The U.S. Navy is not waiting for the Obama Administration or the international community to solve the problem of climate change. It is moving ahead to identify the potential impacts of climate change on its operations and to develop the means by which to monitor, assess and respond to those changes.
One area where climate change could have dramatic strategic, political and economic impacts is the Arctic region. There are predictions that the main Arctic passageways may see ice free summers by 2030. This would create the fabled Northwest Passage allowing direct lines of communication and commerce between Asia and Europe. It could also offer access to enormous natural resources on the floor of the Arctic. Russia has already moved aggressively to stake a claim to portions of the Arctic region that were once considered to be international waters. Improved access through the Arctic also raises a number of security issues.
In early 2009 President Bush signed the National Arctic Policy which remains in force today. The policy calls on the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security to develop greater capabilities and capacity, as necessary, to conduct a wide range of security activities in the Arctic region including maritime domain awareness, border protection, global mobility and power projection.
In response to the directives in the National Arctic Policy, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mullen, directed the Navy to develop an Arctic roadmap that would identify the actions to be taken over the next several years that would improve the service’s ability to deal with the changing Arctic environment. Over the next five years, the Navy, guided by the roadmap, will assess the implications for strategy, force structure, technology, operations and cooperative activities with regional parties. This is a farsighted document that seeks to leverage relationships with other countries, government departments, academia and the private sector to enrich the Navy’s understanding of and ability to respond to changes in the Arctic environment.
The possibility of expanded operations in Arctic waters raises a number of concerns for the Navy. One area that will need to be addressed is the availability of satellite communications in the far North. Another is the adequacy of space-based sensor capabilities in this region for both environmental monitoring and ISR purposes. Clearly the Navy will have to work closely with the Air Force in defining the requirements for space-based support to expanded operations in Arctic waters. As the Navy deploys new capabilities, for example the Littoral Combat Ship, DDG-1000, P-8 and F-35 it will have to pay additional attention to the implications for those systems of extensive operations in the Arctic environment.
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