Russia’s Arctic Militarization ‘Disturbing,’ US Lawmakers Say

Russian_nuclear_submarine

Several U.S. lawmakers are warning U.S. military leaders about the pace and scope of Russia’s Arctic militarization, including the addition new brigades, ships and airfields to the fast-changing region.

Russian initiatives are making it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to successfully compete in the area as new sea lanes emerge, they say.

“When you look at what the Russians are doing in the Arctic, it is actually quite impressive –impressive, but disturbing,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska., told military leaders at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee Navy budget hearing.

“The Russians are looking at adding four new combat brigades in the Arctic as our U.S. Army is thinking at pulling them out of there,” he said. “I think that would give Vladimir Putin a lot of joy. They are building 13 new airfields and conducting long-range air patrols off the coast of Alaska.”

Sullivan said the U.S. military is ill-advised to consider removing one or two Army Brigade Combat teams from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Fort Wainwright in Alaska.

“That we would even contemplate taking one soldier away from Alaska is lunacy given Putin’s recent actions in the Arctic,” he said. “Alaska’s Army BCTs are the best cold-weather and mountain-hardened BCTs in the country.  The training makes them uniquely valuable to the U.S. Army and their presence in Alaska hopefully ensures that other nations never make us use them.”

Experts say the pace of melting ice and rising water temperatures is expected to open more waterways in the region and possibly new sea-routes for commercial shipping, transport, strategic military presence and adventure tourism. The developments carry geopolitical and national-security risks, as well.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the U.S. needs to intensify its preparations for Arctic activity.

“We need to look at it deliberately and understand it,” he said. “We need to get industry up there and study the place and find out when it is going to melt. What are the sea lines that will open? Are there territorial disputes? Are there threats? Russia is increasing their military presence which sort of makes sense. Also, how do we survive up there with our ships our aircraft and our people?”

The Navy is researching technologies that will better enable sailors, ships, sensors and weapons to operate in such a harsh environment.

“We have to look at the hardening of our hulls,” he said. “It is not just surface ships. It is the aircraft and the undersea domain. I’ve directed the increase in our activity up there.”

The Office of Naval Research has deployed drones underneath the ice to assess the temperature and salt content of the water so as to better predict the pace of melting ice and the opening up of sea routes.

Greenert also said the Navy is increasing joint exercises with Canada and Scandinavian countries in preparation for increased Arctic activity.

Despite these measures, some lawmakers are still not convinced that the U.S. is doing enough to counterbalance Russian military initiatives in the region. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, expressed concern that the U.S. only operates a handful of ice breaker ships compared to Russia’s large fleet of ice breakers.

“We have one heavy-duty and one medium-duty Coast Guard ice breakers,” he said. “The Russians have 17 ice breakers in the Arctic. If we are talking about innocent passage and trade, ice breakers are the highway builders and that is an example of how we are really not adequately developing our strategic interests in that region.”

Sullivan also echoed Sen. King’s concerns about the small U.S. fleet of ice breakers, adding that the Russians have six new icebreakers in development with five more planned.

The U.S. has more than 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline along its Alaskan border. However, Russia’s Northern Sea Route, which parallels the Arctic and Russian border, is by far the largest existing shipping route in the region.

Recognizing that the quickening pace of melting ice and warming water temperatures may open up sea lanes sooner than expected, the Navy last year released an Updated Arctic Road Map, which details the service’s preparations for increasing its presence in the region.

The Navy’s initial version of the document released in 2009 includes mission analysis and “fleet readiness” details for the environment, including search and rescue, maritime security, C4ISR, cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, strategic sealift and strategic deterrence, among other things.

“The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe,” the document states. “While significant uncertainty exists in projections for Arctic ice extent, the current scientific consensus indicates the Arctic may experience nearly ice-free summers sometime in the 2030s.”

An assessment by the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change determined the rate of melting has increased since the time of this report. As a result, Navy planners anticipate needing to operate there to a much greater extent by the middle of the 2020s instead of the 2030s.

Although the thinning of the Arctic ice was reported by Navy submarines in the 1990s, there have been considerable changes to the environment since that time, said Robert Freeman, spokesman for the oceanographer of the Navy.

While stressing that budget constraints might limit what preparations are possible, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus also said the service was increasing its exercises and preparations for greater activity in the region.

“As the ice melts in the Arctic our responsibilities go up. It is not just platforms and capabilities — it is what we are facing,” he said. “We not only have less ice but it is freezing in different ways. The ice is forming in different ways that are beginning to be a hazard to navigation. We’re upping our exercises and research into the area.”

— Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@military.com

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • ghostwhowalksnz

    Hello. The reason the russians have many more icebreakers is the use of the arctic ports they have. This extends down to the pacific coast which gets iced up as well. Same reason Canada probably has more icebreakers on Great Lakes than US has on Arctic

  • Dfens

    It’s a good thing we have defense contractors designing our ships, otherwise we might have enough to cover all these additional sea lanes. Clearly our Navy doesn’t exist to look out for our natiional interests. Instead they exist to make sure defense contractors make as much money as possible. When the Navy designed their own ships we had 600 for the same amount of money we spend to keep 200+ thin skinned tubs afloat today.

    • LHS

      Excellent comment…With Russia struggling economically who will be paying for all of their defense toys? We need to pick our “battles” wisely on what defense projects work best and stay in touch with the fast pace technology. Drones is the way to go for all facets of our defense in the air, on land and it the sea.

      • Dfens

        We are fortunate that the Russian economy has tanked over the dropping price of oil. Our situation with the cost of weapons has reversed from what it was during the Cold War where we were able to produce weapons more cheaply than they could. Unmanned vehicles have given us a way to get more bang for our defense dollar, but there are also some serious risks involved with the repurposing of unmanned vehicles by our enemies, especially ships that can be boarded quite easily due to their relatively slow operating speeds.

        • blight_

          I don’t know if our weapons were cheaper than theirs in the Cold War, but they got into trouble by making many different types to keep numerous factories busy. The Soviets made enough weapons to supply all of their client states, which in turn churned through several sets of weapons in ill-advised internal civil wars, or external wars with western-aligned neighbors.

          However, we are getting away from reasonably cost-effective procurement practices and into very expensive procurement practices, which is a shame.

  • Lance

    And so why waste billions on MHS and JSF, and ACV programs made to fight Iraq all over again while we badly neglect sea and artic weapons which may be needed sooner than you think.

    • LHS

      I am all for getting out of Iraq and the whole Middle East as that venture has been anything but a success, but let us not get too carried away with reviving the Cold War abroad. My belief is that we should maintain or current forces while advancing our technology base spending our money wisely. China and Russia will never be anything but agitators as their size and military maturity shall dictate to them that there are no winners to be had in war with the west. They are not like the crazy terrorist countries and poor sovereignties that kick at our shins like little brats and like us need to be the adults in the room.

  • Virgul Cuttaway

    Russkies and Chinese buding up their militaries and we are drastically cutting ours so that we can give more away through social programs!

    • miles

      Than why didn’t the Republicans tell the corp[orations and the 1% that they needed to pay their part of the cost/Tax of defending their Life styles in 2001-2003?

      • Dfens

        Because it’s just the Republicans that are owned by corporations. That’s exactly the kind of thinking that got us here. Tell the 1% to pay more, you mean while they are providing them with corporate welfare? Here’s an idea, why don’t we put an end to the corporate welfare, then we’ll have more ships and other weapons even with the cuts. I’d much rather see my tax dollars go to welfare for poor people who can’t find a job in this Obama recovery than I would have it go to a bunch of billionaires like Jim McNerney.

      • blight_

        Corporations don’t care about national defense. Their mission is to make profit for shareholders. If America goes under the money moves to Switzerland on to the next base of operations. American citizens are revenue-stream meat popsicles.

    • Commenter

      The U.S. still accounts for about 37% of worldwide defense expenditures. China is about 7% and Russia is about 5% (which are the next 2 highest spenders) These aren’t exact but the clear point is that the U.S. spends a lot on defense. The U.S. can cut a lot of spending and still spend many times what anyone else does. And of the top 15 spending nations (accounting for 80% of worldwide expenditures) only 2 would fall outside the category of strong US allies.

      • reality

        $$ goes a lot further in China, it’s an apples to oranges discussion, not the same thing. They built a Gerald ford carrier, it won’t cost them 10 billion, same goes for Russia. That argument on what we spend is tiring. Half of our cost is personnel and yet we have less than half of what china fields.

  • BlackOwl18E

    The Russians are building a force that can conquer the arctic. It’s already their own element and they live closer to it. They probably aren’t even spending half as much as we are since their defense budget is only a small fraction of ours.

    Meanwhile, we’re blowing the bank on the F-35, which can’t even operate in the arctic.

    I have high confidence that the Navy can bounce back into the arctic though. We played an arctic game with the Soviets during the Cold War and all the expertise in that area is readily available. The real question is getting the funds for it, that is if they haven’t already been sucked into the bottomless pit that is the JSF.

