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Document: GAO Report on Pentagon’s Role in the Arctic

The following is the June 19, 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, Arcitic Planning
DOD Expects to Play a Supporting Role to Other Federal Agencies and Has Efforts Under Way to Address Capability Needs and Update Plans.

  • Frank Langham

    It might prove particularly advantageous, at some future date, to possess two or three ice-breaking oiler-tenders, in order to break channels through lighter winter ice and to re-fuel surface vessels and to replenish submarines. … The intent would be to facilitate and to bolster a continuous “patrol presence” with fewer trips to port and also to provide emergency (or unexpected) assistance when stuck in the ice or damaged or when tensions require extended mission durations. … I would think that just one or two of these medium sized ice-breaking oiler-tenders (operationally deployed) would provide persistent support for Naval and Commercial shipping, lift, patrols, ASW, AAW and CSR operations (etc.). …
    While there is certainly no extra budget for such handy assets, at present, it may be deemed prudent to address some level of preliminary design and planning, in this regard, … The arctic does present unique operating requirements and the USN and SEALIFT can draw upon commercial conversions, as it has with AFSB, LCS, and various SURVEY/SR type platforms. … These special regional platforms can be SEALIFT assets and manned by civilian contract mariners.

  • Curtis Conway

    The report is released on the 19th of June and starts out with this: “….. the Department of Defense (DOD) establish a supporting role for the department
    relative to other federal agencies, based on a low level of military threat expected
    in the region.”

    Why should I read this report? Its validity based upon the statement in the beginning taints every fact and conclusion that will be drawn. The Russians have held some of their largest exercises ever conducted in the region in the last couple of years, one with over 100 ships and aircraft in the last couple of months. Canada is looking for help, and has decided to allow the United States even more access to assist in handling the increased load. We are going from 12 Hamilton Class High Endurance Cutters to eight (8) Legend Class National Security Cutters as the threat increases, and the tasking grows. Is this a formula for success? We need at a minimum the same number of NSC as we had Hamilton Class, and we simply must get the Ice Breaker Fleet up to speed, grow it to six (6) minimum (10 better), and get those HC-27Js in Alaska.

    Manpower cost are killing everyone, so what does the US Coast Guard do ? with Congressional help . . . create more high dollar flag officer positions. All of this activity spells disaster and I haven’t even read the report yet.

    • Frank Langham

      I am compelled to agree with Curtis’ assessment, here. … The Russians have been licking their chops and are preparing to make VERY greedy and aggressive claims in the Artic. … They also have as much or more operational presence and experience, in this region, than any other global power.
      … A cold slap in the face is in order, here, Sirs, and I dare to say that the oversight and the underestimation of the *threat* are glaringly … uh … I will just say that I am both dumbfounded and astonished at the lack of sobriety in this official assessment. … I can only hope that this report is intended as a ruse, for foreign consumption.
      … Yes, I understand that we have NO monies for a committed Arctic Build-Out and Presence but we should be very ardently engaged in the planning of financially scalable and fiscally creative options, as a reflexive response, if not as a pre-emptive strategic move. A few KEY operational platforms and Multi-Purpose Utility Breaker-Tenders, coupled with a few (at least three) SSNs, on station, are a bare minimum and may make all the difference.

  • Curtis Conway

    OK, I read the report and:

    The ‘Preventing Conflict’ chart on page 16 should have every US Navy level of participation increase by one level, with the exception of perhaps ‘Humanitarian Assistance’, given realities on the ground (ice) in the region. If the US Coast Guard is going to have to live with 8 Legend Class NSCs then more US Navy participation is required. Some thought to USN/Marine Aviation support should be considered, and development of and recommendation for appropriate equipment for the region, and its unique operational challenges, must be developed and executed. Infrastructure improvements along the coasts in the North Pacific, Bearing Sea, and Beaufort Sea are required to support year round operations. National assets (navigation and communications) must exist/be upgraded. The 109th Airlift Wing (109 AW) of the New York Air National Guard may have to increase their inventory of LC-130s, and grow the unit to support going both directions. Some thoughts to an LC-27J should be considered.

    “Given the desire for a peaceful opening of the Arctic, DOD’s Arctic Strategy states that being too aggressive in addressing anticipated future security risks may create the conditions for mistrust and miscommunication under which such risks could materialize or lead to an “arms race” mentality that could lead to a breakdown of existing cooperative approaches to shared challenges. Therefore, the Arctic Strategy emphasizes building trust through transparency about the intent of military activities in the region and participation in military exercises and other engagements to mitigate this risk.”

