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Joe Buff is a novelist with several submarine-related books to his credit. He is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.


Global climate change is impacting different areas of Planet Earth differently. The effects of such changes, combined with actual and potential human responses and exploitations, appear to be strongest, and very consequential, at high northern latitudes. While the Antarctic (“a continent surrounded by oceans”) is by international treaty de-commercialized and de-militarized, the Arctic (“an ocean surrounded by continents”) is neither. And while the Antarctic has a bare handful of long-term residents of any kind, some four million souls make their homes above the Arctic Circle.

But the melting Arctic, with its particularly vulnerable ecosys-terms and indigenous peoples, is rich in tempting fisheries and marine mammals, fossil fuel reserves, timber, valuable ore deposits, and developable shore front property. The Arctic also straddles what might well sooner or later become some of the busiest, most important maritime shipping, tourism, and military transit routes in the world. These routes are beset by limited satellite coverage, frequently terrible weather, a widespread lack of infrastructure, and bad polar electro-magnetic effects. They pass through straits, archipelagoes, and gaps that could in the decades to come be of significant strategic interest to competing nations, blocs or pacts, and sub-or transnational armed groups near and far.

In almost any conceivable future, for the changing Arctic within the broader world, the U.S. Submarine Force will face an urgent demand signal for new types of missions, in new and harsh locales, that will also call for new adjuvant technologies. There are many more questions than answers now in mid-2013; the purpose of this article is mainly to draw attention to the sheer breadth, and the nature, of some of these questions. Practical suggestions and tentative solutions are offered, though, with some disguised as even more questions.

What Does the Recent Literature Say?

An extensive body of unclassified literature exists on change factors impacting the Arctic Ocean and the disparate lands and other seas near or above the Arctic Circle. (The U.S. considers the Bering Sea, which lies between the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Strait, as part of the Arctic.) While those references will not be summarized here, studying some of the articles, reports, reviews, plans, policies, appendices, and roadmaps does show two things.

First, the exact timing and magnitude of the Arctic environmental and commercial changes coming, let alone what those changes will mean to different nations, are difficult or impossible to predict. Varied constituencies will all be impacted, not necessarily to their benefit. They range from small native fishing villages to conservation advocacy groups, taxpayers and voters, elected and appointed officials, NGOs, huge transnational energy and mining corporations, wind and tide, renewable energy developers, shipbuilding and shipping companies large and small, the various participants in the Arctic Council, and worldwide signatories of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Second, what conflicts will arise over ownership of resources and freedom of navigation, and how these conflicts will be resolved, cannot be known in advance. Resolution might occur anywhere on a spectrum ranging from successful diplomatic negotiations, to lawsuits decided in various courts, to brinkman-ship at the UN Security Council, to less-than-lethal skirmishes between irate parties’ coast guard vessels, to outright battles between opposing joint and combined task forces.

In such circumstances, it is clearly important to keep all one’s options open and stay ready for anything. An overly passive approach, such as inaction by policy or by default, leads to a closing off of options and an impairment of readiness. Too much avarice and too much altruism both appear to be unwise-especially since the maturing 21st century may see humanity beyond American shores drift toward a renewed warlike phase.

The Fundamental Arctic Strategy Question Facing America

The same literature repeatedly poses a fundamental arctic strategy question, whose satisfactory answering demands a delicate team-based balancing, prioritizing, and decision-making act:

  • Should further investments in safety infrastructure, coast guard and naval presence, and economic resource extraction be hastily accelerated? This would allow us to try to “win the Arctic”-but at the risk of overspending prematurely and, maybe, doing more overall damage than good; or
  • Should shorter-term actions focus on analysis, planning, and consensus building, which all will benefit from promptly gathering even more information and knowledge? This would allow us to learn from the wisdom and errors of others, and fill in significant gaps in scientific data ranging from atmospheric to oceanographic to sociological. It recognizes (at least in the U.S.) prevailing severe fiscal constraints-but at the risk of missing out on some potentially lucrative ground-floor opportunities.

