The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday unveiled its first Arctic Strategy, which points to several Alaska military bases as playing key roles.
During a news conference, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the elements of the new strategy, which includes Eielson Air Force Base and its growing fleet of F-35 combat aircraft.
Barrett explained that several factors have led to the need for a service-specific Arctic strategy. These include maritime access expanding, new resources becoming available and the ever-changing power dynamics between competing nations in the region. Barrett noted that newly discovered resources have led to “competing sovereign interests,” particularly with Russia and China. Commercial and tourist traffic may increase the need for rescues.
According to Barrett, the Department of Defense has three Arctic objectives: “defending the homeland,” “maintaining favorable balances of power in the Arctic” and “keeping common domains free and open.” In line with these objectives, the Air Force has arranged its Arctic Strategy into four areas of focus: “vigilance in all domains,” “projecting power through combat-credible forces,” “cooperation with allies and partners,” and “preparing for Arctic operations.”
The “vigilance” aspect of the strategy includes the likes of communications, weather forecasting and threat detection. As an example, Barrett pointed to “advanced systems, like the Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear, Alaska and the North Warning System, stretching from Alaska to Labrador.”
As part of the focus on “power projection,” Barrett talked about the strategic geography of Alaska when it comes to implementing “deterrents and defense.”
As an example, she mentioned Eielson Air Force Base and the new fleet of F-35 fighters, which have begun arriving. Fifty-four aircraft are scheduled to be heading for Eielson by the end of 2021. According to the Arctic Strategy, Alaska will be home to more advanced fighters than any other location in the world.
“When the full complement of planned F-35s arrive at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska’s unparalleled concentration of fifth-generation fighters will project unmistakable influence,” Barrett said.
Among other nations invested in Arctic control, Russia is one of the primary focuses of the United States. According to a document outlining the Air Force Arctic Strategy, roughly 25% of Russia’s gross domestic product comes from the Arctic region, and “no other country has as much permanent military presence above the 66th parallel.”
Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said Russia has increased its military presence in the region’s skies.
“We’re seeing increased Russian activity throughout the region,” Goldfein said. “We’re seeing increasing military activity in terms of the number of intercepts we’re seeing with long-range aviation — on both sides.”
Goldfein said the goal is to work out areas where the nations can collaborate while they “continue to compete.”
With regard to the “allies and partners” section of the strategy, Barrett noted that the U.S. has “strong defense relationships with six of the seven other Arctic nations” and that cooperation with other nations will “continue to be a priority.”
She also mentioned engagement with indigenous peoples as a key part of the Arctic Strategy.
Also present at the conference was Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond, who explained why Alaska will continue to play a significant role in the nation’s capabilities in space.
“If you’re going to command and control satellites that are at polar orbits, where better to do it than on top of the world at the pole,” he said. “The geography and the position on the globe, if you will, makes it an extremely advantageous place to operate from.”
Barrett concluded by saying, “The Arctic should remain a free and open domain for benevolent actors and it is a critical domain to protect America’s homeland.”
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.