BRIDGING THE GAP: HOW THE UNITED STATES CAN IMMEDIATELY ADDRESS ITS ARCTIC CAPABILITY LIMITATIONS –Modern War

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.

“Ukraine Claims Strike on Russian Naval Tug with Harpoon Missiles Supplied By West” –gCaptain

I have seen several reports that Ukraine claims to have sunk a Russian vessel here and here. and here, using Harpoon missiles transferred from Denmark.

The tugboat, identified as the Vasiliy Bekh by Odesa region’s governor, had been transporting soldiers, weapons and ammunition to the Russian-occupied Zmiinyi (Snake) Island in the Black Sea, the Ukrainian navy said.

Reportedly the vessel had been equipped with a TOR AAW missile system. that theoretically could have defended the vessel from an ASCM attack.

According to Wikipedia, Zmiinyi (Snake) Island is well within Harpoon range of the Ukrainian coast.

The nearest coastal location to the island is Kubanskyi Island on the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta, located 35 km (22 mi) away between the Bystroe Channel and Skhidnyi Channel…The closest Ukrainian city is Vylkove, 50 km (31 mi); however, there also is a port Ust-Dunaisk, 44 km (27 mi) away from the island.

“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, Marine Rescue Service Russian Federation meet in Anchorage” –D17

Just passing this along.

united states coast guard

 

 

Photo Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska

U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Rescue Service Russian Federation meet in Anchorage

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard host members of the Marine Rescue Service Russian Federation for the 43rd Joint Planning Group meeting and exercise, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard representatives worked with their Russian counterparts during the event, held under the 2020 Joint Contingency Plan between the U.S. and Russia, for pollution preparedness and response cooperation in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn)

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

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Marine Rescue Service Russian Federation held their 43rd joint planning group meeting and exercise Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Anchorage under the 2020 Joint Contingency Plan of the United States of America and the Russian Federation in Combating Pollution on the Bering Sea and Chukchi Seas.

U.S. Coast Guard representatives from Headquarters, Pacific Area, the 17th District and Sector Anchorage worked with their Russian Marine Rescue Service counterparts to review the Joint Contingency Plan and update a 2021-2023 joint work plan for improving preparedness and cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and Marine Rescue Service Russian Federation in spill response in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

The purpose of this joint work plan is to:

  • Implement the Joint Contingency Plan (JCP) of the United States and the Russian Federation on combating pollution in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in Emergency Situations.
  • Develop sustainable infrastructures for marine environmental protection and response to oil and hazardous substance incidents.
  • Develop greater cooperation and understanding between the United States and the Russian Federation; specifically, between the responsible government agencies and private sector entities that take part in response to oil and hazardous substance incidents.
  • Develop methods and techniques for preparedness and response to oil and hazardous substance incidents.
  • Encourage compatibility of response systems in terms of command-and-control techniques, equipment, training, exercises and related preparedness and response issues.
  • Maintain a two-year work plan cycle to permit efficient planning for budget and personnel scheduling. Identify and address risks associated with the shipment of hydrocarbons across or near the shared maritime boundaries.
  • Maintain an up-to-date training and exercise schedule.
  • Identify topics and initiatives for discussion during joint planning group meetings and teleconferences.

The group toured the Alaska Wildlife Response/International Bird Rescue Center and observed an equipment demonstration at Alaska Chadux Network to learn more about response systems and capabilities.

“Meeting our Russian counterparts face-to-face and exchanging information strengthens our shared commitment to environmental protection,” said Rear Adm. Nathan A. Moore, commander 17th District. “The U.S.-Russia maritime boundary is adjacent to heavily-traveled routes for ships carrying hydrocarbons. I rest a bit easier at night knowing that we have developed working relationships with our neighbors and are preparing ahead of time for a pollution incident that we hope does not occur.”