Like it or not, the clock on deciding is already ticking and will go on ticking, possibly for decades. Pundits can pontificate, lobbyists can jawbone, management consultants can recommend reorganizations. Insurance companies can price and re-price their maritime policies, and businesses can make their own human and financial capital investments in fixed and mobile platforms, transport nodes and pathways, and patent-able technologies. But only a country’s national government can properly and effectively respond in full to the fundamental Arctic strategy question, via everything from annual and multi-year program appropriations, to offshore drilling lease auctions and onshore mining permit approvals, to international treaty ratifications or delays.

The U.S. Navy’s Silent Service will for some time need to press forward with major, gradually intensifying Arctic duties. This is because of the Sub Force’s stealthy or dramatic (as required), persistent and fast-paced, nuclear-powered capacity for delivering large payloads. These payloads include well-equipped human riders, embarking and disembarking for power projection, scientific research, and even Search And Rescue (SAR) ops, under, through, and around Arctic ice. The focal duty is to protect Arctic people, the environment, freedom and safety of access and navigation, and America’s fair share of the valuable High North natural resources. This burden will hold true no matter when, and how, America as a whole answers the fundamental Arctic strategy question.

A Fundamental Arctic Strategy for Sub Force and SIBC?

A best estimate midpoint of a consensus among different science-based climate models is this: The entire summer/autumn Arctic Ocean will be ice-free or nearly so starting around 2030 or 2035. (Outliers among the models have predicted this for as early as 2013; others have said as late as 2050 or 2060.) The central Arctic is predicted to continue icing over in wintertime throughout the 2151 century, though the ice will be thin and weak compared to in decades gone by. All the thicker, stronger multi-year ice, challenging even for the heaviest icebreakers, will become a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, this timing coincides with the period when the gap between actual U.S. Navy Nuclear Submarine Fleet size, and projected needs, will reach its worst shortfall. That same time frame is likely to see a significant increase from today in the blue water naval-particularly submarine-capabilities of Russia, China, India, and other nations. Furthermore, U.S. Sub Force readiness for the added submarine ops (and other naval ops) necessitated by Arctic melting wilt be hobbled by defense budgeting austerity in general, and at least in the short run by the additional funding stringencies and uncertainties (and DOD Hobson ‘s choices) of sequestration.

My considered opinion regarding the fundamental Arctic strategy question raised in the open literature, as it specifically applies to the U.S. Sub Force and the Submarine Industrial Base, is this:

  • Continue, no matter what, bringing forth the superb VIRGINIA-Class SSNs and the new SSBN(X) platforms; and
  • Step up designing and testing affordable solutions for the special Arctic undersea warfare and peace/are capabilities that, all too soon, will be urgently needed.

The remainder of this article raises various additional questions needing attention from national and local (state, town, tribal) leaders, cabinets, legislators, courts, the Pentagon and the Sub Force, the private sector, universities and other nonprofits, and American (and world) citizenry at large. Practical suggestions, and some tentative solutions, are mixed in below, sometimes-intentionally-in the form of further questions. The final, funded solutions, the eventual cutting of metal, depend on Sub Force leaders and Submarine Industrial Base Council members and their staffs-and on all the other payers for and beneficiaries of the hard work to be done.

Civilianize Aging Nuclear Submarines?

