The Defense Department will increase its monitoring and research activities in the Arctic as ice recedes and the region’s waters becomes more navigable, according to a report released Nov. 26.
The report builds upon a May presidential directive highlighting the importance of an American presence in the area and pushing agencies to focus more attention on plans for the region.
The administration has called the reduction of Arctic sea ice “dramatic, abrupt and unrelenting” — a process that is opening the area to greater commerce and the possibility of mineral and oil extraction.
The Defense Department will boost efforts in a number of areas, including:
■ Improving maritime tracking systems in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
■ Pursuing low-cost solutions for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) needs in the region.
■ Contributing to climate change research to help predict sea ice conditions, which could inform the design of ice-strengthened ship.
The Arctic is undergoing a transformation from an isolated region to one where nations and people have increased access, presenting a new set of challenges, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in the report.
“The Department will seek to work with Arctic nations and other interested parties, focusing efforts where opportunities exist and action is needed, while also ensuring that our national security interests remain protected,” Hagel said.
The report also identified key challenges to DoD’s efforts in the Arctic, including:
■ Continued uncertainty about environmental and sea ice conditions over the next few years and the rate at which countries and companies may ramp up Arctic activities.
■ A shrinking DoD budget that may pit Arctic activities against other more important budget items that could result in a delay of needed training and investments for the region.
■ Media coverage of Arctic boundary disputes that could inflame regional tensions.