The Arctic is currently a staggering 36 degrees warmer than normal at this time of year, according to information from the Danish Meteorological Institute. NASA report also shows that a vast region in the Arctic Ocean has gone missing and people from NASA think that the polar ice caps are now more vulnerable than ever. “What we’ve seen over the years is that the older ice is disappearing,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be.
As the Global warming is melting the Arctic ice, and opening up new shipping trade routes and real estate, intense resource competition over an estimated $1 trillion untapped reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals has started. Human activities have grown in the Arctic by almost 400 percent in the last decade, the U.S. board estimated, in terms of shipping, mining, energy exploration, fishing and tourism
Considering its geostrategic importance many countries including Russia and US are planning military presence to protect their interests. Russia is acting quickly to become dominating Geostrategic and Military power in the Arctic. Russia’s new military doctrine signed into effect on December 26, 2014, identified Arctic as one of three geopolitical arenas that Moscow has deemed vital to national security.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft warned that Russia was militarizing the Arctic and accused Moscow of “saber-rattling” by conducting unannounced military drills in the Arctic area involving thousands of troops. Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, expressed similar concerns about aggressive Russian activity in the Arctic, noting that Russian submarine activity was at its highest point in 20 years.
US has intensified its intelligence activities in Arctic, through U.S. spy satellites orbiting overhead, Navy sensors deep in the frigid waters. Most of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have assigned analysts to work full time on the Arctic. The U.S. intelligence focus is chiefly aimed at Russia’s military buildup in the far north under President Vladimir Putin.
The US Coast Guard (USCG) has awarded five firm-fixed-price contracts with a total value of nearly $20m, in order to conduct early industry design studies and analysis for the purchase of the country’s next heavy polar icebreaker. The contract awardees are Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana; General Dynamics / National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, San Diego; Fincantieri Marine Group in Washington; Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi, US.
US Coast Guard Acquisition Programmes director and programme executive officer rear admiral Michael Haycock said: “These contracts will provide invaluable data and insight as we seek to meet schedule and affordability objectives. “Our nation has an urgent need for heavy polar icebreaking capability. We formed an integrated programme office with the navy to take advantage of their shipbuilding experience.”
China’s growing Arctic ambitions
A report by the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) expresses concern about the rapid expansion of China’s activities in the Arctic. China, which is geographically far from the North Pole, is now claiming to be a near-Arctic country, to match its “long-term, strategic objective of pursuing economic development and growth in the Arctic,” the ISAB report said.
Economic opportunities in the Arctic are important to China in the short term, the report said, such as “sea and air routes [that] would allow for expanded shipping to markets in Europe and North America.” “In the long term,” the report added, “China could benefit from access to resources including oil, other hydrocarbons, minerals and fisheries, and expanding its tourism and bioprospecting industries to the region.”
The report notes China’s cooperation with Russia in the development of natural-gas deposits in the Arctic Siberian Yamal Peninsula. ISAB member Sherri Goodman, former deputy undersecretary of defense said the impact of Sino-Russian cooperation on Arctic regional security has not attracted enough attention from the U.S. government.
China has begun work on its second large-scale icebreaker. In addition, two mid-size military icebreakers recently joined the PLA Navy’s North Sea Fleet.
Shipyard Jiangnan confirms that it has officially started the construction of the vessel, and that it is planned to be ready for sailing in 2019. Ship designed by Finnish company Aker Arctic Technology Co, will be 122,5 meter long and 22,3 meter wide. It will have a deadweight of 13,000 tons and will be able to carry supplies for 60 days of uninterrupted operation. The ship design will allow it to break 1,5 meter thick ice both with its front and its rear.
China has previously announced that it intends to build also a nuclear-powered icebreakers. An agreement was signed this year between the National Nuclear Corporation and State Shipbuilding Corporation development of the nuclear-powered ships.
How would future war would be in Arctic
Kyle Mizokami writes in The Week, “It would be two wars: one against the human enemy, which would often be hundreds of miles away and seldom seen, and another, constant war against the elements. Both would be trying to kill you. War would mostly be conducted by aircraft and submarine, the better to avoid actually operating on the ice.”
“The weather and the flat, featureless terrain would mean long-range subs and planes that pack plenty of firepower would play decisive roles. Unmanned, autonomous drones that can survive the harsh weather would be particularly useful. Large numbers of ground forces would be difficult to manage, so small Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine units trained to parachute, ski, or infiltrate by submarine would be used to attack and defend isolated Arctic bases. Search and rescue, to recover pilots shot down in such a bleak, hostile environment, would be a must,” he further says
Russia dominating military power in Arctic
The Russian government announced plans in March 2014 to reopen 10 former Soviet-era military bases along the Arctic seaboard, including 14 airfields, that were closed after the end of the Cold War. Shoigu also said four were completed in 2015, a base on the Franz Josef Land archipelago is nearly complete. “We are not hiding this from anyone: we are have practically finished building bases on the Novosibirsk Archipelago and on Kotelny island.”