    • Dfens

      Hell yeah, the service that was in charge of the F-35 program for a decade, that gave us the LCS that costs as much as an Iowa class battleship and the DDG-1000 cruiser that costs as much as a Nimitz class carrier clearly knows everything there is to know about cost efficiency. Any service that can spend the same money on 600 ships in the ’80s that they spend on 200+ in the 21st century must be doing something right. At least they’re still flying the same airplanes.

      • BlackOwl18E

        Dfens, you yourself said in a comment above that when the Navy designed their own ships we had 600 for the same amount of money we spend to keep 200 “thin skinned tubs afloat today.”

        You blame the contractors then, but when I trash talk a bad point on the F-35 you suddenly change your position and trash talk the Navy? You’re clearly an F-35 fanboy now. Seriously, stop being so butt hurt over this aircraft. Your act is getting old.

        • Dfens

          I thought owls screeched, not whined. That reminds me of an old pilot joke. How do you tell the difference between a pilot and his airplane? The airplane stops whining when you turn it off. Funny how you had plenty to say about me, but nothing to say about any of the points I raised about the Navy’s incompetence in dealing with contractors and the public’s (read that as MY) money. The main difference between myself and the US Navy is that at no point have I ever been in charge of the F-35 program. I’ve actually never been on that program, although I may have given some relevant advice to people who are. My opinion of the F-35 program is much the same as it was of the F-22 program, it’s the best program you’re going to get as long as the department of defense continues to pay their contractors more to fail. Fix the procurement system or quit whining about the weapons it produces because they are the best you’re going to get. I know that’s a hard concept for too many to grasp, but I’m subtle that way.

    • SJE

      The Russians also have far far more at stake in the Artic. “Warm water ports” has been a core foreign and military policy of Russia for centuries. It explains continued aggression in the Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific. If the Artic is now open for most of the year, its a huge change for Russia.

  • Auyong Ah Meng

    Who ever has the mostest, get there the fastest, already there first…will hold the high/valued ground will call all the shots in the end.

    The actic is a strategic location. Imagine some of the ground there we site some nice missles…whether nukes or non-nukes…won’t that be a “joy”…since shorter distance to go…so shorter time for the opposition to react..

    So how…sit back and whine we should have seen this coming…or twiddle our thumbs and stare at each other pointing fingers here and there everywhere…

    zzz

    • guest

      Under the direction of the WH national defense team, we are practicing strategic patience.

  • Cataldo

    The Arctic now is governed by international law of the sea, which provides for the extension of the continental shelf as an element of attribution of the exclusive rights. The Russians are stepping up their presence to better support the disputes that will arise as the pack will leave the place to the open sea, the US response should not be based only on a military build up, that seems to still need ;) , but must have political support to start on arctic something similar to what was done for Antarctica, with an international law system that has worked well. Arctic is a pivot point for the future of the world, and the exploitation of the arctic if conducted in the wrong way, will bring ruin to all.
    If the US will want to protect their interests in the Arctic will have to start giving dignity to international organizations that today despise, otherwise it will not be enough even hundreds of icebreakers :) sorry for my bad english

    • SJE

      Law of the sea bends to real politik.

  • Harry Canyon

    Coast Guard’s new Polar Class Icebreaker, The Al Gore (WAGB-12)
    I don’t know which is more dangerous, the Russians or the Global Warming profiteers.

    • Justin

      I would think the level of intelligent and thoughtful conversation would be elevated here. I guess not..

    • Hector

      Haaaa….!

  • James

    So nobody noticed that the congressman who wants all the soldiers in alaska is from alaska, which means having soldiers there makes money for him. And then there’s the congressman from Maine, who insists we need more icebreakers. Golly gee, I wonder what shipyard he thinks should build them. I’m guessing Bath Iron Works, also in Maine. This isn’t about security it is a money grab for their respective districts. You guys are all complaining about the crooked defense contractors, and yet the congressmen all get paid when they give them the contracts.

    • Reality

      Well, Alaska’s borders are near to Russia more than anywhere else in the US, or is it a who cares if it’s not my neighborhood argument? That is what it sounds like to me. frankly we should have 2 plus divisions up there with one being mobile and the pre-positioned ships to hold another heavy division. That would keep the Russians honest. How many tanks sit in the desert doing nothing for the US? Put them in Alaska on ships.

      • blight_

        A division set of equipment from Sierra Army Depot means nothing without troops. The Alaska Army National Guard is very, very small. Would the Alaskans propose using Permanent Fund money to pay for more troops? /shrug

  • Franklin

    This is not news! We have seen it coming for a long time now. The Russians are after Artic oil and it is there! Our antque ice breakers are a joke. The Russians have nine nuclear powered ice breakers that are the best in the world and we don’t have even one! They did not build them over night so don’t call this news. It’s a freaking disaster is what it is.

