Home » Foreign Forces » Navy May Deploy Surface Ships to Arctic This Summer as Shipping Lanes Open Up


Navy May Deploy Surface Ships to Arctic This Summer as Shipping Lanes Open Up

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Navy may follow up October’s carrier strike group operations in the Arctic with another foray into the icy High North, with leadership considering sending a group of ships into a trans-Arctic shipping lane this summer, the Navy secretary said.

Much has been made of potential Arctic shipping lanes opening up as ice melts and more areas become navigable. An expected uptick in commercial shipping and tourism in the Arctic region has put some urgency on the U.S. Coast Guard’s plans to build a fleet of icebreakers, as well as the Navy’s interest in having a more visible presence in the region.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said this morning at a Center for a New American Security event that the Navy has been in the Arctic regularly since the 1960s, but most of that presence has been with submarines or patrol aircraft rather than with warships on the sea.

With three potential trans-Arctic routes potentially opening up, he said, the Navy’s discussion about Arctic presence has changed dramatically in the past two years.

“As an example, this summer, the [chief of naval operations] and I have talked about having some ships make the transit in the Arctic. It’s going to be a multi-service task – I think you’ll see the Coast Guard involved. We’re just fleshing it out right now. But what is the purpose of that? We have to learn what it’s like to operate in that environment,” he said.

Spencer said the Ticonderoga-class cruisers were the last class of Navy ships to be designed with steam systems to remove ice from the ship, and that newer classes are not ice-hardened or equipped with systems to remove ice.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). For the first time in nearly 30 years, a U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the Arctic Circle. Accompanied by select ships from Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG- 8), Harry S. Truman traveled north to demonstrate the flexibility and toughness of U.S. naval forces through high-end warfare training with regional allies and partners. US Navy photo.

When the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group operated north of the Arctic Circle for several weeks this fall, the carrier itself handled the environment well, but its smaller escort ships and the supply ships the carrier relied on had a tougher time in the high sea states and icy waters. Similarly, when the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group sailed from Iceland to Norway in October, the larger amphibious assault ship made the journey safely, but the smaller dock landing ship was damaged in heavy seas and had to turn back.

Though the Navy is currently capable of meeting the Joint Staff’s requirements for Arctic operations, Spencer said, “is that requirement a full requirement? I think we can do more. We’re starting to do more in the Navy as we flesh it out.”

“A strategic port up in the Bering [Sea] area is being explored, but that would be a whole-of-government approach: that would be Coast Guard, Navy and [Department of] Commerce in that regard. But it’s an area we have to focus on, most definitely,” the secretary continued.
“You’re hearing more and more conversations; I think [Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan] talk about it being our northern border, which is true.”

Noting increased Russian activity in the Arctic region in the name of search and rescue capability, Spencer joked that “I guess we should be up there looking for search and rescue too.”

“I say that tongue-in-cheek, but no, freedom of navigation should be plied up there. We’re going to try to do it,” he said. “We’re going to learn our way.”

  • Ed L

    Bet the majority are Amphibious ships

    • Curtis Conway

      It sure won’t be something equipped with an AN/SQS-53 Sonar in that rubber window under the bow of CG-47/DDG-51. One scratch and drydock here we come. It would be the end of the C.O.s career. Can you imagine crushing your rubber window? Remember that ice is 90% underwater, and the shape is not guaranteed. With the way the SWO Lieutenants have been navigating in the Pacific lately, I would not let them anywhere near the Arctic. They have a hard enough time navigating through water where you can see what’s in the water.

      This is why the FFG(X) should not have a hull mounted sonar on the bow. A VDS and tail (with the helo/P-8A) will be good enough for ASW, and there could always be company under the waves good or bad. If the FFG(X) turns out to be the Go-To Surface Combatant for the Arctic, then that 9-RMA SPY-6(V)X radar with its SPY-1 fire control track volume, makes a lot more sense, particularly if it has to escort the Polar Security Cutter in times of tension.

      • Marc Apter

        Your Back to the Future Ships, with 1970 external hardware, except steel not Aluminum superstructures will be needed to be combat ready. Not sure VDS and tail will work in the Artic, but testing should start as soon as the Artic ice breaks up this Spring.

        • Curtis Conway

          The water is deep enough. It’s the presence of ice that creates the greatest danger to the equipment. The new independently operated underwater equipment could be used, but one still has to have the open water for launch/recovery. The ASW mission set in the Arctic will rely heavily on air and subsurface assets. Our NORDEFCO neighbors can advise here . . . as well as Canada.

