Category Archives: Arctic

Analysis related to the global polar regions.

A Retired Coastie’s Perspective on the Revised Strategy

AN OVERVIEW:

IHMAS Success refuels USCGC Waesche RIMPAC2014n considering this strategy, it is clearly not a strategy for war; it is a strategy for maintaining the peace, the sometimes violent peace that has become the new norm. As such, it assumes the Coast Guard will continue exercising its normal peacetime priorities. Still I feel it should provide a guide for transition to a wartime footing. Unless it is in the classified annex, that guidance is missing, in that it does not define Coast Guard wartime roles or suggest how the Coast Guard might be shaped to be more useful in wartime.

The Coast Guard is, potentially, a significant Naval force. It currently has more personnel than the British Royal Navy. Effectively, the Coast Guard is the low end of the American Naval Forces’ High/Low mix, bringing with it significant numbers of patrol vessels and aircraft. At little marginal cost, it could be made into an effective naval reserve that would serve the nation well in an intense conventional conflict.

If you look at the title, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready,” the words cooperative, forward, and engaged are particularly relevant in describing the thrust of the strategy.

It expects US naval forces to cooperate and engage with allied and friendly forces both to improve relations and strengthen and encourage those friendly forces. The Coast Guard has a major role in this, in bringing expertise in a board range of governance functions that friendly navies and coast guards can relate to.

The Navy also expects to have a substantial part of its force “forward.” Not only forward but also geographically widely distributed. This violation of the Mahanian maxim to keep your battle force concentrated has been the norm for decades, but it has been a reflection of the preponderance of the US Navy that may be eroding. It is a calculated risk that, the benefits of working with and assuring allies and being on scene to deal with brush fires, outweighs the potential risk isolated, forward deployed Carrier Strike and/or Amphibious Ready Groups might be overwhelmed in a first strike by a concentration of hostile forces.

The strategy talks about surge forces, but frankly the potential is far more limited than it was when the Navy was larger. For the Coast Guard this “forward” strategy, combined with the apparently ever increasing concentration of US Navy forces in only a few homeports, including foreign ports, has important implications. There are long stretches of the US coast that may be hundreds of miles from the nearest US Navy surface combatant.

If a suspicious vessel is approaching the US, that must be boarded to determine its nature and intent, the boarding is most likely to be done by a Coast Guard cutter, and not by a National Security Cutter, but most likely by something much smaller. The cutter is also unlikely to have any heavily armed backup.

WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE STRATEGY?

The strategy recognizes and explicitly states an intention to exploit, “…the Coast Guard’s unique legal authorities…(to)…combat the illegal drug trade, human trafficking, and the unlawful exploitation of natural resources…”

In several places there is recognition of the Coast Guard’s potential for capacity building with navies and coast guards of friendly nations.

There is also an apparent commitment to an improved and shared Maritime Domain Awareness.

The apparent intent to increase the availability of modular systems provides a means of quickly adapting Coast Guard assets to wartime roles, but thus far I have seen no official interest in exploiting this possibility.

The Middle East Section seems to suggest that the six Coast Guard patrol boats and their augmented crews, currently stationed in Bahrain, will remain there and, given their age, they may require replacement as the new Webber Class WPC, Fast Response Cutters, come on line. In fact these Webber class patrol craft could be very effective in combatting piracy off Somalia.

These patrol craft essentially fill the same role and face the same threats as the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft. Will they receive any of the weapons upgrades that the Navy’s Cyclone class PCs have been given?

WPC Kathleen_Moore

A Webber Class WPC, Fast Response Cutter

Looking at the section on the Western Hemisphere, there is a commitment to, “…employ amphibious ships and other platforms, including Littoral Combat Ships, Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, hospital ships, other Military Sealift Command ships, and Coast Guard platforms, to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions. We will also employ maritime patrol aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon and unmanned aerial vehicles. Other ships and aircraft will provide periodic presence for recurring military-to-military engagements, theater security cooperation exercises, and other missions.” But there is no specific commitment to employ Navy vessels for drug enforcement. Was this omission intentional?

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Competing claims in the Antarctic

Looking at section on the Arctic and Antarctic,  There is no specific commitment by the Navy, although the DOD does have an Arctic strategy that includes better hydrography and Maritime Domain Awareness. It looks like the Navy is content for the Coast Guard to be the face of US naval presence in the Arctic. There is reference to the use of the Nation Security Cutters (NSC) in the Arctic, but surprisingly no mention of the planned 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) even though the OPCs will be ice-strengthened, while the eight planned NSCs are not.

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A model of Eastern’s proposal for the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Eastern is one of three shipyards still in contention to  build the 25 ships planned.