It has created a new Arctic Joint Strategic Command, tasked to protect Russian interests in its Arctic territories. Moscow is training two Arctic warfare brigades in addition to constructing 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and ten air-defense radar stations in the region. A shipyard in northern Russia also is constructing four nuclear-powered submarines.
Moscow formed the 45th Air Force and Air Defense Army as part of its Northern Fleet in December 2015. Shoigu said that modern military technology was “necessary for guarding borders” in the Arctic. Russian officials have previously said that the air base facilities are essential for protecting shipping routes that link Europe with the Pacific region across the Arctic Ocean.
Russia plans to develop a “self-sufficient” standing military force by 2018, based in the territory it owns in the Arctic, according to a report. The military force will include Air Force and air defense subunits. Russia will also create a new training center in the Arctic. Sergei Shoigu told Russian news agencies that the “creation and arming” of the Arctic military unit should be completed by 2018.
Shoigu said Russian troops will be stationed in the Arctic on a permanent basis, with a focus on increasing the Kremlin’s control over the region’s airspace. “We are creating comfortable living conditions for our military personnel who will serve in the Arctic on a permanent basis,” Nikolai Yevmenov, the fleet’s chief of staff, said
In March 15, Russia carried out a five-day massive military exercise in the Arctic that involved some 80,000 troops, 220 aircraft, 41 ships, and 15 submarines. The training exercises were reportedly meant to test the Russian military’s ability to rapidly deploy forces from the mainland and to test the combat readiness of its Northern Fleet.
Russia boosts Science and Technology in Arctic
In tandem with the military expansion, Russia is building the Yamal LNG plant in the Ob River estuary in collaboration with the French energy company Total. It will produce gas, liquefy it and ship it to European and Asian markets.
“This is where future Russian oil and gas resources are located,” Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, said of the region. “Most other areas are peaking and running out. So for Russia it will be important to develop more unconventional sources…. Russia will need to invest $100 billion per year in their oil and gas sector just to maintain their current levels.”
In 2014-2016, the government unveiled funds for 31 R&D projects in the Arctic. In these years, nearly two billion rubles ($32 million) were spent from the federal budget and non-budget sources on Arctic development.
St. Petersburg is now becoming the centerpiece of the Artic development program since the city boasts significant industrial and scientific capabilities. Among the leading scientific organizations are the Arctic and Antarctic R&D Institute, the Russian R&D Institute for Geology and Mineral Resources of the World Ocean and the Karpinsky Russian R&D Geological Institute.
Currently a new Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker is being built at the Baltic Shipyard. The Arktika, the first project 22220 class ship and the first nuclear icebreaker to be fully built in modern-day Russia, was successfully launched on June 16.
Russia operates a fleet of 40 icebreakers and is working on adding about a dozen new ships over the next couple of years. Out of the 40 around 27 are ocean-going icebreakers, some of which are nuclear-powered. Russia is also planning to introduce a new class of super-nuclear icebreakers, by the end of 2020. According to Russian Deputy Defense Minister Dmitry Rogozin, the layout of the new vessel, purportedly capable of cutting through 13-feet-thick ice sheets, will be presented by the end of 2015.
The Ilya Muromets could be the lead ship of a new class of icebreakers, depending on how well the vessel will do perform in service. The 6,000-ton ship is 85-meter (280-feet) long and can purportedly break through a meter of ice. It can traverse the entire 5,600 kilometer (3,500 mile) length of the Northern Passage and can operate autonomously for up to 60 days, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense. The icebreaker will have a crew of 35.
Any industrial project in the Artic would require tons of electric energy, and this is why Russia is also developing floating nuclear power plants. Russian company Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom state-owned corporation) launched a project in 2006 to build floating NPPs in regions with limited energy capabilities.
US plans National Strategy for Arctic
On May 10, 2013, President Obama issued the National Strategy for the Arctic Region (National Strategy) to articulate strategic priorities to enable the United States to ”respond effectively to challenges and emerging opportunities arising from significant increases in Arctic activity due to the diminishment of sea ice and the emergence of a new Arctic environment.”
U.S. capabilities to monitor these activities are limited. U.S. lags behind in critical measures of Arctic military readiness, such as Coast Guard infrastructure and the size of the nation’s fleet of submarines and icebreakers, according to a DARPA presentation in 2012.