          • Andy Ferguson

            Well said!

            Folks seem to think the Arctic ocean is a place for navies to operate, but as you pointed out, it’s the ice that’s an issue.

            There will never be a CBG operating up there, ever.

            With the US having Alaska bases and the Canadian FOL’s up there for aircraft to operate from, not to mention shorelines, what’s the need for risking ships?

          • Curtis Conway

            Remember, there are two sides to this equation. The other power across the Arctic Ocean has Nuclear Icebreakers. You should review the Youtube Video on the Russian Nuclear Icebreaker. Those units can cruise through relatively thick ice compared to what our Polar Class Icebreakers break through . . . consistently . . . for an extended period.

          • Andy Ferguson

            True, they have them.

            As to their operational effectiveness, well….

          • Curtis Conway

            MOST of them are tied to the pier/never to sail again. However, they have a few that are underway every year. I don’t want to ever ride on one. The Russians have a whole different attitude about energetic elements to the point they emit gamma rays.

          • Andy Ferguson

            Agreed.
            The whole “sacrifice yourself for the motherland” thing doesn’t interest me.

        • Curtis Conway

          You know Marc, the aluminum superstructure is not a bad idea, for that is what we had on Tico, but I do like steel better, particularly if there is a fire in those spaces.

          • Andy Ferguson

            Ask the Brits about aluminum structures post-Falklands.

          • Curtis Conway

            How’s it going these days Andy?

          • Andy Ferguson

            So far, so good, big fella.

            Happy New Year!

            Did you have a good holiday?

          • Curtis Conway

            I did. Remember “The First and the Formidable” that is “Second To [N]one”.

          • Andy Ferguson

            Nice!

      • Duane

        There will never be surface combat in the Arctic .. kinda hard to maneuver when you’re ice bound, right?

        The Arctic is made for submarines and aircraft. That’s not ever changing.

        • Curtis Conway

          I have actually given that very answer before. However, I watched “The Bedford Incident” and it depicted otherwise, although it is Fiction.

        • Curtis Conway

          You know Duane, you violate that term of “never say never”, and you do it often. It is like your ‘go to’ word.

          Surface combat has taken place in the Arctic (WWII). Russia has increased its surface combat fleet times four in the region, and staked claims to their side all the way to the North Pole way beyond their UNCLOS 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Many of the Arctic powers are arming their future Icebreakers, and growing their combat capable surface fleets. The United States Navy (and other services) has a current emphasis in gaining more experience in the region. Have you seen the Exercise regimen ? . . just for the last 12 months? Your statement is contradicted by US & Allied activities for well over a year, and for Russia and China, spending on Arctic investments have increased dramatically, with little response from the United States in the way of Arctic investments in equipment, infrastructure, and forces. Coordination activities with Canada in the Arctic is an obvious objective for USNORTHCOM, and the US should apply for ‘PROVISIONAL’ membership in NORDEFCO. A Provisional membership is required because the US has a habit of joining things, and then trying to take over and run them. We need their Arctic expertise, wisdom, and experience. In some cases we may need some of their equipment.

        • old guy

          I guess Japanese assaults in the Aleutians, in WW2, don’t count.

          • Duane

            No – because the Aleutians are not in the Arctic, not even close. The battle occurred on Attu Island, latitude 52 deg north … the Arctic begins at lat. 66 deg N. That is not just a number, the Aleutians are not icebound, the Arctic is.

            btw … the City of London is at 51 deg 30 min N latitude – just 30 min. south of Attu. Amsterdam is at 52 deg N latitude also – nobody says those cities are in the Arctic

          • old guy

            Vass you dere sharley? In December,1945, I was standing on Agattu, in a 150 knot willawah, at 34 degrees BELOW zero. Arctic enough fior you? Go talk to SCHMUCK Gore. who said there would be no arctic ice nor a Miami Beach, by 2010. IDIOTS.

      • DaSaint

        Completely agree.
        The USCG should order a batch of ice-hardened OPCs as well, and consider ice-hardening a few of the NSC.