In the Deterrence section, the strategy states, “The Coast Guard maintains a continuous presence in our ports, internal waterways, along our coasts, and offshore, providing an additional layer of defense against maritime threats.” But there is no definition of what threats the Coast Guard is expected to respond to and no definition of the capabilities the Coast Guard is expected to provide to deal with these threats.

A Major Omission:

USCGC_Owasco_(WHEC-39)_conducting_UNREP_Market_Time
Cutter Owasco (WHEC-39) unreps while engaged in Operation Market Time off the coast of Vietnam.

In the Sea Control section there is no mention of a Coast Guard role in Sea Control. There should be. Sea Control frequently involves Visit, Boarding, Search and potentially Seizure of non-military vessels, e.g. merchant and fishing vessels. The Coast Guard is ideally suited for this role and has conducted this type of operation in war zones in the past, notably the Market Time Operation during the Vietnam War. In fact, the common Coast Guard missions of drug and alien migrant interdiction are forms of sea control that potentially protect the US from non-state actors. The strategy does address these particular elements of Sea Control in the Maritime Security section.

When it comes to counting assets that might be used to exercise sea control, the Navy has roughly 110 cruisers, destroyers, frigates, LCS, and patrol craft and most of these, particularly the 85+ cruisers and destroyers, will almost certainly have higher priority missions. The Coast Guard includes over 100 patrol boats and about 40 larger patrol vessels that routinely exercise sea control on a daily basis.

121203-G-XX000-001_CPO Terrell Horne

EVALUATION:

From a Coast Guard perspective, this strategy has largely canonized the status quo and the existing recapitalization program of record. It recognizes the Coast Guard’s unique authorities and its ability to contribute to capacity building. It seems to promise greater integration of a multiservice Maritime Domain Awareness.

On the other hand it does nothing to define Coast Guard wartime missions or how the Coast Guard might transition to a wartime footing. The force structure section does nothing to inform the design of Coast Guard equipment so that it might be more useful in wartime. It also does nothing to help that Coast Guard patrol boat I talked about at the beginning that is about to attempt to stop and board a potential hostile vessel that may be about to make an unconventional attack on a US port.

This is only the second iteration of the three service cooperative strategy. It is a marked improvement in specificity over the previous document. Hopefully there will be a process of continual improvement in succeeding editions.

This post appeared in its original form at Chuck Hill’s CG Blog. Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history.

Polar Shipping: A 2014 Recap

By Captain David (Duke) Snider, FNI FRGS
The year 2014 was indeed one of intriguing activity in the Polar Regions. The maritime world and public in general began the year captivated by the almost hourly updates from the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, captive in the Antarctic Ice.  
 
Antarctic CaptivityIt certainly wasn’t the first time a ship had become beset in polar ice conditions, nor will it be the last. What caught the attention of the world was that modern technology and the thirst for a moment in the spotlight prompted regular Internet postings by blog and other means highlighting the “plight” of the ship from several onboard.  French and Chinese light icebreakers attempted to close the distance between open water and the beset ship but could not get sufficiently close to break her out. Even the United States Coast Guard’s Polar Star was diverted to assist. The decision was then made to fly a helicopter from the Chinese ship Xue Long to repatriate the hapless high paying passengers and “science party”. A short time later, having never declared a distress, and knowing the ice conditions would change, the Master and crew steamed clear of the ice under their own power. In the end, the Australian government shelled out nearly $2m Australian in “rescue efforts”. Shortly after the Akademik Shokalskiy steamed clear of the ice, the Russians felt the situation had been so distorted as to its danger in the press that a formal statement was made at IMO making it clear that the Akademik Shokalskiy and her crew were well suited to the conditions, and at no time in danger and that the Master of the vessel did not declare distress.

The Polar Code

The playing out of the Akademik Shokalskiy incident became a backdrop for more frenzied efforts at IMO to finalize drafts and meet Secretary General Koji Sekimizu’s desire for a mandatory Polar Code as soon as practicable.  

Throughout 2014, various committees, sub-committees and working groups struggled to finalize consensus-based drafts of a Polar Code; however, the Secretary General’s strict timetable demanding an adoption before 2017 unfortunately resulted in the gradual streamlining of the initial robust drafts. In order to meet the timelines set down, issues that were remotely contentious or not subject to almost total consensual agreement were watered down or omitted.  

Many parties were disappointed to see a much weaker document evolve into what was finally approved by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in November. Others leapt to declare a new age of safety and environmental protection for Antarctic and Arctic waters. 