“My kingdom for an icebreaker!” Keep in mind that the U.S. Coast Guard currently has only two (non-nuclear) polar-rated icebreakers and none on order; NOAA has one; the U.S. Navy has had none since the 1960s. (Coast Guard riverine and Great Lakes icebreakers are Jess capable.) Can and should USN nuclear submarines nearing the very end of their useful military service lives be civilianized for shallow-depth-only ops, surfacing when needed through first-year ice, as “ersatz nuclear powered icebreakers”? They would give priority to SAR, pollution emergency response and recovery, Homeland Security related patrols and interdictions, Scientific Ice Exercises (SCICEXs), and other Coast Guard-and NOAA-like Arctic assignments. Would such a 2-year Uoint?) deployment be career enhancing for the necessary Qualified Submariners in the crews? Could the dry-deck shelters and large-capacity (87” diameter) missile tubes of through-ice-capable nuclear subs, as they near normal decommissioning dates, be adapted cost-effectively for the following missions: transport scientists and their instruments, carry rescue and survival gear, materials for oil spill cleanup, navigational aid installation and maintenance, seabed equipment emplacement, iced-in base or village emergency resupply, even serving as mobile power stations responding to littoral natural or man-made disasters? How would the costs, and available SUBSAFE years of deployment of such adaptations, compare in the aggregate to the $1 billion price tag and ongoing fuel and maintenance bill of an additional oil-powered heavy polar-class Coast Guard icebreaker? (Such vessels can batter their way through 20′ thick multi-year ice, but in the foreseeable future such ice witl no longer exist.) Should these civilianized subs have their torpedo tubes welded shut, to save maintenance, make more room for supplies and passengers in the torpedo room, and emphasize their humanitarian purpose in old age?

“Accessories sold separately. ” Can adjuvant vehicles such as the Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (21″ torpedo tube launched) and the Seahorse (wide vertical missile tube launched) and their successors be modularized as a civilian version to aid in such nuclear submarine missions? Is a dorsal-carried, shirtsleeves-environment personnel transport minisub (replacement for the ASDS?) needed for ops in waters too shallow for an SSN or friendly diesel sub, and/or to support diver and on-foot activities in extremely cold and wet weather? Since traditional methods are at critical times the best methods in the Far North, can some subs even transport Arctic sleds, sled dog teams, and their indigenous handlers, accommodated on one deck in the vertical missile tube compartment?

“Put Buoys on the Bottom?” Can a network of seabed sonar beacons, emplaced and maintained by civilianized (or military) nuclear subs, provide navigational aids for sonar-equipped merchant ships, as a substitute for surface buoys that might not hold up well in the difficult Arctic climate(s)? Could the same seabed sonar network also provide data for better maritime domain awareness in the Arctic? (Undersea electronics would be grounded against solar storms and electromagnetic-pulse attacks.) Are commercial off the shelf (COTS) minisubs and robotic subs a relevant option for Sub Force use, bought or leased or borrowed?

Offshore Assets Raise Deep Onshore Questions

“Go offshore, young person, go offshore!” As Arctic ice recedes, coastal margins erode, permafrost melts into a widespread and impassable morass, onshore reserves are exhausted, and new offshore drilling/mining technologies are perfected, will it actually become safer and less costly to extract both fossil fuels, and hard minerals, at sea rather than on land in the warming Arctic?

“Remember Sea/ab: Sea Basing 011 the Seajloor?” In foresee-able future years, as nations and peoples may come into conflict over dry land, fuels, foods, drinking water, and strategic metals, will these natural resources become the object of wars? When fossil fuel reserves everywhere eventually do run out, and if renewable energy sources are not sufficient for planetary needs, will nations fight wars over the Arctic’s rich uranium ore deposits, for nuclear power as they fought in the past over oil? In war or peace, will the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard be forced to, or choose to, rely more on Sea Basing in the thawing Arctic littorals, and/or in deeper waters? What surface ships and undersea hardware will be needed to do so, and how would deployment there impact other worldwide commitments? How would the Sub Force support and assist them, or use them as tenders? Will more manned and drone seaplanes become necessities for getting around the melting, sodden Arctic?

“Offshore oil fields as hostages?” What tactics and technology are best to protect America’s offshore resource-extraction fixed and mobile platforms, service ships, fishing fleets, and harbor terminals from being held under threat, or even attacked, by hostile forces and their stand-off, smart munitions, or close-in suicide bombers? What tactics and technology are best used by America to dissuade, deter, destroy, and if necessary retaliate against hostile entities that attack our Arctic commercial at-sea assets, or threaten to do so? How do existing and emerging U.S. Navy undersea warfare capabilities and capacity best fit into good doctrine and strategy for such potential resource-and asset-driven conflicts? Will SSNs and SSGNs become important tools for natural resource protective deterrence in a dysphoric future world?

