Arctic, understanding the oceans is an essential part of readiness for conflict, but I don’t see them as any sort of deterrant. On the other hand I don’t see Russia’s large number of icebreakers as adding significant additional threat to US or Canadian security. They simply need a lot of icebreakers to support their economic operations in the Arctic.

Which Arctic are we talking about?

For most of the world, the Arctic is the region North of the Arctic Circle. For some reason the US defines the Arctic as including the Bering Sea and the Aleutians. That does include some pretty cold territory but really, it is not the Arctic, and there is no reason the US Navy should not be operating surface ships there, but they don’t.

I am talking about the Arctic North of the Arctic circle.

What are the military threats to North America that might come across the Arctic Ocean?

While the Russian Arctic build-up threatens Norway, maybe Iceland, and perhaps Greenland, let’s consider only North America.

Much of the Russian build up in the Arctic is defensive, and this is understandable. They have a lot of assets in the Arctic. Much of their national income comes from the Russian Arctic.

There is absolutely no chance the Russians are going to attempt to land an army in the North American Arctic as an overland invasion. It would be too difficult to move and virtually impossibe to resupply. They would be under constant attack by US and Canadian Aircraft. As a Canadian Officer once noted, if Russia landed troops in the Canadian Arctic they would need to be rescued. The most we are likely to see from the Russian Army is Special Forces assaults on sensor and associated communication  systems in the Arctic.

The largest portion of the Russian Naval fleet (30-35%) is based in the Arctic, but not because it is intended to operate exclusively in the Arctic. Much of it is based there because they don’t have better choices. The Northern Fleet has their only relatively unrestricted access to the Atlantic. Even Northern Fleet units have to transit the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap (or the English Channel) to make it into the Atlantic Sea Lanes, The Baltic Fleet is surrounded by potential adversaries and would have to exit through the Danish Straits. The Black Sea Fleet is bottled up behind the Turkish straits and even after exit would have to cross the Mediterranean and through the Straits of Gibralter.

Russian Submarines do operate under the ice and may launch missiles or conduct commando raids in the Arctic.

The serious threats that could come across the Arctic Ocean will be in the air or in space–aircraft and ballistic and cruise missiles including the new hypersonics.

Coast Guard icebreakers could have a role in facilitating deployment and continuing support of sensor systems in the Arctic.

Gray Zone threats to Sovereignty

The more probable near term threats to the US come in the form of Gray Zone Ops that are intended to reshape the World’s view of normal. We have seen this with China’s Nine Dash Line and their attempts to recast rights associated with the Exclusive Economic Zone.

It appears Russia is trying to do the same. We have seen it in the Black Sea, and we are likely to see it in the Arctic.

The extent of Russia’s continental shelf is as yet undecided, but their claims are expansive.

Looks like China intends to do some resource extraction and fishing in the Arctic and they have not been particularly respectful of the rights of others.

The US Coast Guard will need to do fisheries protection inside the US Arctic EEZ and the Canadian CG inside theirs. There are probably going to be opportunities for cooperation and synergy between the two coast guards in the high North.

With the increase in traffic as ice melts, NOAA probably needs to do a lot of oceanographic research and survey work in the Arctic, but they are probably going to need to either build their own icebreakers or ride Coast Guard icebreakers to do it.

“Arctic Council boycotts Russia meetings over Ukraine invasion” –The Watch

This map show the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) within the Arctic: Canada (purple), Greenland (orange), Iceland (green), Norway (turquoise), Russia (light blue), and USA (dark blue). As sea ice reduces there will be more opportunity for ice to drift from one EEZ to another, which has implications for the potential spread of pollutants.
Credit: DeRepentigny et al., 2020

This looks important. NORTHCOM’s online magazine “The Watch” reports,

Countries of the Arctic Council declared March 4, 2022, they would boycott future talks in Russia over its Ukraine invasion, throwing international cooperation in the region into upheaval at a time when climate change is opening it up to resource exploitation.

The countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States — said they were suspending their work indefinitely and would skip planned talks in May 2022 in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk due to Moscow’s “flagrant violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

While the action is perfectly justifiable, and marks unity between the non-Russian Arctic nations, unfortunately, it further isolates Russia and cuts another line of communications.


Modern War Institute alerts us to the limitations of US drone technology in the Arctic.