Come the end of 2014, the Polar Code was still some way from actualization. The entire Part II – Prevention of Pollution must still go through the Maritime Environmental Protection Committee adoption, then the Council must approve both parts submitted by MSC and MEPC. Still, given the SG’s direction, there will be a mandatory Polar Code in existence by the first of 2017; however, it will not be the powerful and robust direction it was originally envisioned to be.  

As a result, many classification societies and flag states are already issuing “guidance” to close gaps that have been left by the leaner “more friendly” Polar Code. The Nautical Institute is moving forward with their plans to put in place an Ice Navigation Training and Certification Scheme to meet basic requirements of the human element chapter of the Polar Code with defined standards of training and certification.

Ice Conditions

Climatically, 2014 was more in line with 2013 as a heavier ice year overall in the Arctic this summer. This followed a particularly bad year in the North American East coast, where heavier ice trapped ships and lengthened the icebreaker support season into May. In the Arctic, conditions were much tougher than the low record years of the past decade that led up to the last two. No one with any real understanding of global climate change would suggest that 2013 and 2014 can be held as the “end of global warming”; however the variability experienced shows that it will not be easy-going for polar shipping in the near future and that ice conditions will continue to wax and wane.

Polar Traffic

Traffic in the Polar Regions still has not met the expectations of some over-optimistic forecasts. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) experienced a dramatic reduction in traffic this year. Less than two dozen full transits were reported and initial figure indicate only 274,000 tons of cargo moved compared to 2013’s 1,356,000 tons. Though ice conditions in the NSR were somewhat more difficult in 2014, conditions were heavier in the Canadian Arctic. 

Notably absent this year was an expected repeat Northwest Passage transit by Nordic Bulk after their landmark Nordic Orion voyage in 2013. Fednav’s latest arrival, MV Nunavik, did however make a westbound transit late in the season.

Routine destination traffic, which includes the resupply of Arctic communities and export of resources, continues to show incremental increases in both the NSR and Northwest Passage (NWP). However there has been some cooling of interest in hydrocarbon exploration over the past year, whether it is as a result of sanctions against Russia for their activities related to Ukraine, or uncertainty of regulatory environment in American waters.  

In the Antarctic region, traffic statistics remain static, driven mainly by research, resupply of research stations and the occasional adventure cruise vessel.

Ice Ship Orders and Construction

The growing interest in polar ice shipping is being felt in ship orders and construction. Numerous ice class ships are on the order books, and some notable orders and deliveries are those of Nordic Bulk with their Baltic ice class new builds and Canada’s Fednav with delivery of their newest icebreaker cargo ship Nunavik. The latter made news with the first unescorted commercial cargo vessel transit of the Northwest Passage this summer.  

Russia has announced and commenced the construction of their new design conventionally powered icebreakers as well as three LK60 nuclear powered icebreakers. Russia is also building a number of icebreaking search and rescue vessels to meet their commitment to increase SAR capability after wholeheartedly embracing the Arctic Council’s 2010 Arctic SAR agreement.  

At the beginning of the year, Russia took possession of the novel oblique icebreaker, Baltica.  Shortly after delivering the Baltica, Finland’s Arctech Helsinki Shipyard announced a contract to build three icebreakers for the Northeast Sakhalin oil and gas field. Perhaps the largest Russian driven high ice class construction is the DSME designed 170,000m3 icebreaking LNGCs to be built for LNG export from the new Yamal field. These ships will be operated by a number of companies including SOVCOMFLOT, MOL and Teekay over the life of the Yamal project. A fleet of six support icebreakers for port and channel clearing, as well as line support in heavier coastal ice will also be built. Three more ice class shuttle tankers were ordered from Samsung Heavy Industries by SOVCOMFLOT for delivery by April 2017.

China is building a new icebreaker to complement their secondhand Xue Long, delivery in 2016; Britain has begun the work to acquire a new 130m icebreaker for delivery in 2019; Australia intends to replace the Aurora Australis hoped for by 2018 with the bidding narrowed to three contenders in the fall; Germany is not far behind in plans to replace the venerable Polar Stern; and, Finland has a new Baltic LNG fuelled Icebreaker under construction and has announced a billion Euro plan to replace their current fleet of icebreakers in coming years. 

India has also announced plans to build a polar research icebreaker to be operational before the end of the decade. Columbia has announced plans to build and send an ice-capable research ship to Antarctica while Chile’s president announced in December plans to build an ice-capable research ship for Antarctic service as soon as practicable.

