US Arctic Forces Optimized Against Russia in New Strategy

“Historically, the Arctic, like space, was characterized as a predominantly peaceful domain. This is changing with expanded maritime access, newly discovered resources and competing sovereign interests,” said Barbara A. Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force.

A new strategy outlines the Departments unique regional role and its efforts to optimize Air and Space Force capabilities, while supporting the National Defense Strategy. 

 “The Arctic is among the most strategically significant regions of the world today – the keystone from which the U.S. Air and Space Forces exercise vigilance. This Arctic Strategy recognizes the immense geostrategic consequence of the region and its critical role for protecting the homeland and projecting global power,” explained Barrett. 

Not the U.S., but Russia has the largest permanent military presence in the Arctic, right now no other country matches their presence.  Recent investments in the Arctic by Russia include a network of offensive air assets and coastal missile systems.  Russia is defined by the Arctic, nearly 25% of Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from north of the Arctic Circle. 

China is also staking its claims in the region, even though they are not an Arctic nation. 

“China is trying to normalize its presence in the Arctic to gain access to regional resources, which are said to include over 90 billion barrels of oil and an estimated trillion dollars’ worth of rare earth metals. In 2018, China linked its Arctic activities to its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Many are concerned that China may repeat what some see as predatory economic behavior, to the detriment of the region,” said Barrett. 

The Arctic is Region is strategically important to both the Air and Space Forces. 

“The U.S. air and space forces value the Arctic. Access and stability require cooperation among America’s allies and partners, along with a commitment to vigilance, power projection, and preparation. The Arctic should remain a free and open domain for benevolent actors, and it is a critical domain to protect America’s homeland,” said Barrett. 

The Air Force has the largest U.S. presence in the Arctic region, having assets in both Alaska and Greenland. The new strategy will contribute to regional stability, develop new partnerships and help the mission evolve. 

As new routes for transportation open up and new resources are discovered in the Arctic, the Air Force is introducing a new arctic strategy. The shifting conditions in the region create new opportunities and new security challenges to deal with. 

The strategy has four coordinated lines of effort that the Air and Space Force will use to enhance vigilance, reach and power in the nation’s whole-of whole-of-government approach in the Arctic region:

• Vigilance in all domains

• Projecting power through a combat-credible force

• Cooperation with allies and partners

• Preparation for Arctic operations

Vigilance in all domains supports the number one priority of the Department of Defense. The Air and Space Forces contribute to this by monitoring potential threats across all warfighting domains, including air, space and cyberspace.

Projecting power through a combat-credible force harnesses powerful capabilities, ensuring the capability of reaching remote locations with ease of mobility and ability to refuel aircraft. This increases the multi-domain combat power, extending far beyond the Arctic Region itself. 

Cooperation with allies and partners in the region is key as no one nation has the capability to operate alone. Regional allies and partners have spent decades focused on the Arctic to develop effective tactics that greatly benefit joint force interoperability in the area. 

Preparation for Arctic operations require specialized training and acclimation is necessary for both personnel and materiel. The ability to survive and operate in extreme cold weather is imperative for a contingency response or combat power generation.

This white golf ball like structure houses one of several radars that scan the skies for foreign military rockets and missiles at Thule Air Base, Greenland.

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