Home » Education Legislation » Navy to Release Arctic Strategy This Summer, Will Include Blue Water Arctic Operations

Navy to Release Arctic Strategy This Summer, Will Include Blue Water Arctic Operations

The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22), left, Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768), center, and the Royal Navy hunter killer submarine, HMS Trenchant (S-91) surface through the ice during the multinational maritime Ice Exercise (ICEX) in the Arctic Circle on March 21, 2018. ICEX 2018 is a five-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations. US Navy photo

CAPITOL HILL — The Navy will release a new Arctic strategy this summer to reflect the potential for “blue-water Arctic” operations, service leadership said today.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a Navy Arctic Strategy was set for release this summer, as a follow-up to the 2014 U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap.

Spencer noted that Russia is paving 12,000-foot runways and building up a military presence in the Arctic in the name of “search and rescue,” he said while making air-quotes. The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, does not have ice-hardened ships and has minimal presence in the region, aside from the annual ICEX submarine event.

“We need to have presence up there,” he told lawmakers.

Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson spoke to reporters after the hearing about the Arctic strategy document. Asked what triggered the decision to revise the 2014 document now, Richardson said “the Arctic triggered it” – and Spencer added, “the damn thing melted.”

“The Arctic ice caps are as small as they’ve been in my lifetime,” Richardson said.
“And that gives rise to strategic changes. Waterways that are open. The secretary mentioned the blue-water Arctic. Continental shelves that are exposed, and the resources on those shelves. So there are strategic issues that arise from that shrinking of the icecap. And then there’s this National Defense Strategy that’s changed our focus as well. So it’s really, from a number of perspectives, about time to do that again.”

The 2014 roadmap suggests that, “while the region is expected to remain a low threat security environment where nations resolve differences peacefully, the Navy will be prepared to prevent conflict and ensure national interests are protected.”

Since that time, however, Russian and Chinese naval activities in the region have grown, prompting conversations in the U.S. and Europe about what the future of Arctic operations might look like. The U.S. Coast Guard has even suggested that its icebreakers may do well to be armed with anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) surfaces through the ice as it participates in Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. US Navy photo.

The focus on operations north of the Arctic Circle are not limited to the surface navy. The Marine Corps has already committed to re-learning cold weather operations, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said in the hearing, after the “skillsets, equipment and expertise atrophied” after the Cold War.

Neller told the senators that about 300 Marines are already training in Norway but that the service is awaiting approval from the country to bring a greater number of Marines in for cold-weather training with a military that is considered an expert. He also pointed to amphibious exercise Trident Juncture, scheduled for this fall, that will bring NATO navies and amphibious forces together to operate in a cold-weather environment. And third, Neller told Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, that the Alaskan air training ranges were useful both due to the frozen weather, the complex terrain and the sheer size – Eielson Air Force Base is about three times larger than Nellis AFB, the commandant said – and that, while some Marines already train at Eielson, he hoped to send more.

Ultimately, Neller said, not every Marine would receive cold-weather training, but he hoped that enough would cycle through cold-weather training venues so that, if called upon, enough expertise would be dispersed across the force to help units be effective in that climate.

  • DaSaint

    Just the other day I heard someone say that the Arctic wasn’t worth the effort and that there was no commercial or strategic value up there, so the Navy should ignore it. Paraphrasing of course.

    • Fred Gould

      He is clueless, at best.

      • Duane

        The only one in this thread with a clue, so far.

        How many days have you, or DaSaint or Rocco or any other commenter in this thread spent in the Arctic Ocean on a naval warship?

        I spent 42 days under the polar ice cap as crew on an SSN during the Cold War. That was the record for the US Navy up to that date. We also set the record for the earliest submerged transit of the Bering Strait. Very dicey stuff. Just a few feet of clearance from the top of the sail to the underside of the ice pack, and an equally few number of feet from the keel to the bottom.

        Everybody in the crew took an extreme interest in the thickness of the polar ice cap on that cruise. It was a matter of life and death, not internet argument.

    • PolicyWonk

      That someone is poorly informed – at best.

      • DaSaint

        The exact quote was: “…the frozen icefields of the Arctic Ocean, where nobody lives, and where no transport of goods takes place, and there are no seaports to defend”.


        • Rocco

          Polar bears live there!