Though the American built light icebreaker research vessel Sikiluaq entered service this past year, the United States and Canada continue to be mired in indecision or delays with respect to ice-capable ship construction. There are no clear plans to consider replacing the ageing United States Coast Guard’s polar class ships, and Canada’s much vaunted announcement of the acquisition of the new generation polar icebreaker, which was named by the government as the John G. Diefenbaker, has seen cost increases and delays in delivery. The original delivery of 2017, for the Diefenbaker has slid to the right, first to 2020 and now rumored to be 2022.  Reports now indicate the original construction cost of $750m CDN has climbed to well over $1.2B CDN. Given the advancing age of Canada’s venerable icebreaking fleet, it is surprising that only one replacement has been approved.  

The Royal Canadian Navy’s plans to build 6-8 ice-class Arctic Offshore Patrol vessels has experienced similar cost overruns and delays even before steel has been cut. News reports at the end of 2014 indicated the number of ships that could be obtained would likely be fewer than originally announced, and only three vessels could be built for the allocated budget.

Changes in Arctic Offshore

Russia’s almost frantic growth in Arctic exploration and exploitation over the past decade has taken a downturn in the past months. As a result of increasing sanctions put in place by European Union, the United States and other nations, and the rapidly dropping price of oil in the last weeks of 2014, Russia has either seen the gradual pulling away of western partners, or has terminated contracts themselves (such as the recent termination of contracts with Norwegian OSV operators), and reduced projections for hydrocarbon export. As a result, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities in the Russian Arctic began to slow in the latter part of the year.   

In the midst of pullbacks from exploration, Russia has continued to bolster their Arctic presence, opening the first three of ten Arctic search and rescue centers in 2014, taking delivery of the first of six icebreaking search and rescue ships and increasing naval presence capability.

Risks Remain Evident

Just as the situation with the Akademik Shokalskiy indicated in the Antarctic in the beginning of the year (in the latter part of the Antarctic shipping season), an incident with a Northern Transportation Company Limited barge adrift in the Beaufort Sea at the end of the Arctic shipping season highlighted the remote nature of polar shipping operations.  In each case, the situations were exacerbated by the lack of nearby rescue resources. While the Akademik Shokalskiy eventually broke free on her own, the NTCL barge was left to freeze into the ice over the winter as the tug initially towing was unable to reconnect and no other resources were close enough to recover the nearly empty fuel barge.

Discovery of the Wreck of HMS Erebus

One long standing search and recovery mission did result in a very successful search this year as the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier and onboard researchers from Canadian Hydrographic Services and Parks Canada discovered the well preserved remains of Sir John Franklin’s flag ship HMS Erebus in the waters near to King William Island in the Canadian central Arctic.  

Under command of Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and Terror set out from England in the mid 1800’s in what was thought to be the most technologically advanced and therefore “bound to be successful” effort to discover and sail the Northwest Passage. Tragically, both of Franklin’s ships became hopelessly trapped in the ice, the crews eventually abandoned both vessels and were never seen alive again. Most of the Canadian Arctic was charted in the many searches at sea and from ashore in search of survivors, many relics were discovered including a note that described the abandonment, but the vessels themselves remained lost until this summer when HMS Erebus was discovered.

This post originally appeared in The Maritime Executive.

Sea Control 22 – Behind the Curtain

seacontrolemblem(Download: Sea Control 22 – Behind the Curtain, the First.)

A. Denis Clift, former Naval Officer, president emeritus of the National Intelligence University, and Vice President for Operations of USNI, joins us to talk about his reflections on his time in the Antarctic, Cold War intelligence, life, and the United States Naval Institute. This is the first of a bi-monthly series that will be investigating his career during the Cold War.

We are available on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remeber to subscribe, leave a comment and a 5-star rating.

Staying Ahead of the Arctic Thaw

Based on the warming trend in the Arctic Region, large portions of the Arctic Ocean are projected to be seasonally ice free by mid-century; between 2030 and 2050.  This warming trend carries with it the risks and opportunities associated with seasonal access to the Arctic Ocean, rivers, and coastline which includes mineral deposits, petroleum resources, fishing stocks, and economically advantageous shipping routes.  The central question is how the United States should prepare for the effects of a potential seasonal thaw of Arctic ice by mid-century.

US National Interest

Seasonal access to the Arctic Ocean significantly impacts US national interests.  It has the potential to increase national economic security, encourage global economic stability, and create new theaters for global leadership in international cooperation.

arctic1The Arctic region is estimated to have over $1 trillion worth of precious minerals and the equivalent to 812 billion barrels of oil.  All of which will become increasingly available for extraction.  The U.S. could make great strides toward energy independence by developing these resources within its Arctic territory and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Actors and Governance

1.         Actors

The actors involved in strategic prepositioning for the Arctic thaw fall into two categories.  The Primary Actors hold legal rights to Arctic territory in accordance with internationally accepted legal structures.  These include the Arctic Nations (United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark) and indigenous populations (Athabasca, Inuit, Saami, etc.).  Influential Actors have significant stakes in Arctic policy outcomes but do not hold legal rights.  While some such actors may not yet be apparent, the most obvious are large environmental advocacy groups and multinational corporations in the energy, mining, shipping, and fishing industries.