Rear Adm. Nathan A. Moore, commander, Seventeenth Coast Guard District, welcomes Mr. Petr Gerasun, deputy director, Russian Federation Marine Rescue Service, to the 43rd Joint Planning Group meeting at Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, August 31, 2021. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Russian Federation delegation participated in the 43rd Joint Planning Group meeting for pollution preparedness and response cooperation in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Seas. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn)

Barbara Callahan, senior director of response services with International Bird Rescue, gives a tour and discusses the wildlife response and rehabilitation process to the 43rd Joint Planning Group at the Alaska Wildlife Response Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Sept. 1, 2021. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Russian Federation participated in the 43rd Joint Planning Group meeting for pollution preparedness and response cooperation in spill response in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Seas. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie)

“U.S. Navy Reports On Arctic And North Atlantic” –Naval News

Official portrait of Admiral Burke as Commander NAVEUR-NAVAF

Naval News reports on a Webinar conducted by Admiral Robert Burke who is Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, and Commander of Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples. Previously he served as Vice Chief of Naval Operations. He is a submariner. Sounds like he spent some time under the ice.

There is a lot here about the Arctic. Keep in mind he is talking primarily about the Atlantic side rather than the waters around Alaska. This is primarily about the Russian threat, but there are concerns about China as well.

“United States and Russia sign Joint Contingency Plan for pollution response in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.” –D17 News Release

Northeast Russia and Alaska are in close proximity. Photo: Shutterstock

Below is a Coast Guard District 17 news release.


United States and Russia sign Joint Contingency Plan for pollution response in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

 

 

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska
Contact: Coast Guard Headquarters Media Relations
Email: mediarelations@uscg.mil
17th District online newsroom

United States and Russia sign Joint Contingency Plan for pollution response in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Coast Guard and the Russian Federation’s Marine Rescue Service recently signed the 2020 Joint Contingency Plan of the United States of America & the Russian Federation in Combating Pollution on the Bering & Chukchi Seas.

On Feb. 1, 2021, the Acting Director Andrey Khaustov of the Russian Federation’s Marine Rescue Service (MRS) and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Operations, Vice Adm. Scott Buschman signed the 2020 update to the Joint Contingency Plan (JCP), which is a bilateral agreement focused on preparing for and responding to transboundary maritime pollution incidents. The updated JCP promotes a coordinated system for planning, preparing and responding to pollutant substance incidents in the waters between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. and Russian Federation have shared a cooperative bilateral agreement on trans-boundary marine pollution preparedness and response in this area since 1989. The newest JCP revision requires joint planning and trans-boundary exercise efforts to be coordinated by a Joint Planning Group led by Coast Guard District Seventeen and is guided by a non-binding two-year work plan. In addition, the updated JCP creates the new International Coordinating Officer role to help facilitate the critical sharing of information during coordinated response efforts.

“This is an important agreement between the U.S and the Russian Federation that ensures coordination between respective authorities and actively promotes the protection of our shared interests in these environmentally and culturally significant trans-boundary waters,” said Vice Adm. Scott Buschman, U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations. “We look forward to continuing our necessary and productive relationship with the Marine Rescue Service and the opportunity to conduct joint training and exercises in the near future in order to ensure the protection of our nations’ critical natural resources.”

The shared maritime boundary between the U.S. and Russia in the Bering and Chukchi seas has notoriously poor weather conditions and limited resources to respond to pollution incidents. This plan primarily addresses international collaboration matters and as such is meant to augment each Country’s national response system as well as state, regional, and sub-regional (local) plans. In the United States, the operational aspects of the plan fall under the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventeenth District Commander and Sector Anchorage.

“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.

“Russia’s New Long-Endurance Arctic Research Vessel Might Be The Ugliest Ship We’ve Seen” –The Drive

Admiralty Shipyard in Saint Petersburg, part of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, launched the North Pole on December 18, 2020

The Drive reports the launch of a truly ugly, but interesting vessel. This may not really be Coast Guard related, but it is Arctic related. Think of this as similar to the recent use of the German Icebreaker Polarstern to winter over, drifting in the Arctic. Only this will not be for just for one year, but probably almost every winter for the rest of its life.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.