The U.S. Air Force wants improved sensors and communications for the Arctic, including Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), as the service seeks to make operations there more routine and as it fields Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35s and F-22s to enhance U.S. Arctic power projection to the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.

“I think we’re at a pivotal point on the timeline of the Arctic,” Air Force Lt. Gen. David Krumm, the commander of Alaskan Command and the 11th Air Force, said on Oct. 5 during a Wilson Center virtual event.

The U.S. Air Force in July released what it called the service’s first Arctic Strategy to meet competitive threats from Russia and China (Defense Daily, July 21)..

The 14-page strategy, accompanied by a classified annex, was co-signed by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations Gen. John Raymond, and then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

The first line of effort in the strategy is “vigilance in all domains.”

“What that means is constant awareness– sensors that can detect and track under and on the water as well as in air and space and means to be able to communicate and control, using things such as JADC2,” Krumm said on Oct. 5.

The other three lines of effort in the strategy are the following: projecting power through a combat-credible force to ensure common domains remain free and open, cooperation with allies and partners, and preparation for Arctic operations.

Retired Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, a former head of Alaskan Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO, told the Wilson Center forum on Oct. 5 that the Air Force needs to put significant funding toward implementing the Arctic strategy.

“With regard to vigilance, I think the Air Force has stepped up to that,” he said. “I think the Long Range Discrimination Radar [LRDR] upgrade at Clear Air Force Station [Alaska] is certainly a step in the right direction for that. There are still issues that need to be sorted out, in particular communications.”

Ensuring that the head of Alaskan Command is able to receive early warning data, possibly through redundant communications over satellite and terrestrial links, is vital and needs to receive the necessary Air Force funding, he said.

In 2015, Lockheed Martin received a $784 million contract for LRDR, an S-band radar for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense anti-ballistic missile system. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) halted its work on LRDR in March due to COVID-19 and now plans to field LRDR in late fiscal 2023, per a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in July (Defense Daily, Aug 10).

MDA previously planned to field the system in fiscal 2021 before transferring it to the Air Force in fiscal 2022.

In his Oct. 5 remarks, Ralston also encouraged the Air Force to re-establish an Arctic search and rescue exercise, begun in 1993 and carried over a decade, among the U.S., Russia, and Canada as a way to improve understanding in the Arctic region.

Retired Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, a former commander of U.S. Southern Command and Alaskan Command, told the Wilson Center on Oct. 5 that the Air Force and U.S. Space Force need to examine commercial communications systems.

Space Force “plays a very important role in Alaska and in the Arctic,” he said. “I would argue that for not only the United States but probably globally, if you look at space and polar orbits, they’re becoming much more important to the world, especially as you look at communications capabilities with a lot of companies, such as [SpaceX‘s] Starlink and OneWeb starting to populate some pretty significant constellations in low-earth orbit.”

Northrop Grumman [NOC] said recently that it finished a delta Critical Design Review (dCDR) for the Enhanced Polar System Recapitalization (EPS-R) Control and Planning Segment (CAPS) program, which is to improve military satellite communications in the Arctic (Defense Daily, Aug. 4).

CAPS is the ground segment providing command and control, and mission planning for all four of the EPS/EPS-R payloads with a single software baseline.

In addition to the ground segment, EPS-R is to include two eXtended Data Rate (XDR) payloads developed by Northrop Grumman, which will serve to provide coverage in the region until the Protected Tactical SATCOM and Evolved Strategic SATCOM polar variants become operational in the 2030s, according to the company.

In 2018, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $428.8 million contract for the two EPS-R payloads.