2.         Governance

Governance in the Arctic Region, particularly the maritime domain, remains in nascent form.  The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) broadly applies international law but does not address unique requirements for Arctic shipping.  For example, there are no ship construction specifications or crew proficiency requirements for sailing within proximity to ice fields.  Under the United Nations charter, the International Maritime Organization has begun to analyze potential Arctic regulatory actions.

The Arctic Council was established in 1996 as an intergovernmental forum to coordinate Arctic policy and resolve disputes diplomatically. This forum does not establish international law but provides a venue for Arctic Nations to settle bilateral or multilateral disputes as well as coordinate initiatives to be brought before the International Maritime Organization.

At the national level, laws pertaining to environmental protection and the rights of indigenous peoples produce a complicated legal landscape the policy makers will have to navigate in coming years.  Shell’s recent decision to postpone drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic highlights this tension.

Considerations

1.         Unclear Impacts of the Thaw

While a seasonal ice-free thaw by mid-century is generally accepted, several second order effects remain controversial or unpredictable.  The total magnitude of shipping traffic, intensity of mineral and oil extraction, as well as weather impacts on fishing stocks and agricultural growing conditions are not commonly understood.

arctic2Most shipping estimates focus on the economically viable trans-Arctic shipping traffic between North Asia and Europe.  By 2030, 1.4 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) could be transported across the Arctic on 480 total transits.  By 2050, a potential 2.5 million TEU could be transported across the Arctic on 850 total transits.  The wide array of other potential waterborne activities (i.e., commercial fishing, offshore drilling/exploration service traffic, and tourism) is not adequately captured in shipping estimates.

The Arctic warming trend could increase fishing stocks and shift populations northward, thus bringing with it commercial fishing fleets.  This trend also may improve agricultural growing conditions across the Siberian plain and allow waterborne bulk transport of product via Arctic rivers.  All of these activities could sharply increase the seasonal shipping density in the Arctic.

2.         Delicate and Extreme Environment

The Arctic is an extremely fragile ecosystem.  The risk of ecological disasters associated with resource extraction and transport will greatly impact the legal framework as well as rate and costs of development for exploitation of Arctic natural resources.

Human disasters will be just as likely.  As Arctic infrastructure and maritime traffic increases, so increases the need for responding to human distress.  Relief or Search and Rescue efforts in a region with significant radio interference and decreased satellite and GPS coverage will require a multi-national collaboration.

Policy Path Options

The United States can choose from three policy paths: a market-led policy, a regulatory-led, or a blended policy.  A market-led path would place the government in more of a reactionary role by regulating as industries develop.  A regulatory-led path would establish constraints or enablers ahead of industry to guide market development.  The blended path would regulate areas of critical priority ahead of industry but otherwise allow the markets to develop naturally.

Potential Naval Efforts

While national policy seeks to minimize the militarization of the Arctic, the United States Navy could still play a significant role in the development and organization of Arctic maritime shipping management.

1.         Lead an Interagency effort to develop infrastructure and regulations to ensure safe navigations of Arctic waters.

At the national level, the Navy could identify site and asset requirements for comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness across all U.S. arctic territory and EEZ to include weather and ice forecasting suitable for navigation.  Once these requirements are identified, the Navy could lead efforts to construct a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in order to develop definitions of roles and responsibilities as well as set the framework for burden sharing agreements.

2.         Develop multilateral opportunities to enhance disaster response.

At the international level, the Navy could lead the effort to build an increasingly complex set of Search and Rescue and Emergency Response training exercises that include multiple U.S. agencies as well as those from other Arctic Nations.

The aforementioned efforts would ultimately lead to the development of an International Arctic Management Center.  This center, with operational nodes near the Bering Strait and Iceland-UK Gap, would be multinational and interagency in nature.  The primary roles of this center would be to manage safe shipping transit throughout the Arctic and coordinate multinational emergency response efforts.  Management of shipping would include organization of convoys as well as activation and dynamic adjustment of approved shipping corridors based on traffic density, weather, and ice.

Proactive international management of commercial activities in the Arctic will greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic events and improve response to those that occur.  Additionally, coordination efforts stand to strengthen cooperation and relations across all Arctic and participant nations, including Russia.

 

Ryan Leary is a U.S. naval officer and Federal Executive Fellow at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  His opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any command.