Posts filed under ‘Arctic’
U.S. Arctic Strategy
“The United States is an Arctic nation,” begins the new National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released last week by the White House.
With the apparently inevitable melting of polar sea ice, areas of the Arctic previously locked in by thick ice will be open – at least in summer months – for maritime shipping, oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing scientific research and tourism. The mineral riches beneath the Arctic Sea – which is bordered by six nations, Canada, Denmark (which controls Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States — have prompted concerns about a “Cold Rush” of industries, corporations, speculators and governments hoping to take advantage of resources once thought inaccessible. But there are many more nations in Europe and Asia that want a say in how the top of the world is managed. [More on that in Arctic Council item below].
The brief (12-page) document released by the White House last Friday outlines where U.S. policy should be going in the High North. It calls for three strategic priority efforts:
- Advancing U.S. security interests in the Arctic, including operating vessels and aircraft through, over and under the airspace and waters of the Arctic. Providing for future U.S. energy security is also seen as a national security issue.
- Pursuing Responsible Stewardship of the Arctic, and that includes protecting the environment, conserving its resources and considering the needs of native peoples in the region.
- Strengthening International Cooperation to advance common interest and keep the region stable and free from conflict. The eight-member Arctic Council, which includes Sweden and Finland as well as the six previously mentioned Arctic nations, approved an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in 2011.The opening of sea lanes through Arctic nations’ territory and the extent of the mineral riches beneath the ice has raised concerns about who owns what and who controls territorial waters. A few years ago, a Russian underwater robot placed a Russian flag beneath the North Pole to assert Russia’s stake in the region. And Canada has been gearing up its defense forces and mapping its Arctic coastline to secure sovereignty over its portion of the region. The U.S. Continental shelf claim in the Arctic region “could extend more than 600 nautical miles from the north coast of Alaska,” according to the Arctic Strategy statement.
Scientists estimate that as much as 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas deposits – as well vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore and nickel – lie beneath the waters of the Arctic Circle. Easier access has all sorts of implications. It could break the monopolies some nations like China have on resources such as rare earths (needed in advanced weapons systems and mobile devices). It could also take business away from transit points like the Panama and Suez canals and create all sorts of headaches for countries like Canada if all the world’s shipping starts taking unrestricted shortcuts through their backyard.
The United States will seek to enhance “sea, air and space capabilities as Arctic conditions change,” the new strategy says, adding that “We will enable prosperity and safe transit by developing and maintaining sea, under-sea and air assets and necessary infrastructure.”
The new Arctic Strategy also calls for eventual U.S. acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only Arctic state that is not a party to the convention. The complex series of agreements defines the rights and responsibilities of national governments in their use of the world’s oceans. Despite the support by Presidents Bush and Obama, the Pentagon, State Department and several major business and industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents in the Senate have blocked ratification of the treaty largely on sovereignty and national defense grounds.
Patricia F.S. Cogswell, the senior director for Transborder Security on the National Security Staff, an a special assistant to the president for Homeland Security, says administration officials will be hosting roundtable discussions in Alaska sometime next month to discuss the best ways for implementing the concepts laid out by the strategy.
Arctic Council Grows
The eight member Arctic Council held their biennial ministers meeting in Kiruna, Sweden this week and decided to admit six nations – five of them Asian – as permanent observers. Only nations with territory in the Arctic (Canada, Denmark [Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States [Alaska] can be members. Permanent observers can’t vote or speak at the meetings but they can automatically attend, unlike non-permanent observers.
Added to the list of 26 existing observer nations were: China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. No non-state entities, like Greenpeace, were approved. And the application of the European Union – which has a dispute with Canada’s Inuit people over trading in the skins, meat and other parts of seals – was put on hold.
Canada’s Health and Northern Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq took over the two-year council chairmanship from Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. The United States is slated to take over the chairmanship role in 2015.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the council meeting that he looked forward to filling out the details of the new U.S. Arctic strategy “with all of you over the course of the next few years.”
Arctic Council Meeting
The eight-member Arctic Council holds its ministerial meeting in Sweden later this month and, according to The Arctic Institute’s, Arctic This Week newsletter, observers are speculating about which countries/entities will be admitted as full observers at the session, which starts May 14 in Kiruna, Sweden.
Participants at an academic conference in Montreal last month thought China would be tapped but the European Union wouldn’t, according to Nunatsiaq News. The eight permanent members (Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Denmark, Russia and the United States) each have, in effect, a veto over observer candidates, and some are unhappy with the EU’s ban on seal products.