Bad Actors Could Go Deep. “Up North,” Too

“Will AIP subs fly a black flag?” Drug lords in tropical climes have shown progressively increasing sophistication in building and using drug-carrying submersibles. (News reports speculate that they have been getting technical help from renegade professional submarine experts.) How much will the confluence of further Drug War law enforcement ops in the Southern Command (SOUCOM) theater, and newly opened transit routes and offloading points in Northern Command (NORTHCOM), lead drug smugglers, gun runners, human traffickers and kidnappers, money launderers, pirates, other organized criminals, and terrorists to begin to operate via the Arctic to infiltrate through northern Canada, and Alaska? (Alaska before statehood used to be a hotbed of poaching and contraband smuggling.)

“If they can buy ’em, we can sink ’em!” Export model diesel subs equipped with air independent propulsion-such as Russia’s Improved Kilo Class and Germany’s Type 214-have significantly longer endurance and more mobility without snorkeling compared to conventional diesel subs. Will this increase the number of under-ice contacts that the U.S. Sub Force will need to detect, identify, and if appropriate trail or interdict?

“Pull out those slide rules, sharpen your pencils!” Since thinner, melting ice also means more widespread open leads and polynyas, even in winter, how will this trend affect submarine operations? Will ASW search tactics derived from operations research mathematics need updating, as the ice cap seasonally melts to the point that even conventional diesel sub captains will spend time well under the remaining ice, in extremis or routinely? How will dynamic, unpredictable and partly cyclical, partly secular trends in ice cap thinning, shrinking, refreezing-and breaking up into brash ice and bergy bits –affect the masking sound profiles of the marginal ice zone and other parts of the Arctic Ocean and other Arctic seas? How will this same monthly and yearly dynamism and background noise impact operations research calculations?

A “Cold” War Indeed!

“Toward Red October Redux?” Late Cold War era Soviet SSBNs were equipped for under-ice patrols, as were the Flight II and III Los Angeles-class SSNs that successfully held them at risk. As the Arctic ice cover melts away, will Russia need to abandon the historical Kremlin bastion tactic of SSBNs hiding under the ice cap close to home, behind minefields and their own SSNs? If so, what will Russia do instead using its latest generation SSBNs? How might this affect U.S. Sub Force operations and contingency plans-and its own SSBN deployments? As China begins to operate its new SSBNs, how (if at all) might Beijing use the Arctic as a deterrence patrol area, and what might this mean for the U.S. Sub Force?

“Send in the Marines and SEALs (and the FBI)!” Can U.S. Marine Corps LCAC air cushioned vehicles, and/or civilian Everglades skimmer swamp boats be winterized and adapted for successful use as transport platforms in the changing Arctic? They could support all sorts of environmental protection, Homeland Security, and national defense missions. Can these transportation technologies be adapted for machines that fit into submarine large-diameter missile tubes, dry deck shelters, and/or advanced-design sail hangar space? They could then be used by embarked Special Ops forces, Coast Guard and/or medical personnel, and even Border Patrol or INS officers and FBI counter-terror special agents.

“It’s Just Business!”

“Competition is healthy!” Will (should?) many additional pipelines be built to bypass disputed straits and to cross friendly continents inland, around the Arctic and elsewhere, for strategic dispersal and also for shipping-route price competition? How would this change the choke-point tactics and ordnance, and combat repair skills, needed for offense, defense, and international intervention in the case of war or terrorism? Can the threat or fact of such an expensive pipeline construction contest or building race versus an adversary be used to strengthen sanctions, embargoes, and other economic-based deterrence against WMD proliferators and other aggressors, such as Iran at the Strait of Honnuz-or some future bad actor in the Arctic?

