Murphy's Law: The USN And The Polar Threat


May 1, 2012:  The U.S. Navy has become publicly alarmed at the fact that it is no longer prepared to operate in the Arctic. Actually, the U.S. Navy was never big on operating in the Arctic. The navy used to have seven Wind class icebreakers, built near the end of World War II. But these were mainly to maintain access to polar shipping lanes that were only needed in wartime. These icebreakers were turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard after World War II and all were retired by the 1980s. The navy saw no compelling reason to maintain a fleet of icebreakers. The U.S. Coast Guard currently has three icebreakers but two are out of action for maintenance.

But now all the other arctic nations (especially Russia and Canada, which have the largest claims because of their long Arctic coastlines) are increasing their military presence in the arctic. This is mainly to back claims to gas, oil, and mineral deposits believed to be present in shallow arctic waters. The U.S. Navy is using this potential for conflict over these arctic resources to get back into arctic operations.

In reality, the coast guard has far more experience in the arctic and is the force that is called on for any emergencies up there (there are very few). Navy interest in the arctic may disappear if Congress agrees that the navy should be involved, but preparations will have to be paid for out of the current (shrinking) navy budget. In the last fifty years the only navy ships that regularly operated in the arctic were SSNs (nuclear attack submarines) that usually move about under the ice and occasionally surface where the ice is thin or, in the Summer when there is no ice at all. This is as much for PR as it is to make sure no potential foe is sneaking about under the ice.






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