But the EU’s ambassador to Canada is confident EU will get in despite objections about the ban from countries like Canada, which takes over as chairman for the next two years at the meeting in Sweden, according to iPOLITICS.
The council is an intergovernmental forum that tackles issues confronting Arctic nations and indigenous peoples of the Arctic. At the last ministers’ meeting, they agreed on an arctic search and rescue treaty.
Isn’t that a Flying Car?
This airdrop took place over Malamute Drop Zone followed by paratroopers at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The soldiers are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
For more photos of this operation, click here.
Avoiding Cold War in a Cold Place
Together, these eight form the Arctic Council, an international forum created in 1996 to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the eight Arctic states and also involve the indigenous communities in the High North. Some of the topics of common interest include sustainable development and environmental protection.
In 2011, the eight Arctic Council members completed the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, the first binding treaty concluded under the Council’s auspices.
Rich oil and mineral deposits are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Sea and its underwater coastline. One of the world’s last great fisheries is also in Arctic waters. All of these valuable resources will become more accessible at climate change and other factors melt more and more summer ice in Arctic waters. That will open up sea lanes for transporting cargo and passengers as well as oil and natural gas exploration.
While the Arctic states have worked out agreements dealing with these natural resources little has been done to prevent or adjudicate conflict, says Paul Arthur Berkman, a biological oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Writing in the New York Times opinion pages today (March 14), Berkman says the potential for conflict is high – even if tensions now are low.
“How, for instance, will each nation position its military and police its territory?” asks Berkman, adding: “How will the Arctic states deal with China and other nations that have no formal jurisdictional claims but have strong interests in exploiting Arctic resources?”
It’s an important topic to mull. To read more, click here.
Busy Arctic by 2050?
By 2050, according to a new scientific report, warming climate is expected to create new sea routes through the once impenetrable ice of the Arctic, Reuters reports.
Increasingly warm temperatures could also make the Northwest Passage in the waters north of Canada an economically viable shipping route. Now, only at the end of most summers is it passable. The ice could also open up a route — for medium icebreakers — directly over the North Pole by mid-century, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s welcome news for countries like China that would like to take a shorter Arctic route to export their manufactured export goods to Europe. But other countries, like Canada, worry about retaining sovereignty over their Arctic coast and the mineral wealth projected to lie beneath the frigid waters. The change in Arctic sea ice has increased concerns about a Cold Rush to the High North for untapped reserves of oil, other mineral resources and fish — sparking future international boundary and right-of-way disputes.
There is also concern about the difficulties of mounting an oil spill cleanup or search and rescue operation in the remote and still hostile environment.
The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth because sun-reflecting, light-colored ice is frequently replaced by sun-absorbing dark-colored water. The result: more melting ice. Last September, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic sea ice had melted to its lowest recorded level.
“Because of this, activity in the most remote reaches of Alaska continues to evolve and grow,” Admiral Robert Papp said in his annual State of the Coast Guard address last month. That activity includes planned oil drilling “in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, foreign tankers using the northern sea routes which transit through the Bering Strait and Sea, and small cruise ships pressing even further into the Arctic,” the Coast Guard commandant added.
The nearest Coast Guard facility to the Arctic is Kodiak Air Station, Alaska — nearly 1,000 miles away by air. Last year, Papp deployed a National Security Cutter and two ocean-going buoy tenders that can navigate icy waters to the polar region as part of the nine-month Arctic Shield exercise. Two MH-60 helicopters were also located temporarily at Barrow, 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.
Papp said he would be issuing the first comprehensive Coast Guard Arctic Strategy this month.
Shell: Wait ’til Next Year
After two of its drilling ships got banged up in Alaska’s waters last year, Royal Dutch Shell oil company says it won’t be returning to the Arctic in 2013 to drill for oil. But in a statement, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum said it was only a “pause” in its exploration drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
“Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop,” the Feb. 27 statement said. Two Shell oil drilling ships were damaged and have been towed to Asia for repairs leaving too little time for their return for the company to commence drilling operations in the short summer season.
The Interior Department, the Coast Guard and the Justice Department are all reviewing Shell’s operations in Alaskan waters — including weather delays, environmental and safety delays, the collapse of it’s spill-containment equipment, the New York Times reported.
The Washington Post reported that Shell’s drilling barge Kulluk was damaged after it ran aground in a storm off Alaska’s Kodiak Island two months ago. Last July, another drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, nearly ran aground at Unalaska Island, Alaska, after dragging its anchor.