“Back to Workin’ on the Railroad-for Deterrence?” Ameri-can and Canadian railroads have in recent years enjoyed considerable commercial success for their rail bulk deliveries of coal, raw petroleum, refined energy and lubricant products, and natural gas fracking liquids and special sand. This is being done via frequently scheduled, very long, point-to-point express unit train shuttling-no time-consuming and expensive decoupling, sorting, and recoupling involved. The trains use modem double-hulled tank cars with reinforced end caps and recessed, collision-and derailment-resistant hatches and valves. In the context of strategic dispersal, route price competition-and also extended deterrence via economic attrition-should railroads be viewed as additional potential tools of such statecraft? Can versatile and widespread national railroad grids also provide important backup against potential capacity bottlenecks and technology risks of pipelines and ships, and vice versa?

“Comparison Shop and Caveat Emptor!” Will Russia’s Northern Sea Route, and Canada’s part of the Northwest Passage, both be undercut by a route from the Bering Strait to the Greenland-Svalbard-North Cape (Norwar) Gap straight over the North Pole, away from either country’s claims to their coastal archipelagoes as inland waterways that can charge tolls? If tolls do survive UNCLOS arbitration challenges, would they provide sufficient funding for the necessary shipping infrastructure investments to support these coastal routes? How much dredging is needed to accommodate deep-draft ships along more shallow parts of the routes, as opposed to diverting such ships onto more northerly (and costly) detours? How much dredging should be allowed given the potential serious environmental impact? Who decides this, and how? Would major bank loans, or municipal or treasury revenue-bond issues, bridge the time gap between the need for the investable cash and the receipt of the tolls?

UNCLOS and Clausewitz REDUX: Bottom Turf Worth Fighting For?

“Is the Seabed Becoming like More Land Terrain?” Might increasing development of seabed acreage that is unilaterally claimed by one nation, or granted to another by UNCLOS, cause the sea to take on more characteristics of the land for national defense purposes, becoming “terrain to be held?” Might developed seabed energy fields even become a critical military “center of gravity, in the sense of General von Clausewitz? How can a country best protect its forward-exposed fixed assets, installed on or moored to its seabed for prospecting or extracting? How can it best threaten or attack an enemy’s? Surely submarines will play important roles. Will torpedoes and/or hybrid homing depth charge ordnance be needed that can detonate reliably and very accurately at a depth of several miles? Could harmless noisemak-ers be used instead, to send a message to adversaries without escalating a conflict? Will militant eco-protesters enter the mix?

“Fail-Safe Might Not Be Safe Enough!” Certainly terrorists, and maybe rogue state regular armed forces, would not obey a hypothetical Geneva Convention forbidding attacks on offshore oil and gas platforms. Given the risk exposures involved for ecologies and societies, should international law then require all seabed drilling and extraction rigs to have multiple redundant and fail-safe emergency shutoff valves? These could be designed to activate by the shock of a serious earthquake, close-in man-made ordnance detonation, or a collision at sea. How best might such a law be policed and enforced?

“Clean Up That Mess You (or They) Made!” How can law-makers and advisors best assure that R&D entities-in govern-ment, academia, and private enterprise alike-expedite badly needed (and expensive) new tactics and technologies for cleaning up under-and over-ice oil spills, and other Arctic toxic pollution, regardless of proximate cause? (Such cleanup would be very difficult and good methods are little understood. Cold retards the evaporation of volatile petroleum components and the action of beneficial bacteria. Snow absorbs oil, and icebergs and floes drift, pile up, and tumble, carrying oil everywhere.) How can the Sub Force and SIBC advise and assist in designing and testing the developmental cleanup technologies, both while on the drawing board and when in the field?

