Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Navy and the Arctic

A recent comment to a post prompted me to contemplate the ArcticRussia is reportedly developing Arctic capabilities and the US has lamented an icebreaker gap.  Here’s a quote reporting on President Obama’s call for more icebreakers.

“The US needs to build heavy icebreakers if it is to catch up with Russia in the Arctic, the White House said. President Barack Obama called for funding the construction of the specialized ships on the second day of his visit to Alaska.” (1)

What’s missing is a rationale for the icebreakers other than the fact that Russia has more than we do – a worthless rationale by itself.

What strategic benefit do we gain by being able to operate in the Arctic?  I genuinely pose the question.  I do not immediately see any benefit but I have not studied the issue enough to have a well formed opinion.

Arctic Region


Our submarines are already under-ice capable so there’s nothing to be gained there.  There are no strategic mineral resources in the Arctic that we cannot get easier and cheaper from somewhere else.  Russian Arctic military bases would not threaten us any more than they are already capable of doing. 

In short, I see no compelling reason to want to operate in the Arctic.  Maybe a reader can offer a strategic interest in the Arctic?




21 comments:

  1. You are right about the icebreakers; the benefits do not appear to justify allocating significant resources to increasing the icebreaker fleet.

    Off-topic, are you familiar with the Khareef-class corvette? http://navyrecognition.com/index.php/component/content/article/162-royal-navy-of-oman-opv-corvettes/1342-khareef-class-corvette-opv-al-shamikh-al-rahmani-al-rasikh-ocean-patrol-vessel-royal-navy-of-oman-bae-systems-99-metre-datasheet-pictures-photos-video-specifications.html

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    1. There are lots of foreign designs out there, most of them quite good. Do you have a point to make about this one?

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  2. What is it with all these off topic posts?

    I find it hugely distracting.

    GAB

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    1. To be fair, I purposely provide no means of contact other than through comments so that I'm not flooded with Internet trolls and nutcases. Off topic comments are the price I pay for no alternate contact method.

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    2. My fault and my apologies along with a plea for understanding of why I do this? :)

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    3. Is it possible to provide a standing off- topic post area?

      This may be more trouble than it is worth, but keep the cats corralled!

      GAB

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  3. Transport overland from western Russia to eastern Siberia is much more difficult, and covers far more land, than transport from the continental US to Alaska. Transport around the polar ocean has great advantages for the Russians, if they have enough icebreakers. Russians need icebreakers far more than the US does

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  4. If melting ice in the Arctic opens new shipping routes surely the USN will want to operate in these waters also? http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/09/melting-arctic-sea-ice-and-shipping-routes

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    1. Why? Do you see a useful shipping route for the US? I don't.

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  5. Oh goody, an invite for off topic. I think I've found another Navy scandal. I know a little bit about big guns, so when they promised a 155mm gun shooting LRLAP 100 miles I said BS! In recent years they dialed it back to 63 miles, and its really a long gun launched missile. They've installed them on the DDG-1000s but no testing yet. They fired four of them at White Sands in 2012 that were "successful" but no data as far as range and payload. I once read they had only 19 lbs of HE since the rocket and guidance took up all the space. I remember they were going to cost $100,000 per round, but I found this Navy link for FY2015 where they are costing over $700,000 a round, to include the carrier (missile part).
    http://www.bga-aeroweb.com/Defense/Budget-Data/FY2015/DDG-1000-LRLAP-NAVY-PROC-FY2015.pdf

    A Tomahawk costs over a million, but at least you get 1000lbs of warhead.

    But the bigger question is with the DDG-1000 program ended at three, does it make sense to have a complex weapons system for just six guns? All the spare parts, training, munitions storage worldwide for just six guns!

    Isn't this all nuts?

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    1. We've covered all this in the past. It's not really a scandal. It's a poor system, certainly, but not a scandal. The system does what it was intended to do, to a reasonable extent, based on a very few test firings.

      I think you pretty well answered your own question. No, it doesn't make sense to have this system.

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  6. To stick to topic, trade routes.
    The British lost many a ship trying to open up this trade route.

    Answer me this.
    When going to the east coast continental USA, what the distance a Ship coming from Japan (an enormous US trade partner) needs to cross currently {bearing in mind, all the latest super cargo ships can't cross the panama canal, and must either go south around cape horn, or circumnavigate the globe. Alternatively, unload west coast and land ship on shitty out of date american trains across the continent.}, conversely, look at a map, see how much shorter that route becomes should those super carriers be able to traverse north through the arctic. How much that would save in travel time, oil burnt, etc.
    Now multiply that by the Chinese trade factor and see how that goes.
    Of course, if you need a sodding great big ice breaker to accompany each ship then likely not worth it. if you can form convoys escorted by one ice breaker, the economic sense returns.

