In a world with few frontiers left, the arctic may be the most important. As the polar ice caps melt, commercial and industrial shipping lanes that have been closed for thousands of years begin to open.
But the world’s most powerful Navy, the American Navy, is embarrassingly ill-equipped for the task of pioneering the arctic.
According to a 2012 report from the Alaskan newspaper the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the U.S. Navy commissioned a war game in 2011 to determine how sufficient its technology and infrastructure was for operations in the arctic, and the results were troubling:
The game’s conclusions: The Navy is not adequately prepared to conduct long-term maritime Arctic operations; Arctic weather conditions increase the risk of failure; and, most critically, to operate in the Arctic, the Navy will need to lean on the U.S. Coast Guard, countries like Russia or Canada, or tribal and industrial partners.
That same year, Admiral Robert Papp, the commandant of the Coast Guard, had this to say in an interview with Bloomberg: “The Coast Guard has zero capability in the Arctic.”
Citing a report from the Congressional Research Service, the Bloomberg report says that the Coast Guard needs about $US3 billion in additional vessels and equipment before it can conduct operations in the arctic with any real success.
Russia, meanwhile, has unveiled plans to spend $US63 billion developing its arctic program by 2020.
The Russian defence minister has pledged to form a fleet of ice-breaking war ships to deploy to the arctic by next year.
The United States, for its part, has just one operational ice-breaking ship in its fleet, a Coast Guard ship, the USCGC Healy, a research ship commissioned in 1999.
And there are currently no plans to build a new ice-breaker, though President Obama appropriated $US8 million to study the construction of one in his proposed budget for 2013.
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