“Is It Your Seabed, or My Extended Co11ti11ental Shelf?” What does similar geology really mean, as used by UNCLOS to establish a country’s claim to all economic resources above, on and under a so-called Extended Continental Shelf that lies beyond its 200-rnile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)? If, say, a portion of a continental shelf broke off and subsided into the depths, due to tectonic activity on a geological timeframe, the halves might be similar geologically now. But would the more sunken, distant portion still be part of the same shelf as before? Or would it no longer be a shelf at all, or could it maybe comprise part of someone else’s shelf? What if a piece of an original continental shelf collapsed and rolled away, due to a succession of huge earthquakes and underwater landslides during human prehistory? What about glacial boulders continually being carried out to sea by calved icebergs, which then drift away and eventually melt, dropping the boulders to sink to the bottom far from their origin points? This could produce similar-looking seabed soils and rock formations, at least based on superficial undersea sampling, but should it count as the same extended continental shelf for UNCLOS? What if one country’s claimed extended continental shelf intrudes into another country’s 200-mile EEZ-will the UNCLOS split the difference clause lead to encroaching boundaries? Will rancor over such details one day become a casus belli? In the less-than-lethal arena, will military submarines get into playing chicken as they grab their own geological samples in disputed waters, and drop their own encapsulated national flags or retrieve someone else’s, while disputing each others’ claims in a potentially chaotic seabed land rush?

Big War At Sea-Again?

“New Maritime Strategy Heads North!” Given the impending Arctic changes, how might Air-Sea Battle and Offshore Control both, as complementary tools, fit into the living development of the 2151 Century Cooperative Maritime Strategy? The Aleutian Islands Chain, the Bering Strait, the Canadian Archipelago, various island groups off Russia’s north coast, and the Greenland-Svalbard-North Cape Gap present opportunities and threats for both sides, and innocent bystanders, in any future major naval conflict. This conflict’s lines of attack, by either side, might advance and recede in either direction as combat (or less-than-lethal maritime jousting) ebbs and flows. That suggests the need for all around air-sea offense-defense, with versatile anti-aircraft and anti-ship cruise missile and ballistic missile systems aplcnty-with as much Sea Basing logistical independence as possible from nearby, vulnerable fixed land bases (targets to Submariners).

“Make Friends, Not War!” What alliances near and far-such as NATO, ASEAN, or the UN-will play roles to fight, or adjudicate, in such potential conflicts? How would different nations’ joining an opponent’s bloc, or remaining neutral (or abstaining), affect the correlation of forces and status of forces in the Arctic and elsewhere, and the ultimate outcome? Might the U.S. and others among the A-8 members of the Arctic Council some day assent to amending its charter to include national security topics?

“Oh. Canada!” Canada has a very long Arctic coastline, plus a lengthy land border with the U.S. and a shared (and still somewhat disputed) EEZ boundary with Alaska. Canada has more polar icebreakers than does the U.S., and plans to construct a deep-water port on the Canadian Arctic coast. The Hudson Bay port of Churchill has a railhead connecting to the North American railroad grid. Clearly, regarding the fundamental Arctic strategy question, friendship between neighboring capitals Ottawa and DC is important. The U.S. Sub Force should make the very most of opportunities to operate with the Royal Canadian Navy’s Submariners in the years ahead. Is the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line (with a combined Canadian and U.S. command) too myopic or blind on its southwest and southeast flanks? How does that affect ballistic missile defense against North Korea and Iran? Can subs, their adjuvant vehicles, and persistent leave-behind devices help cover any strategic radar blind spots or seams between existing sensor fields of view in the Arctic?

“War in or for the Arctic?” How much do U.S. Navy plans and strategies, including prepositioned materiel, need to be rethought and/or extended in the context of a major war possibly occurring in and around the Arctic some day? How might the traditional Sub Force anti-surface shipping (ASUW) campaign need to be supplemented regarding the Arctic’s extreme climate, with its destabilizing icing of ships’ upper works, airworthiness-destroying aircraft icing, very strong tides, interfering electromag-netic phenomenon, relatively poor satellite coverage for communications, surveillance, and positioning, and continuing summer glacial icebergs and winter ice sheets? How might the Sub Force most effectively assist to protect shipping convoys and strike groups alike, in balance with its other global taskings, in case of an Arctic war or war scare?