  • Contrarian123

    Complete nonsense. The Russians are obviously buying the global warming nonsense and wasting Rubles preparing to take advantage of something that isn’t going to happen. Go figure.

  • Tom

    I think this explains why Russia is investing so much in the Arctic:
    http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/wiredscience/20

    More than all this political rhetoric.

  • gene maschl

    Did you guys ever hear of a bright idea called sequestration was to be so bad congress would have to pass a budget.they found it easier to let it go into effect than put their vote on a budget that might offend someone’s donation. They wont do anything thing that will endanger their cushy job rep or demo

  • mpower6428

    Global Warming ( Climate Change) is a liberal hoax……..

    • Dfens

      Another anit-science genius. It’s no wonder this nation is so far past its prime.

      • crackedlenses

        Anti-Big Science. There’s a difference.

      • The one armed man

        The globe hasn’t warmed for almost 20 years. And 97% of climate models overestimated the amount of warming. The earth warms and cools. A combination of global cooling and droughts attributed to the fall of the old Egyptian empire. High temps. and drought wiped out other civilizations.
        All the warming over the last 100 years amounts to less than one degree. There is no trend in the amount of severe weather events (tornados, hurricanes, drought, etc.) in fact we’ve had so few hurricanes it’s been called a hurricane drought.
        Is there a possibility man affects the climate? Sure. Is there anything you can do about it? Depends. Should the environment be taken care of? Definitely. Is there some pending global warming apocalypse that can be averted? If America totally stopped using fossile feuls you’d save yourself 7 years bc of India and chinas expansion.

        • Dfens

          And you are? I thought so.

          • The one armed man

            Thought what?

      • The one armed man

        Get the rest of the world on board and you might make a dent.
        The government shouldn’t be spending billions on green energy cronie projects that aren’t ready. They’ll get there some day. But we shouldn’t spent trillions on unsettled science.
        Remember it was global cooling in the 70s, global warming in the 90s, then climate change, global weirding, climate chaos…etc.

    • Docsenko

      You wish, the effects are seen now. Take a very good look at California. If the weather does not change soon, they may be out of water in a year. The sea level has already begin to rise. That is why there is increased flooding along the eastern seaboard. It is there and may now be able to reverse until a new Ice Age.

      • blight_

        The problem in California is its dependence on snowfalls to generate water. Snowfalls in the state along with in the rockies, which fuels the Colorado river (the other water source for California).

        Los Angeles has run out of Owens Valleys to steal water from.

        • guest

          It is called weather, it is not climate change. Now if it really was climate change, there is nothing our government can do to change or slow it.

          • Dfens

            And sadly the 5th avenue propagandists are so good big oil didn’t even have to pay him to say that.

  • eagle

    OIL-OIL-OIL AND MINERALS

  • Gorge

    Thanks

  • Mobile Apps

    Good one.

  • Rob C.

    I find it ironic that congress is concerned. However, they’ve not addresses means to counter this concern as they continued to allow sequestration continue wither the US Military capacities down to historical lows.

  • Ray Munoz Gavina

    Only a POTUS with strong military background or support to our military, can make the U.S.A. strong and mighty again, in God we trust

    • blight_

      A POTUS that implements Chinese wage, environmental and labor laws will make “the USA strong and mighty again”. It’s not a big deal for the people who hate the pollution to simply move to Switzerland, but the workers will have to live with it.

  • guest

    There are billions of barrels of valuable oil in the arctic. We have sworn never to drill for or pump that oil. The U.S. doesn’t want it, the Russians will take it.

    • Kevin Smithwick

      You can only imagine how difficult and expensive it would be to establish drill operations in the Artic. Purely from a profit perspective it’s economically questionable whether Artic oil is remotely profitable, when our domestic production has drastically expanded.

      Especially when you factor in the true costs, such as expanding the US NAVY or (if required) establishing new bases in one of the world’s harshest terrains.

  • guest

    Yes our government and military is very concerned. That is why they are withdrawing troops and aircraft from Alaska.

    • Dfens

      Haven’t you heard, they’ve gotta close bases so they can give more money to their defense contractor buddies. You think the defense of this nation or our economic interests is going to trump their need to steer more corporate welfare to Lockheed and Boeing?

  • Roland

    We need to send contigency and protect all our borders , country, allies and our people specially the artic. If there is a threat or attack.