  • Curtis Conway

    When the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) came back from weeks above the Arctic Circle in atrocious weather and sea-states in the mid ’80’s, there was a multiple page write-up of ‘Lessons Learned’ about our platform operating in that environment, and considerations for battle groups doing same. The recent Battle Groups were reading about having a significant quantity of “Louisville Slugger” baseball bats to remove ice with topside. Those wooden bats work a lot better than anything made of metal or synthetic material. There is a plethora of information out there from those who operate in that region every day, and they are all members of NORDEFCO! How about some riders heading that way to get some Operations, Deck & Bridge time with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden? Sounds like a job for 2nd, 3rd, and 7th Fleet, and some USNORTHCOM representatives as well. don’t forget to talk to your US Coast Guard brethren who have already been there and done that.

    • Michael Hoskins, Privileged

      Include some Petty Officer and Chief Petty Officer talent in the mix. Something tells me most of the issues require practical deck plate skills and some good old fashion sailoring.

      • Curtis Conway

        Michael, every department right down to the deck-plates were contributors to our writeup. The battleforce had their input, and we (Ticonderoga) contributed to it. The baseball bats wielded by deck seaman was one of those things that impressed me at the time.

    • Hugh

      And get the Canadians involved.

    • old guy

      The Crab fleets and Russkies may be good sources.

  • Hugh

    “Spencer said the Ticonderoga-class cruisers were the last class of Navy ships to be designed with steam systems to remove ice from the ship, and that newer classes are not ice-hardened or equipped with systems to remove ice.” ?! Oh dear……

    • Curtis Conway

      That is another reason why the LCS is a . . . real winner (tongue in cheek). Several have even suggested it IS capable in the Arctic. Built to the safety standards it is, and with the lack of systems to deal with ice topside, it is DEFINITELY NOT the ship to send, particularly in the presence of ice. The FFG(X) should solve these problems, and be very capable in the Arctic. Need some extra equipment storage lockers for Extremely Cold Weather clothing & equipment.

      • thebard3

        Hey, Curtis. I hope you’re right about the FFG(X), but I’m still waiting to see a design before I will believe they’ve addressed the issues revealed by the LCS debacle.

        • Curtis Conway

          I think the Program is going Black!

          • old guy

            I fhink the missteps are making things go black before my eyes.

        • Duane

          No debacle .. great success.

      • old guy

        The Tri-hull is very ice damage prone. Large chunks, between the hulls, could wedge in or even, break off the outer hulls

    • old guy

      I checkd one source in the fishing industry. She said that steam is inneffective and wooden bats were the only thing that worked, although sonetimes damaging the rigging. A great opportunity for ONR to contribute.

    • old guy

      The steam systems did not wurk in practice. If you figure that it takes 32,000 calories per pound of ice just to melt not to raise the temperature, you find that you would need the entire steam generation system of a carrier to deice a DD.

  • Duane

    Five years ago Al Gore told us all that the Arctic would be ice free in five years.

    Predictions of balmy weather in the Arctic and smooth non-icebound sailing are not reality.

    • DaSaint

      Good thing the USN doesn’t rely on your advice. Their actions and activities speaks otherwise.

      • Duane

        You guys keep trying to make these discussions personal .. belay with the trolling and personal attacks and stick to the subject.

        Good thing the USN doesn’t rely on the advice of folks who propose shifting sorely needed naval resources from where actual surface naval warfare will take place – far from the arctic – to places where naval warfare won’t take place, in the Arctic. Every dollar stolen from real needs to satisfy fantasy needs is still stolen.

        Which is why the Navy stopped building and operating icebreakers six decades ago and has not had any ice hardened ships either.

        The Navy and Congress have spoken, quite loudly.

        • old guy

          I recomend that you read up on the shift in operations due to greatly increased commercial and military activity.

    • old guy

      Check your data. Gore was DEAD wrong as usual.

  • Curtis Conway

    Never say never. As soon as you do . . . Murphy will strike, and there are more out there of greater power and authority than ‘Duane’ who believe so . . . including the US DoD.

    Also, you must misquote (Arctic Ocean) before you make your response.

  • sox

    It’s going to be interesting to see how the Coast Guard could support with only 2 ice breakers and many other missions for the limited resources. POLAR STAR is 43 years old and HEALY is 20 years old. The Coast Guard has been begging for new ice breakers for decades and getting very little attention. Only recently has Congress approve money to begin design efforts for replacements.

    • old guy

      Get somebody to talk to the Russians. They have breakers from large Nuciear poweered ones dowh to commercial mods . Or are you fraid of Mueller?

  • old guy

    What do you mean, “open up”? The global warming folks, like gore said that there would be NO ICE at all, by the year 2000.

  • Arkady

    The USA can wait Russian submarines with a reciprocal visit.