          • Curtis Conway

            Russian Arctic Growth is not about people, ports or shipment of goods (predominantly). It’s about exploitation of resources. We and the Western World will be there to defend it, or we will see another South China Sea fiasco happen in the Arctic too. The Russians (40 Icebreakers and building more, some armed) and Chinese (building their second heavy Icebreaker) are ready to take the Arctic by force, or at least that is the direction of their plan.

          • Rocco


        • Duane

          Yup … I wrote that, and it is 100% true and correct.

          Prove otherwise.

    • Duane

      That was me. Note that the US Navy has exactly zero icebreakers and zero “ice hardened surface warships” (however loosely one might choose to define that term) in the 30 year fleet plan.

      The admiral here was exceedingly vague, and made no suggestions that the Navy’s arctic capabilities will ever extend beyond the nuke submarines that have been cruising under the polar ice cap (which they can do), and not surface warships cruising through the polar ice cap (which they cannot do, no matter how they might be designed). Oh, and he did say something about 300 Marines doing exercises in Arctic Norway … but alas that was all on land, not the water.

      Most of this vague post focused on ground warfare in the Arctic and a Ruusian airfield in the Arctic.

      Really … go back and read the post before commenting again.

      • Curtis Conway

        Do a YOUTUBE video search on “This Is Russia’s Warship Built Specifically For Arctic Warfighting”. They begin deliveries in 2020 or so. The US Coast Guard is now considering actually putting the weapons on the Icebreakers, not just programming in the spaces.

  • Hugh

    Need to link with the Canadians, and make clear both EEZs.

  • PolicyWonk

    The USN has no ice-hardened ships? Excellent. This is almost as good as how well prepared we are for mine warfare! That’s pretty bad this late in the game – especially given the DoD had identified global warming as a serious national security issue years ago.

    The USN needs to build the FFG(X) fleet with at least 25% of them ice-hardened. We’d do well to see at least 6 new Burkes being ice-hardened. And thats in addition to the USCG getting at least 6 heavy and 6 medium ice-breakers I consider the minimum, given the vastness of both areas (and that still isn’t enough).

    • Rocco

      Here’s an idea put ski’s on the LCS freedom class?

      • PolicyWonk


        Shame on you! ;-(

        You’re not doing the taxpayers any service by making ludicrous suggestions that the LCS PEO *might* take seriously. After all, if there’s anyone who’s demonstrated a willingness to throw good money after bad – it’s the LCS PEO.

        • Rocco

          Lol… You have to admit it’s funny!!😉

    • Duane

      When was the last time in history that any naval surface warship engagement took place in the polar ice cap?

  • Bubblehead

    Here is a freaking strategy, build some ice hardened ships and some ice breakers. A strategy aint worth the paper it is written on without ships capable of cruising the Arctic. And just popping a sub out of the Arctic Ice Cap once every few years is not going to cut it. Especially when the sub fleet will be so short handed for the next 20 years.

    Isn’t the NSC hull hardened for Arctic? If so another feather in its cap for the FFGX. I really like the FREMM, it is a perfect match for the FFGX but the NSC is American and is being built and would have very little risk. It is a proven design. All those are the top priority of the FFGX. It is the safest and quickest to field bet for the FFGX.

    • D. Jones

      Maybe some sort of “Littoral Combat Icebreaker” would fit the bill. We’d need at least two variants, to be fair to ship builders.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        Forget the ship builders, we gotta be fair to the ice! Littoral Combat Icebreakers in TWO varieties would be like thermonuclear destruction of the ice habitat! Littorally kickin some ice a$$ son!

    • PolicyWonk

      While the NSC is proven in the arctic, they are not ice-hardened to my knowledge (it hasn’t been published anywhere that I’ve seen). However, you are quite right that if it turned out they are ice-hardened, then that represents (IMHO) a substantial advantage for HII.

      If the FREMM isn’t chosen, then the HII NSC-based patrol frigate would likely get my vote.

      • Duane

        There is no requirement for what you call “ice hardening” in the FFG(X) design competition. Therefore it cannot be an advantage.

        • Curtis Conway

          Unless one has to go to the Arctic. THEY are planning on going. I guess we just won’t show up.

