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It's time to grow Alaska's defense planning and implementation

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The defense of Alaska is not solely a federal responsibility; contrary to many arguments, defense is the responsibility of state leadership as well. As near-peer adversaries continue to conduct a show of force and capability at sea, in the skies, and even on Alaska soil, the Department of Defense remains slow to respond in accordance with their own strategies. As the stagnation of arctic strategy implementation continues until at least 2035, one would believe that state political and military leadership would expand their role in defending our state and the US Homeland. This, however, has not been the case.

Alaska Statute 26 (sections 10, 20, 25) clearly states the duties and responsibilities expected of state leadership as directly related to Homeland Security and Civil Defense yet it appears that A.S. 26 has not been read. Even the 2016 version (updated in 2018) of the State of Alaska Emergency Operations Plan is far outdated. While recognizing North Korea, the plan lacks recognition of the most immediate near-peer threats of Russia and China and the evolution of their warfighting capabilities as can now be applied to Alaska. The plan vaguely addresses the issue of cyberattacks, which Alaska has experienced on several occasions since 2018. It offers no consideration for how the plan should be implemented as a critical part of homeland defense as specific to Alaska or arctic strategy. The plan lends far more focus to natural disaster planning and response, as compared to homeland defense, and has not progressed with the current state of affairs or threats. In order to appropriately prepare a new plan and extensively comprehend the threat to Alaska homeland defense, Gov. Dunleavy’s administration should research Russian Hybrid Warfare Doctrine and the background of the men who created the doctrine, which are Russian Gens. Yevgeny Primakov and Valery Gerasimov.

In June 2021, state of Alaska Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe published “Alaska-America’s Arctic: The Arctic Strategy of the Alaska Organized Militia.” This 22-page document was an obvious attempt to supplement both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army arctic strategies yet the constructed strategy misses the mark as related to defense at the state level.

The “hub and spoke” concept presented in the document is representative of inadequate planning and execution given that the vast majority of AKOM (Alaska Organized Militia) assets are dedicated solely to the “hubs” of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. Compounding the issue is that recruiting and retention efforts across Alaska, especially in remote areas, continuously fall short of annual goals. In essence, the three hubs are equivalent to Forward Operating Bases like those that were strategically positioned in Iraq and Afghanistan. This approach only sustains a minimal outreach effort to remote areas and the population which impacts recruiting. The AKOM element maintaining the most contact with the population of remote communities is the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF) however, the Dunleavy administration annually fails to fund the all-volunteer organization even though ASDF personnel have historically out-performed paid Alaska National Guard members time and again.

Related to the AKOM Arctic Strategy is an inadequate cyber defense capability to thwart or slow attacks targeting Alaska critical infrastructure with current capability in this arena being minimal at best. As stated in the published AKOM document, the state has only “begun building an initial cyber capability” though such a program was called for many years ago. As stated, Alaska has experienced numerous cyberattacks since 2018, and these are attacks that will likely continue into our future. This is a much-needed defense capability that Alaska leadership must now recognize and no longer neglect. As future and past state budgets illustrate, leadership has been far more concerned with spending money elsewhere than on actually defending Alaska.

The safety and security of all Alaskans and our infrastructure is at high risk. Failure of state leadership to correct any of the known defense deficiencies exposes critical state defense and infrastructure vulnerabilities for our near-peer adversaries to exploit. In identifying these state defense-related “gaps,” the Dunleavy administration must step into the 21st century of defense planning and implementation as continued failure to do so exhibits disinterest in the safety and security of our state, our people and our infrastructure.

L. Shane Land is disabled combat veteran and independent military affairs writer. He has military and federal operational experience in Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa and resides with his family near Wasilla, Alaska.

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