KODIAK, Alaska (AP) — In six oceans, the U.S. Navy is considered the master. In the seventh, the Arctic Ocean, it will rely on others.

As global warming opens the Arctic Ocean to commercial and industrial traffic, the U.S. Navy is pushing to catch up with Russia, Canada and even Denmark in its Arctic ability. If a crisis were to happen now, the Navy lacks the ability to act in the Arctic without the help of one of those countries or the Coast Guard.

Last year, the Navy asked the War Gaming Department of the U.S. Naval War College to find out what the Navy needs for sustained operations in the Arctic.

In the resulting 2011 Fleet Arctic Operations Game, the Navy learned how big its Arctic shortcomings are. As a force, the Navy lacks everything from bases and Arctic-capable ships to reliable communications and cold-weather clothing.

While the Hollywood image of a war game involves commanders pushing ships around a table in response to threats from another country, an operations game looks at smaller threats. A group of 88 people, including industry experts, government officials and senior level naval officers, participated in the game last September.

“We looked at search and rescue, oil spill response, maritime domain and maritime safety and security issues,” said Walter Berbrick, assistant research professor in the War Gaming Department at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. “They were all fictional scenarios.”

The game’s conclusions: the Navy is not adequately prepared to conduct long-term maritime Arctic operations; Arctic weather conditions increase the risk of failure; and most critically, to operate in the Arctic, the Navy will need to lean on the U.S. Coast Guard, countries like Russia or Canada, or tribal and industrial partners.

To sustain operations in the Arctic, the Navy needs ice-capable equipment, accurate and timely environmental data, personnel trained to operate in extreme weather, and better communications systems. Much of the environmental data will come from other Arctic nations.

“We have limited capability to sustain long-term operations in the Arctic due to inadequate icebreaking capability,” Berbrick said. “The Navy finds itself entering a new realm as it relates to having to rely on other nations.”

In the past 30 years, the Coast Guard has been on point leading maritime Arctic operations, but as the Department of Defense develops more of an interest in what is going on in the Arctic, the Coast Guard – a part of the Department of Homeland Security – will work closely with the Navy to share information.

“It’s very likely that whatever operation goes on up there would be a joint operation,” said Coast Guard Capt. Craig Lloyd, chief of response for the 17th Coast Guard District. “All of the Department of Defense and U.S. Northern Command is interested in what is happening in the Arctic.” … READ MORE

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