The Pentagon envisions multinational exercises in the Arctic between the United States and seven other countries that recently agreed to jointly conduct search-and-rescue missions in this vast region of the globe.
This fall, Canada will host an initial "tabletop exercise" to help determine ways to implement the arctic search-and-rescue (SAR) agreement, according to David Balton, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries.
Maritime activities along shipping routes are expected to increase in the Arctic region as ice melts. Flight traffic is also expected to increase.
"The extreme distances, limited infrastructure, and paucity of assets will make a timely SAR response challenging in the best of conditions," a May 2011 DoD Arctic report states.
"As human activity increases in the region, this gap is expected to increase. SAR, however, is not a force sizing or shaping mission for DoD; the Department contributes assets when needed and as available."
In May, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representatives from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic.
The agreement is designed to coordinate "life-saving international maritime and aeronautical SAR coverage and response among the Arctic States across an area of about 13 million square miles," according to a State Department fact sheet.
While the agreement was signed in May, it will not be enforced several more months, according to Balton, who spoke at a June 29 presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"There are envisioned search-and-rescue exercises to begin to work on implementation of the agreement," Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, said during the same event.
While the multinational SAR agreement facilitates communication and cooperation, it does not translate into more assets and resources for the critical mission, Balton said.
"I am hoping each of the eight governments, including the United States, can use it to that effect," he said.