New symposium brings military’s attention to the Arctic

USS Momsen docked at the Port of Anchorage during the Arctic Maritime Symposium at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. military is looking for new ways to expand its presence in Arctic waters. Last week saw the first ever Arctic Maritime Symposium to be hosted by Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. The three-day event brought together senior military officials, academics and civilian leaders to discuss what shifting geopolitics and a changing environment could mean for the nation’s military presence in Alaska.

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One of the main reasons the U.S. needs a better understanding of the Arctic is Russia’s expanding presence in the region and interest in the Northern Sea Route, according to Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander for NORAD and defense assets throughout North America.

“We must keep in mind that for the Russians, the Arctic is their front yard, not their backyard,” O’Shaughnessy said during a speech to conference attendees.

NORAD and USNORTHCOM commander General Terrence O’Shaughnessy addresses attendees at the Arctic Maritime Symposium hosted by Alaskan Command at JBER (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media, Anchorage)

O’Shaughnessy told the gathering that the U.S. military will continue conducting large-scale joint exercises in the region, and is analyzing whether to increase resources for early warning and detection systems.

One way the military might expand is an increased maritime presence by Navy or Coast Guard forces in northern waters. Speaking in front of a large naval destroyer docked at the Port of Anchorage last week during the symposium, Alaskan Command’s Col. Mark Schmidt told a small group of reporters that both service branches want to learn more about how their vessels work in the Arctic.

“Right now, we know that the environment is changing, and what that means to us we don’t know,” Schmidt said as fighter jets intermittently roared overhead. “We want to understand and get after what capabilities and requirements are needed in this changing environment.”

Alaskan Command’s Arctic Maritime Symposium wrapped up last Thursday.