President Barack Obama had previously announced a proposal to accelerate the acquisition of a replacement heavy-duty icebreaker by 2020 after a visit to Alaska in September 2015. The icebreaker is meant “to ensure the United States can operate year-round in the Arctic Ocean,” the White House said.
Arctic Capabilities Assessment Working Group (ACAWG) had identified four capabilities Areas Communications, Maritime domain awareness, Infrastructure and Presence. US Navy recently released 2014 update Navy Arctic Roadmap according to which it plans to transition its Arctic Ocean operations from a capability to provide a periodic presence to a capability to operate deliberately for sustained periods in the middle and long term.
Advancing Implementation of the National Strategy for the Arctic Region
With the Arctic region changing so quickly, the United States must review, update, and adjust its strategic initiatives to advance U.S. interests. Towards this end, today the AESC is releasing the 2016 Implementation Framework for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region.
The Framework shall ensure that U.S. efforts successfully address all three lines of effort from the Strategy:
- Advancing United States Security Interests,
- Pursuing Responsible Arctic Region Stewardship, and
- Strengthening International Cooperation
This forward-looking, strategic-planning document updates the 2015 Implementation Plan and incorporates new initiatives, emphasizes community sustainability and resilience, and increases the importance of science and research by incorporating by reference the entire Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee’s Arctic Research Plan.
Advance U.S. Security Interests
“Protecting the American people, our sovereign territory and rights, and the natural resources and other interests of the United States remains the highest priority of the Federal Government.” The first line of effort focuses on activities intended to support these priorities: preparing for increased activity in the maritime domain; sustaining and supporting evolving aviation requirements; developing communication infrastructure; enhancing domain awareness; sustaining Federal capability to conduct maritime operations in ice–impacted waters; promoting freedom of navigation and overflight and other uses of the sea in accordance with international law; and developing renewable and non–renewable energy resources.
Multi-Service Demonstration for Arctic Challenges project
Officials of the Rapid Reaction Technology Office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Falls Church, Va., issued a request for information (RRTO-2015-09-09-RFI-SPIRAL-16-2) for the Multi-Service Demonstration for Arctic Challenges project. This initiative, seeks to find technology-demonstration candidates from private industry, government research and development (R&D) organizations, and academia to demonstrate military technologies for Arctic operations.
RFI calls for Technology demonstration related to but not limited to the following capabilities as they apply to operations in the Arctic Region:
- Persistent Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capable of supporting domain awareness and information sharing in the Arctic region.
- Low signature (acoustic, thermal, visual) small unit mobility platforms capable of prolonged operations in Arctic conditions (at minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit) with a minimum of maintenance and logistics support.
- Technologies that would enhance the capability to conduct non-compliant Visit, Boarding, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) operations in Arctic waters.
- Expeditionary mobile power and energy supplies capable of prolonged operations in Arctic conditions (at minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit) with a minimum of maintenance and logistics support.
- Capabilities that provide or enhance surface and airborne navigation in the Arctic region.
- Surface and airborne navigation in the Arctic region; and
- Sensors that provide surface penetration and Arctic mapping
DARPA’s Future Arctic Sensing Technologies program
U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has put out a call to industry experts, under its Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) on “Future Arctic Sensing Technologies”. In particular, DARPA is interested in concepts for low-cost, rapidly deployable, environmentally friendly, unmanned sensor systems capable of unrefueled operation in the Arctic environment for at least 30 days.
Systems should sense and report data on air, surface and undersea targets to permit detection, tracking and identification of these targets in accomplishing or contributing to a significant military mission and provide for data exfiltration to a remote facility.
DARPA’s Assured Arctic Awareness program seeks innovative approaches to creating under-ice and surface situation awareness above the Arctic Circle by leveraging unique physical attributes of the Arctic (e.g., under-ice acoustic propagation, noise, and non-acoustic properties).
“Primary interest lies in anti-submarine warfare (ASW), “But so is observing the increase in shipping brought on by the melting ice, which means tracking both ships and potential hazards like drifting ice, along with other remotely occurring activity that may hazard the stability of the region”, according to Darpa program manager Andrew Coon.
