The final defense policy bill agreed to by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Monday night directs the Pentagon to establish one or more strategic ports in the Arctic to include Navy and Coast Guard ships to counter emerging threats and demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region.
The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) says that once the bill is signed into law, the Secretary of Defense, working with other Defense Department leaders as well as the Coast Guard and Maritime Administration, has six months to deliver Congress a report on potential sites for the port or ports.
“It is the sense of Congress that the Arctic is a region of strategic importance to the national security interests of the United States and the Department of Defense must better align its presence, force posture, and capabilities to meet the growing array of challenges in the region,” says the report accompany the NDAA that was released late Monday. “And although much progress has been made to increase awareness of Arctic issues and to promote increased presence in the region, additional measures, including the designation of one or more strategic Arctic ports, are needed to show the comment of the United States to this emerging strategic chokepoint of future great power competition.”
The bill, which the White House said President Trump will sign once it passes Congress, says the report should evaluate the space needed for at least one of each of certain classes of Navy and Coast Guard ships, including DDG-51 destroyers, National Security Cutters, and heavy polar icebreakers. The report must also include the needs for military and civilian operations, including aerospace warning, maritime control, defense and domain awareness, homeland defense, defense support to civil authorities, humanitarian relief, search and rescue, disaster relief, weather forecasting, and more.
The port provision was required in the Senate version of the bill over the summer while the House version had called for a study on the need for a strategic Arctic port.
The bill also directs studies of Chinese and Russian military activities and investments in the region.
Another section of the bill requires a report on DoD plans for mass casualty disaster response operations in the Arctic.