New symposium brings U.S. military’s attention to the Arctic

USS Momsen docked at the Port of Anchorage during the Arctic Maritime Symposium at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)
The U.S. military is looking for new ways to expand its presence in Arctic waters. Last week saw the first ever Arctic Maritime Symposium to be hosted by Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage (southcentral Alaska).

The three-day event brought together senior military officials, academics and civilian leaders to discuss what shifting geopolitics and a changing environment could mean for the nation’s military presence in Alaska.

One of the main reasons the U.S. needs a better understanding of the Arctic is Russia’s expanding presence in the region and interest in the Northern Sea Route, according to Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander for NORAD and defense assets throughout North America.

“We must keep in mind that for the Russians, the Arctic is their front yard, not their backyard,” O’Shaughnessy said during a speech to conference attendees.

Adapting to a changing environment

O’Shaughnessy told the gathering that the U.S. military will continue conducting large-scale joint exercises in the region, and is analyzing whether to increase resources for early warning and detection systems.

One way the military might expand is an increased maritime presence by Navy or Coast Guard forces in northern waters. Speaking in front of a large naval destroyer docked at the Port of Anchorage last week during the symposium, Alaskan Command’s Col. Mark Schmidt told a small group of reporters that both service branches want to learn more about how their vessels work in the Arctic.

“Right now, we know that the environment is changing, and what that means to us we don’t know,” Schmidt said as fighter jets intermittently roared overhead. “We want to understand and get after what capabilities and requirements are needed in this changing environment.”

Alaskan Command’s Arctic Maritime Symposium wrapped up last Thursday.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: NATO wants to keep the Arctic an area of low tensions, Radio Canada International

Finland: Finland, Sweden and US building three-way defence ties, YLE News

Norway: Norway to build three large Coast Guard ships for Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia holds surprise drill in east Arctic ahead of giant war games, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden to buy U.S.-made Patriot air defence systems, Radio Sweden

United States: Top U.S. military officials visit Alaska bases, Alaska Public Media

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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