    Given Russia’s activities over the last 18 months I think this statement is too cautious, and conservative in its tone. We have not moved aggressively, so Russia HAS, and is moving military forces into the region in large numbers. A plan must be developed, in concert with our arctic partners, and stake holders, to increase items mentioned (comms, domain awareness, infrastructure, and annual exercises) in an accelerated timeline, with participation by those stake holders bringing ‘clear goals and requirements’, and budget obligations, to the table. NORTHCOM, and one of those new USCG admirals (liaison for the region, with operational authority), must coordinate activities in the region. It is clear that the United States Military requires more Northern Latitude qualified personnel, equipment, and training for the Arctic Roadmap.

    If the figure 3 chart on page 12 is accurate, it looks like a goat rope in the making. This coordinated committee is going to be the Affordable Healthcare Act on steroids, with a bloated structure, and little clear direction, and no clear Chain of Command.

    “DHS did not have any comments on this report.”

    If DHS is going to abrogate their responsibilities along the Border of the United States in this region, then they should give up the responsibility to participate in the command there of, and place the USCG admiral in charge, in that area, under USN OPCON, given the current state of tension in the region.

    • Frank Langham

      While I agree with the need for an aggressive commitment and sustained presence, in the Arctic Circle, I would STILL suggest that we focus our expenditures on SSNs and endeavor to extract the most value and expediency by means of leveraging Commercial Platform Conversions. … My primary argument for this approach is that there are already many existing commercial ice-breakers and other Petroleum Exploration and Supply platforms that have hot production pipelines and already fulfill that majority of special, regional requirements. … We WILL need to deal with STUCK AND DAMAGED ships and submarines, Arctic Med-Evac, Refueling, Replenishment and ICE BREAKING, tug-and-tow, etc. … So LISTEN … Let’s just MILITARIZE THE EXISTING PETROLEUM EXPLORATION INFRASTRUCTURE. …
      … It may be deemed useful and expedient to procure and convert one or more LARGE, North Sea type, Stationary “Drilling-Type” platforms … We could even convert a USED drilling platform for BASIC arctic operations (just as an outpost and as a staging and supply platform) … Such a platform could provide medical infirmary functions, C4I Suites, Tethered LTA (OTH) early warning sensors, Fuel reserves, Repair and fabrication shops, and At-Sea Liberty (recreational respite). … We should at least explore the feasibility (costs of procurement and operations). … Use SEA-LIFT and other Commercial and Civilian sourcing … Go for Hot-OTS, as much as possible.

      • Curtis Conway

        I did not even think of drilling platforms Frank. I’m reminded of how large those platforms in the North Sea are (remember when Piper Alpha sank?). One for each of the three regions (North Pacific, Bearing Sea, and Beaufort Sea). Great Idea. At appropriate times of the year one could operate the LC-130 and LC-27J on the ice.

        • Frank Langham

          You are SEEING IT. … And … SHHHH … Guess what, Holmes ? … With a very little bit of artful modding, SSNs could literally dock (in a large pressure-bell), UNDER the ice. … There is Zero wave action, under the ice, and currents are almost non-existent, in many places … Tides are almost non-existent, in the Arctic Sea (pretty sure about that) … SO … As far as under-water docking goes … The technical obstacles are few (in the Arctic). … At the very least, some sort of “drogue” probe could be devised to provide optical communications and potable water replenishment to a submerged SSN. … ALSO … Electric USSVs (subsurface drones) could RECHARGE VIA INDUCTION, just by pulling up to an under-water support mast. … A converted Drilling Platform could act as an Under-Water HITCHING POST for USSVs and Subs. … A Robotic “Shuttle Arm” could also attach umbilicals for fluids and electrics and optical comms and a plain old diving bell could be deployed to hoist personnel from a modified escape hatch.

        • Frank Langham

          ADDENDUM : Because it would (could) be a USN platform, there is absolutely NO legal or technical reason why a converted Drilling Platform could not be outfitted with one, or more NUCLEAR REACTOR(s). … That means that the swimming pool will be well heated and my private state-room would be roasty-toasty warm … It also would ensure PLENTY of power for LASERS and RAIL GUNS …. Eh ???

      • Curtis Conway

        With the Russians staring to re-occupy the WESTLANT and Pacific Boomer Patrol Stations, the SSN construction budget surely must be revisited.

        • Frank Langham

          Agree … SSNs are ULTIMATELY HANDY !!