“America’s drones struggle to compete against Russia in the Arctic. In 2019, Russia’s equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a drone capable of remaining airborne for four consecutive days in the Arctic. Russian state sources report their drones can navigate in the Arctic without the use of jammable satellite-based navigation instead employing the alternative GIRSAM system. While the processes behind this system are unknown, supposedly it does not rely on GPS satellites or those of the Russian-developed GLONASS. Not until 2021—two years later—did an American MQ-9A Reaper drone complete a flight navigating with satellites past the seventy-eighth parallel north. Additionally, Russia plans to build an Arctic drone reconnaissance base four hundred and twenty miles off the Alaskan coastline. By 2025, the ability of Russian drones to monitor air, surface, and subsurface activity will far outpace the United States in the Arctic region.”

This is certainly an area the Coast Guard is interested in and one where the Coast Guard’s assets can be of assistance.

“From Chinese ambition to Saami tradition, an Arctic snapshot” –The Watch

A small-boat crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley medevacs a man from the Chinese research vessel Xue Long, 15 nautical miles from Nome, Alaska, in 2017

NORTHCOM’s on-line magazine, “The Watch,” reports on a conference on the Arctic. This is a follow-on to an earlier post.

The Watch report looks at China’s interests and roles in the Arctic and a perspective from a representative of indigenous peoples in the European Arctic.

“An Arctic presence grows more important for U.S. and its partners” –The Watch

This map show the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) within the Arctic: Canada (purple), Greenland (orange), Iceland (green), Norway (turquoise), Russia (light blue), and USA (dark blue). As sea ice reduces there will be more opportunity for ice to drift from one EEZ to another, which has implications for the potential spread of pollutants.
Credit: DeRepentigny et al., 2020

NORTHCOM’s on-line magazine, The Watch, has a short post about the Arctic.

I would note that most of the discussion centers on the Atlantic side of the Arctic, whereas the Coast Guard concentration has primarily been on the Pacific side. We have seen some indications there may be Coast Guard Arctic capable assets on the Atlantic side in the future. Not too early to think about that.

The Coast Guard has had good relations with the Russians in the Arctic because of a common interest in fisheries, SAR, and environmental protection. That is all to the good. At some future date, the Coast Guard will probably do a Freedom of Navigation Exercise through the at least parts of the Northern Sea Route. Hopefully we can find ways to, perhaps, disagree amicably as we have with the Canadians in regard to the Northwest Passage.

“U.S. Coast Guard cutter completes North American circumnavigation” –The Watch

The NORTHCOM website, “The Watch” reports on USCGC Healy’s circumnavigation of North America.

There is a related story at MyCG about Polar Regions Technology Evaluation (PRTE), “Coast Guard research aimed at improving performance at high latitudes.” It includes some information about what Polar Star is doing.

“WEB EXCLUSIVE: Q&A With Adm. Karl Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard” –National Defense

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

National Defense has an interview with the Commandant. There is a lot of discussion about COVID and how the Coast Guard has adapted to the reality of annual continuing resolutions (CR).

There is a good deal of discussion here about icebreakers. Polar Security Cutter construction is the program most effected by COVID and the first of class is now not expected until 2025. The Commandant actually wants more than six icebreakers, perhaps as many as nine, including some for the Atlantic side, more than three PSCs, and (for the first time I have heard this) we are also looking at something less than a medium icebreaker.

 “I’ve been having a conversation for most of my tenure that we really need a minimum of six icebreakers. Of that six, three will be Polar Security Cutters. We’ll have a hot production line, I hope that conversations is really about more than three Polar Security Cutters, but we’re also talking about maybe something a little less than a medium icebreaker. We’ve done some work at the behest of the last National Security Council in the Trump administration that has played forward for this administration. They seem very interested. So, I think we’re having the right conversations about a fleet of maybe six or nine that can work in the high latitudes both the High North and down in Antarctica.”

There was brief discussion of armament for the icebreakers. The Commandant noted that the PSC design included space, weight and power for upgrades (type unspecified), but no intention to make those upgrades now. There was no mention of Antarctica in that discussion.

There is a discussion about the Coast Guard in the Western Pacific in regard to both the Webber class FRCs and deployment of National Security Cutters to the far Western Pacific.

The interviewer seemed to be pushing the Commandant to acknowledge that the hardware elements of the Deepwater program were essentially complete. The Commandant’s response was more muted, noting that the Offshore Patrol Cutters are the “backbone” of the recapitalization and that program has essentially only just begun.

There was only one question that mentioned unmanned systems and the Commandant’s response made no mention of them. There was also no discussion of replacement of the H-65s with H-60s.