Thursday, February 12, 2015
Rapid melt in Arctic leading to ice cold war; Russia more assertive
Lance M. Bacon, Navy Times, Feb 11
A new cold war is forming – very cold.
The Navy expects to have enough trained personnel and equipment by 2030 to respond to contingencies and emergencies in the Arctic, said Robert Freeman, spokesman for the Oceanographer of the Navy. Beyond 2030, the Navy "will be capable of operating deliberately in the Arctic region as needed."
Rapid melting of Arctic ice is advancing nations' economic and strategic concerns, and is becoming another front on which Russia is becoming more assertive.
Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said on Feb. 10 that Russia is flying more flights over the Arctic, including sorties over the Bering Strait.
"They've been very aggressive, under my NORAD hat, for us in the Arctic. Aggressive in the amount of flights, not aggressive in how they fly ... it's just the numbers have been up," Gortney said at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Conference and Exposition in San Diego.
The Russians are flying Tu-95H Bear long-range bombers in what appears to be an attempt to send a message, Gortney said.
"The question is what they're doing and why they're doing it," he said.
Still, the flights haven't caused any intense exchanges or near misses similar to those seen in the skies over Eastern Europe in recent months.
"We haven't seen anything that crosses into the unprofessional. They're talking and squawking like they should, they're doing more of it," Gortney said.
Arctic ice is rapidly thinning. There has been a 40 percent decline in thickness since 1990, according to Craig Lee, chief scientist on a Marginal Ice Zone research project sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. He presented his findings Feb. 5 at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, D.C.
The changes mean major waterways will consistently be open in summer months by the mid-2020s. Open water begins in August, peaks in September, and returns to ice in November. This will likely bring a flotilla of trans-Arctic container shipping, fleets of fishermen – and military patrols.
Diminishing ice fields mean Russia will have a new active border to protect, and many key oil and gas fields are in the region. Russia has reactivated 10 bases on its northern border. It has also conducted destroyer and cruiser patrols, and missile tests in the region; last April, 50 Russian paratroopers landed on drifting Arctic ice near the North Pole.
Russia is not alone in its military posturing. The Arctic is a resource-rich region tangled in a web of disputed claims and untested treaties as nations vie for their share of sovereignty. Five have Arctic lands: the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark. Three have Arctic equity: Iceland, Finland and Sweden. Russia in 2007 planted a flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole to lay claim to the underwater range.
And China looks to get in the game, as well. The latter is completing its fourth Antarctic research station and looking to build a fifth station, according to a December 2014 Heritage Foundation report. Lessons learned there will have great value in the Arctic, which is thought to contain massive mineral, oil and gas reserves. Upward of 22 percent of undiscovered recoverable hydrocarbon fuel is believed to reside in the region.