Coast Guard continues Arctic Domain Awareness flights

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Coast Guard continued its Arctic Domain Awareness flights aboard a Coast Guard C-130 from Kodiak Tuesday in support of operations, exploration and understanding in the region.

Adm. Gene Brooks, commander District 17, commander Naval Forces Alaska, and Capt. Mark Hamilton, commander Sector Anchorage, Captain of the Port Western Alaska, educated passengers from CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, various Alaska publications as well as partners from the U.S. Air Force 3rd Wing and Customs and Border Protection on the scope of operations up north.

“The Arctic is upon us,” said Brooks. “It’s a maritime domain and the nation needs her Coast Guard’s leadership.”

The flight was an opportunity to update the Coast Guard’s operational picture of the environment in the northern region, conduct outreach with media personnel and work cooperatively with other federal agencies that also have an expanding operational area. It is one of many steps the Coast Guard is taking to effectively provide for growing operations in this environment.

“We’ve been conducting prevention and response operations in the Arctic for years,” said Hamilton. “We monitor operations and inspect the vessels transporting ore from Red Dog Mine, the largest zinc mine in the world. We have responded to threats to tank farms at villages experiencing severe coastal erosion. We work cooperatively with the oil and gas industry on response drills on the North Slope. We conduct Port State Control exams on foreign flagged cruise ships visiting Barrow. We had three cruise ship visits this year. Next year we are already expecting seven, so the scope is widening.”

The path of the flight traveled from Kodiak to Anchorage and then northwest to Kivalina and along the coast to Barrow. The ice edge was observed just north of Barrow before the plane returned to Anchorage.

Each Artic Domain Awareness mission is unique. Weather, passengers, cargo and concurrent missions require each evolution to be different. Each aircraft commander is expected to optimize the patrol time and accomplish as many of the objectives as possible. Along with logistic support to any on going Coast Guard mission in the Arctic, specific patrol objectives include:

*Ports, Waterways and Coast Security – Patrol of the Alaskan coast, above the Arctic Circle (66 degrees 33 minutes North).
– Locate, identify and document any surface contacts north of the Arctic Circle.
– Coordinate intelligence gathering and verification.
*Coastal Erosion – Document the condition of coastal communities experiencing severe impact from coastal erosion.
*Ice Observation – Conduct ice edge observations, report findings. Document ice conditions and edge with photos/video.
*Science of opportunity – Support science of opportunity requests.
*Media outreach – Provide opportunity for media participation and familiarization.
*Training – Pilot and crew familiarization and training above the Arctic Circle. As flight profiles and weather allow, aircrew are to become familiar with operations in and around the following locations:

– Kivalina                       – Delong Mountain Terminal             – Red Dog Mine
– Point Hope                  – Cape Lisburne                                 – Point Lay
– Wainwright                 – Prudhoe Bay/ Deadhorse                – Barrow
– Eielson Air Force Base

The Coast Guard has over 2,000 active duty, reserve, auxiliary and civilian members in Alaska who are responsible for the success of a variety of missions over more than 33,000 miles of coastline and more than 950,000 square miles of water.

“Time and distance,” said Hamilton, “those are the two most critical factors in any operation here.”

According to Hamilton a standard operation here can easily take twice the personnel and several days more than it would in the lower 48.

“I had a landing craft ground on Nunivak Island and damage a void and fuel tank. It was several days before we could get anyone on scene due to the flight schedules. Already this year I have had to charter flights to complete missions.”

Based on priorities outlined in the National Security Council’s interagency review of Arctic policy, it is anticipated that the Coast Guard will have to extend these roles and missions in to the Arctic in the next five to ten years:

– Enhance National Security
– Project U.S. presence
– Protect sovereignty in Arctic
– Advocate Environmental Stewardship (pollution prevention and living marine resource protection)
– Facilitate safe navigation and protect Arctic maritime commerce associated with destinational traffic Waterways management Arctic shipping standards via IMO
– Enhance boating safety
– Prosecute SAR (eco-tourism and subsistence fishing/hunting)
– Enforce arctic mariner credential/licensing standards
– Support expanding year round research in Arctic

Over the summer the Coast Guard tested the capability of crews, boats, ships and air craft for operations in the Arctic. It established a baseline for operations and helped outline the challenges for operating north of the Arctic Circle so those challenges can be met and overcome.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, an icebreaker based out of Seattle, spent several months mapping the extended continental shelf to provide material to substantiate the U.S. territorial claims to portions of the Arctic under the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Coast Guard Cutter SPAR, based out of Kodiak, did mapping missions as well and took soundings in many of the bays and sounds. Charts of the Arctic are limited and lack detail. The possibility of establishing aids to navigation and shipping lanes may exist and this data will be necessary to do that.

The Polar Sea, another Coast Guard icebreaker from Seattle, is currently being prepared for a winter mission.

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