      • Curtis Conway

        One would wonder why:
        Structural Performance of Non-Ice Strengthened Surface Combatant In Ice
        1.0 OBJECTIVE.
        1.1 The objective of the project is to assess the ice-going capability of a steel monohull surface combatant designed to classification society rules, but without ice-classing. The focus of the study is on the structural performance in light ice conditions, with the objective of achieving a technical assessment of the ice-going capability of the vessel as a function of key operating parameters and ice conditions, validated with grillage
        testing. It is expected that the results will provide guidance for operating existing non-ice class vessels in the northern waters and inform requirements of future designs of surface combatants.

        6.1 Phase 1: Awarded to Daley R&E 25 Nov 2014 and is to be completed by 31 Mar 2015.
        6.2 Phase 2: Will be completed 12 months after contract award.

        I wonder why the government let that contract?

      • Curtis Conway

        Obviously SOME PEOPLE have not watched the Russian Icebreaker propganda on going to the North Pole, which they do on a regular basis, and they steam through the ice strait to the North Pole. Really neat video.

    • Rocco

      Agreed … About the only asset we have that can transit the ice caps!

  • Duane

    People who pose as polar naval experts should try to spend at least 5 minutes researching the topic before declaring US Navy leaders stupid for not “ice hardening” surface warships so they can go galavanting across the polar ice cap like canoeing across a farm pond.

    A few salient facts to contend with: a large (nearly 14,000 ton) ice breaker like our Coast Guard’s “Polar Star” isn’t a destroyer with some extra steel welded on. It is purpose built with a very thick and heavy bow, a massive 60,000 HP engine, and basically the rest of the hull consists of a humongous system of interconnected ballast tanks, pumps, valves, and water lines designed to rapidly shift thousands of tons forward and aft, and from port to starboard in order to break ice so as to travel at a maximum forward speed of about 1.2 knots. It is impossible for such a ship design to be more useless for naval combat than that.

    Oh, and by the way, all that concentrated icebreaking power is able to punch through a maximum ice sheet thickness of 1.1 meters.

    Ahemm ahem … cough cough … the average thickness of the polar ice sheet ranges from 3 to 4 meters, with gazillions of pressure ridges of up to 20+ meters thick.

    So icebreakers are not capable of navigating across the polar ice sheet. Instead, icebreakers are only capable of navigating along the edges of the polar ice sheet, and even then only for a few weeks a year, global warming notwithstanding.

    Russia runs a large fleet of icebreakers, but only because their only naval ports with unrestricted (other than from ice) navigation to the North Atlantic happen to be in Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula, which are near or north of the Arctic Circle, which waters manage to be sort of icefree some of the winter due to a part of the Gulf Stream flowing there from Norway. The icebreakers are still needed to ensure navigation.

    The polar ice cap is never going to be a shipping lane. There are no US commercial shipping or naval ports in the Arctic which have to be protected or kept open.

    Building and operating a large fleet of ice breakers will be as useful to US naval fleet performance as a screen door in a submarine, as the old joke went.

    The Arctic is useful for submarine warfare, and therefore anti-submarine warfare … which is why the US Navy has been running our nuke boats up there since the Nautilus made its first polar ice cap transit back 63 years ago.

    But no, the US Navy has no icebreakers in its 30 year fleet plan. And there are no naval requirements today or in any existing plans to do any “hardening” … at least no more than nominal “hardening” of surface warships, which can do no more than fend off only the tiniest and thinnest of ice floes.

    There won’t ever be any surface ship cruises to the North Pole, or any fleet engagements in the Polar ice cap.

    • Curtis Conway

      Ask the US Coast Guard. They know!

  • Ed L

    Marines trading in Norway. They use to regularly do that back in the Cold War. Navy Ice Breakers used to be Armed in the old days.

  • John B. Morgen

    The Navy is going to need very large armed ice breakers, or cruisers with ice-hardened hulls’ plus additional submarines and smaller hull aircraft carriers…

    • Curtis Conway

      Russian armed icebreaking surface combatants will begin to arrive in the Norther Fleet and Arctic region in the early 2020s, and we have . . . what?

      • John B. Morgen

        Really nothing to speak off.

        • Curtis Conway

          That next Icebreaker had better be more than just an Icebreaker/Command Center.

          • John B. Morgen

            A ice breaker warship, but much larger than the old Wind class from World War II.