“Admiral Von Scheer Redux: Divide a11d Conquer!?” Can the concepts behind Air-Sea Battle and Offshore Control be used by hostile nations, with burgeoning 2151 century navies and technolo-gies of their own, as a strategy against America, her friends and allies, and their vital interests? The North Pacific approaches into the Arctic might be an ideal extended battlefield for such a strategy. The terrain there suits traditional divide and conquer tactics used by a smaller navy against a larger one. (Recall that German Admiral von Scheer used such a Tlreo1J’ of Risk against the Royal Navy at World War I’s Battle of Jutland-fought in constrained North Sea waters, at the only entrance to the Baltic Sea.) In addition to the familiar island chains of WESTPAC-some of which are the object of contention between several Asian powers right now-the Aleutian Island Chain and the Bering Strait present two other natural barriers whose control could be disputed by air-sea forces. Then, inside the Arctic, both the Canadian Archipelago on the right flank and the New Siberian Islands on the left present locales reminiscent of World War II’s Battle of Leyte Gulf-except with ice and everything else the Arctic throws at naval practitioners. To attack in depth at all such choke points at once would allow an aggressor to dispute access and control of several straits and island chains simultaneously. The pro-democracy side’s fleet might be lured or forced into subdividing itself into task forces that, due to distances, natural and man-made jamming, and combat engagement, cannot support each other. The aggressor would choose time of year (perpetual dark or perpetual sunlight) suiting them, and could also exploit major weather systems-including space weather conditions. In this unpleasant scenario, Pearl Harbor might be the subject of a mere feint or covering force, much as how Kiska and Attu were occupied briefly by Japan during the Battle of Midway.

“Numbers Matter!” Even in peacetime, as the number of U.S. Navy subs and cruisers in commission declines and the number of carriers might also decline, U.S. military transits of the Arctic are likely to increase, to try to cover the wide and needful world with fewer platforms to go around. While a mixed blessing for the environment, the shorter transits could save time and fuel (both fossil and nuclear). The carrier and amphibious strike group force-protection challenges might not be entirely new, but the location of such ops (by longitude if not by latitude) certainly would be.


The many interconnected natural and man-made changes occurring or impending in the Arctic present opportunities and dangers never before faced in such an inseparable package by the U.S. Submarine Force, the U.S. Navy, and by America as a whole. It is very important to get the timing and allocations right for the needed plans and ongoing investments. Given the particularly vulnerable and complex ecosystems involved, there will be no do-overs for Planet Earth or for humanity. Examples of other nations, good or bad, should be studied and learned from very carefully, before they are mimicked or spumed.

Off-shore resource extraction and new shipping routes should not be pushed forward ahead of any government’s ability to assure the safety, security, and stewardship of those same commercial activities. All workers, crews, passengers, and residents, not to mention people in other countries, and the delicate High North environment itself must all be protected and equitably nurtured. American sovereignty within our proper borders-including our rightful EEZ and extended continental shelf-must be maintained, and defended. So must the healthy growth of the American economy, and with it jobs and tax revenues.

Under the current burden of extreme federal budget aus-terity, the U.S. Submarine Force and the Submarine Industrial Base should use what time is available to prepare-and help other U.S. government and friendly forces, agencies, and civilian entities prepare-for a changing world with a rapidly changing Arctic. That changing world might well some day enjoy an abundance of efficient global shipping routes, while suffering from conflict over a global shortage of many vital goods. Whatever the future does hold, the U.S. Sub Force-and the Submarine Industrial Base which cuts and welds the metal to order-will very likely be faced with a broader scope of worldwide operations, tougher cost pressures, a ceaseless need to keep innovating, and a more grueling operational tempo than they or America have ever yet seen.

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