The extreme environmental conditions of the Arctic challenge the ability of conventional technology to provide such monitoring, limiting their affordability and performance (e.g., coverage area or ability to hold track or trail). Extensive darkness and cloud cover limit electro-optical imaging and solar power; instability in the ionosphere disrupts radiofrequency propagation; Cloud cover inhibits EO/IR; geosynchronous satellites access can fail at latitudes above 70 degrees North limiting stare options and traditional communications; and temperatures can fall below -65 deg C (-85 degrees Fahrenheit) affecting hardware designs
Remote distributed sensing is a way to provide stand-off situation awareness in the Arctic, and is an emphasis for the program. Distributed and unmanned systems offer the advantage of extensive footprints as well as proximity, without the potential system costs of large manned platforms and basing. As with the development of any remote distributed system, developers will need to overcome the technical challenges of persistence, survivability, energy management, sensing, mobility, delivery, and communications.
The Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NTIA) calls to ”assess the telecommunication infrastructure in the Arctic and use new technology to support improved communications in the region, including in areas of sparse population to facilitate emergency response”. It specifies a number of existing and potential services for NTIA to assess, including: Local and long-distance terrestrial, commercial mobile cellular, public safety services, emergency services, navigational safety, satellite voice, and broadband services.
US Navy’s thrust on science and technology (S&T) research
Scientists sponsored by the Office of Naval Research have traveled to the region to study the changing environment and provide new tools to help the U.S. Navy operate in a once-inaccessible area. ONR sponsored its scientific research through two initiatives within its Arctic and Global Prediction Program-Marginal Ice Zone and Waves and Sea State. Additional research involved the program’s Canada Basin Acoustic Propagation Experiment (CANAPE) initiative
CANAPE researchers used sophisticated oceanographic and acoustic sensors to gauge temperature, salinity, ice, and ambient noise conditions under the surface of the ice and water — factors that can dramatically impact the effectiveness of sonar operations and antisubmarine warfare.
“Abundant sea ice reduces waves and swells, and keeps the Arctic Ocean very quiet,” said Dr. Robert Headrick, an ONR program officer overseeing the CANAPE research. “With increased sea ice melt, however, comes more waves and wind, which create more noise and makes it harder to track undersea vessels. The goal of CANAPE is to gain a better and more comprehensive understanding of these changing oceanographic conditions.”
“Having accurate forecasting models will help the Navy determine what types of surface vessels it will need to build in the near future and 30 years from now, to withstand the climate conditions,” said Dr. Scott Harper, an ONR program officer overseeing the Marginal Ice Zone and Waves and Sea State research. “That way, the Navy can operate as safely and effectively in the Arctic as it does throughout the rest of the world.”
“The Office of Naval Research [ONR] has extensive research on computer modeling and prediction of sea waves, ice movement, seasonal ice cycles and air-ocean interaction.” Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mat Winter said.
“For naval assets to operate safely in an increasingly accessible Arctic, they will need a better understanding of the changing environment and more accurate weather and sea ice predictions than are currently available. New technologies to help ships operate more safely and effectively in frigid, ice-choked waters are also required,” remarked Winter during the Sixth Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Maritime and Naval Operations.
He highlighted a few current initiatives: an integrated program of observations and computer simulations to study the marginal ice zone (MIZ), the transition area between sea ice and the open ocean; an initiative to provide better physics for computer modeling of waves in the MIZ; experiments to understand the effects of changing Arctic conditions on low-frequency sound in the water and sonar operations; and research into vertical heat distribution and movement in the Arctic Ocean.
Winter also addressed ONR’s research in issues like ship stability risk from ice accretion; improved hull design for ice operations; ice-phobic coatings to prevent ice from adhering to exposed material; and propellers and propulsors that are less vulnerable to ice damage.Scott Harper, lead for the Navy’s Arctic and Global Prediction initiatives, noted that there are three main focus areas.
First is to develop an improved understanding of the changing Arctic environment, which will enable more accurate representation in environmental computer models and improved forecasting capabilities.
Harper explained that the loss of summer sea ice cover was allowing more interaction between the atmosphere, waves and ocean surface, creating much more dynamic conditions. “Understanding how these things work together is the first step towards making reliable predictive models for better forecasting,” he said.
The second focus is the development of technologies for sustained observations and measurements that will provide long-term monitoring, further scientific understanding and improve models. This focus includes the use of unmanned and autonomous vehicles and the collection of remote sensing data. “We need to build the operational data set,” Harper noted, “not only for the science that we need to do, but also to provide real-time awareness to operational forces.”
Improved understanding and enhanced data collection support the third focus: the development of computer models that include the influence of ocean, atmosphere, ice and waves.
“The goal is to build system models that operate in high resolution, capture important Arctic processes and assimilate all this data,” Harper said, “and then run these models out to the future to predict not only what will happen in the next few days, but to also provide seasonal guidance as well as looking out multi-year to decades to figure out how fast the ice will continue to diminish.”
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