    My 2 cents. The worlds largest maritime power likely can't cede advantage in any trade routes around the globe, never mind one so close to home.

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    1. I'm sorry but I'm looking at a map and just not seeing an advantageous trade route. In particular, your example of a ship from Japan wanting to go the US east coast would just default to a very simple Japan to the west coast and the goods can be distributed easily overland across the US to wherever they need to go.

      Let's not forget that Arctic sailing is treacherous even setting the ice problems aside. The Arctic weather is potentially horrendous and would make for some very challenging voyages. I get why Russia wants to open up the northern waters but I just don't see the advantage for the US.

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    2. Several considerations.

      1: NATO countries including US, Canada, Denmark, and Norway all have arctic territories and resources, with Iceland and Japan close by. Russia has made threats about these Arctic territories, including Svalbard.

      2: There is still a lot of international waters that does not belong to any country according to international law. Russia is trying to annex all this land, including the North Pole. Not only is this a grave violation of international law, and a massive landgrab, but it will also probably lead to complications, conflict, and possibly even prevention of many civilian and scientific operations.

      3: This also would be a route that they could use to flank or operate against NATO countries from.

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  7. The Artic circle contains approximatly a 5th of worlds oil and other relative significant mineral deposits, everything of which as you said would be cheaper to buy then mine there. I think it has more to do with two things. First, the icebreaker fleet is old, hence the reason to buy more, to replace not expand the fleet. Second, this is the russians we're talking about, of course we're going to compete with them. If it isn't one of those two things, money is on a UFO being at the bottom...

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    1. As far as competition for its own sake, it would be like the Russians competing with us to use the Gulf of Mexico - it would make no more sense for them to do that than for us to artificially compete above the Arctic Circle. I have yet to see any rationale to do so.

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    2. Technically speaking we do have a history of competing for the sake of competing. Egypt, Angola, Venezuela, etc. Even the gulf of Mexico has Russia friendly Cuba. So fighting for influence isn't new. Consider this the new "space race", just for the north pole.

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  8. Good afternoon from the UK ( the bit of NATO that generally keeps it eye on this bit of things )

    Yes, The major part of Putin’s Fleet expansion is pointed at supporting arctic expansion. He has listed a base and a fleet of corvettes attack subs etc.

    Completely off the top of my head he was threatening something in the region of 50 vessels in that direction. Most in to 500-1500 tonne arena, however as we have seem in Syria they can be fairly potent.

    The point is advertised as harnessing the mineral wealth of these area, although I’ve not seen a specific area defined on a map. I suspect the statement again was as much for internal consumption of the Russian people as it was a statement of any use.

    Primarily open ocean oil exploitation ( see recent green peace kicking https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenpeace_Arctic_Sunrise_ship_case one of several cases in recent years)

    The plan may have been shelved slightly as the ass has fallen out of the squashed dinosaur market globally.

    And it has become less than economical (particularly for sanction ridden Russia) to extract the oil, refine and sell.

    Significant delays have been introduced in the construction of attack subs and other classes. Delays long enough that many other countries would regard as near enough cancellations.

    Traditionally of course he has found it incredibly difficult to sortie his northern fleet into open ocean ( for some reason, LOL ). So the actual value of this plan is dubious.

    Beno

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  9. Umm... there are major reasons to be concerned about the Arctic, and why many people are saying it may soon become the next big trouble spot.

    1) Competing claims to (vast) mineral and petroleum resources which will become more accessible with climate change;
    2) New shipping channels that will become viable with climate change;
    3) The never-ending obsession with freedom of the seas, as those seas open up due to climate change;
    4) Some people will end up with a very long, undefended coastline!

    Just for example:
    http://www.economist.com/news/international/21636756-denmark-claims-north-pole-frozen-conflict

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/03/the-arctic-where-the-us-and-russia-could-square-off-next/359543/

    But see, for example:

    http://www.adn.com/article/20151021/northern-expert-put-or-shut-your-arctic-conflict-theory

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    1. None of your four points involve any significant US strategic interest that I can see.

      Any resources in the Arctic are going to be very difficult and very expensive to obtain, to the point of not being worth it.

      Your last reference gently mocks the idea of any military interest in the region.

      Do you see any compelling US strategic interest in the Arctic?

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