Shell has invested more than $4.5 billion on its Alaska drilling venture after a multi-year effort to convince federal officials it could drill safely in the Arctic.
Northrop Grumman Corp. unveiled – literally – its entry in the competition for a new U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) high mobility ground vehicle Monday (Oct. 22) on the exhibition floor of the huge Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.
When officials from Northrop Grumman and partners BAE Systems and Pratt & Miller Engineering pulled away the camouflage cover, reporters and photographers got their first look at the Medium Assault Vehicle-Light, or MAV-L.
Designed from scratch by Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Miller – which designs, builds and races motor sports cars – the MAV-L looks like a combination Humvee and dune buggy with a tubular frame but no doors or solid roof.
The sand-colored, 13,000-pound vehicle (when fully loaded) is designed to travel at speeds over 80 miles per hour over paved roads and 60 mph on cross country trails – although it can take on muddy, rocky, sandy, uneven terrain where there are no trails at all.
It seats six – including a gunner in a sling-like seat in a bare-bones circular gun turret. But it can zoom out of the back a large helicopter or cargo plane for a rapid assault mission – like an airfield seizure — with eight more Special Forces troops hanging onto the vehicle’s sides, says Frank Sturek, Northrop’s MAV-L program manager.
The seats are built wide to accommodate Special Forces troops with all their equipment, weapons and body armor. The MAV-L has a modular design that allows rapid reconfiguration of storage areas and communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment. Among the modules is an arctic one, that enables the engine to perform at extreme low temperatures.
One of Special Forces Command’s requirements for a new vehicle to replace its Humvees is that it can be driven on and off a cargo plane or helo, as is. The MAV-L fits on an Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane or an Army or Special Operations Aviation CH/MH-47 Chinook helicopter. A hydraulic system allows the vehicle’s 82-inch ride height to scrunch down to 72.6 inches – the way some city buses can “kneel” to allow handicapped passengers to board – and fit on an aircraft, Sturek added.
The MAV-L is one one of several vehicles offered by defense contractors in the U.S. Special Operations Command Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 competition. They include General Dynamics Land Systems’ GMV 1.1, the Navistar Defense Special Operations Tactical Vehicle and Humvee-maker AM General’s GMV.
The SOCOM GMV 1.1 program could purchase up to 1,300 vehicles for special operations missions requiring air transportability, weapons capabilities and high-performance ground mobility. No contract has been awarded but when SOCCOM makes its decision, production is expected to begin in 2013.
If the Northrop Grumman team wins, the vehicles will be manufactured at BAE Systems facility in Sealy, Texas.
This week’s FRIFO performs double duty. It gives an inside view of all the gauges, displays and switches that pilots of the HC-130H have to monitor to get where they’re going (always a popular topic with 4GWAR visitors). It also highlights this year’s Operation Arctic Shield exercise in the Far North of Alaska.
Arctic Shield, which runs until October is an exercise to determine what capabilities the Coast Guard needs to ensure it can respond to search and rescue or disaster relief missions — like an oil spill — in the harsh Arctic environment. With polar sea ice melting and the world’s thirst for fossil fuel sources of energy growing, more activity is expected in Arctic waters in the near future, including: oil and gas drilling, commercial fishing, tourism and trans-oceanic cargo transport.
But the nearest Coast Guard station to the Arctic is in Kodiak, Alaska – thousands of miles away. The Coast Guard’s only ice breaking vessel is even farther away, so during the summer and early fall, Arctic Shield will deploy a temporary Coast Guard air station at Barrow, Alaska on the Arctic Sea.
Fixed wing aircraft as well as two HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters will be deployed in and around Barrow and Coast Guard cutters will be on patrol at sea.
The photo below shows the big four-engine Hercules at Kodiak.
To see a Defense Department slideshow of preparations for Arctic Shield, click here.
For other photos, click here.
“War” Near the Top of the World
New photos and information on air operations.
More than 16,000 troops from 14 countries just completed a weeks-long exercise in the frozen hinterlands of Norway and Sweden training in winter warfare skills such as infantry maneuvering and amphibious landings in extreme temperatures.
Called Exercise Cold Response 2012, the biennial training exercise – hosted by the Norwegians – is in its fifth iteration. In addition to Norway, the largest troop contingents among NATO countries included Canada, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other participants included Sweden and Finland, two non-aligned Nordic countries, who belong to NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
The exercise began March 5 with a week of acclimation for troops not used to Norway’s harsh winters. Operations ran from March 12-21 with a few clean-up and departure duties beginning March 21.
U.S., British and Dutch Marines conducted joint amphibious assault operations along the northern Norwegian coast near Bardufoss. The Royal Netherlands Navy’s landing ship platform Hr. Ms. Rotterdam served as a base for the U.S. British and Dutch marines. The HMS Bulwark, a British amphibious assault ship, served as headquarters for the joint staff.
Other land operations were conducted mainly in Troms County along the northern coast. Maritime operations also covered parts of Nordland County. And air operations were conducted from Andøya, Bardufoss, Bodø, Evenes and Ørland air bases in Norway, and Luleå in Sweden. Those ops covered most of Northern Norway and parts of Swedish air space.
Smaller forces and air assets operated in the border areas from Narvik in Norway to Kiruna in Sweden, and Swedish military aircraft flew in Norwegian territory from Swedish air bases.
Other units taking part in the exercise included about 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment and some 215 Finnish soldiers from a Jager (ranger) company.
For the first time the exercise included air operations that crossed national borders. A Royal Norwegian Air Force cargo plane flew a transport run from Norway to Sweden and back again. Norwegian F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets supplied air cover over Norway with Swedish JAS Gripen 39 fighters taking over in Swedish airspace. But tragedy struck on March 15 when the Norwegian C-130J Hercules cargo plane crashed into a mountain just over the border near Kiruna in Sweden, killing all five crewmen on board.
Air operations concluded with a large force engagement exercise with 36 aircraft participating including Norwegian and Belgian F-16s and Swedish Gripens. A Swedish pilot served as mission commander in the exercise, which tested coordination and aircraft management, including air refueling.
To see a video of the troops, ships, planes, helicopters and tanks in action, click here.
To a video of Norwegian tanks and troops, click here.
Two Reconnaissance Platoon corporals from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment prepare to “ambush” a combat vehicle with an 84mm rocket launcher during Exercise Cold Response 2012 in northern Norway. The 800 soldiers from the 1st Battalion were among 16,000 participants from 14 nations — including a company of U.S. Marines — in the Norwegian-led invitational military exercise, which just ended.
We’ll have a full report Monday on the fifth iteration of this massive exercise — the largest yet — which saw Swedish fighter jets, Norwegian tanks, British helicopters, Dutch landing craft and Canadian armored all terrain vehicles roaming the seas, skies and woods near the Arctic Circle.
The exercise was marred by the crash of a Norwegian C-130J transport plane, killing all five on board.
Take a look at all that frozen wasteland. The Russian tanker Renda follows a path through the ice of the Bering Sea made by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB-20). The Seattle-based Healy – the only polar ice breaker in the U.S. fleet — assisted Renda on its mission to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome, Alaska, after a winter storm restricted a scheduled delivery by barge.
The storm prevented November’s scheduled delivery, leaving Nome’s 3,500 residents without enough gasoline and diesel fuel before the next scheduled delivery in late May or June. The 370-foot tanker set out from Russia in mid-December. It stopped in South Korea to pick up diesel fuel and then called at Dutch Harbor, Alaska to load up unleaded gasoline. Renda left the Alaskan port — accompanied by Healy — on Jan. 3.
The 420-foot Healy — yes, the ice breaker is bigger than an oil tanker — is designed to break 4 ½ feet of ice continuously at three knots and can operate in temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero (Farenheit).Unlike most ocean-going vessels, the Healy has a blunt, rounded bow that enable it to ride up on top of the ice. As the bow goes up and the stern (rear) sinks below the water, the force of buoyancy acting on the submerged part of the stern create a lever-like action bringing Healy’s 16,000 tons down onto the ice — breaking it, according to Lt. Commander Kristen Serumgard of the Coast Guard’s Office of Cutter Forces.
After a 5,000-mile journey, the Renda made it — almost — into port at Nome on Jan. 14. Because of the tremendous amount of ice that was as hard as concrete, the Renda pumped out its cargo through hoses that stretched over 500 yards to the distribution facility. See photo below. The Renda completed pumping out its cargo on Jan. 19.
To see a slideshow of the two vessels’ mercy mission through 500 miles of ice-packed Bering Sea, click here.
For more information on the Healy’s mission breaking up the ice for the Renda, click here.
To see a short (27 second) video on You Tube of the two ships in the frozen north, click here.