The U.S. Navy must be able to project its surface power throughout the world’s oceans, including the Arctic, Army. Gen. Mark Milley, the nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday in a written response to a question submitted after his July 11 confirmation hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) posed the question for the record to Milley, asking if he agrees that “our Navy should be able to project surface seapower in the Arctic as it can elsewhere in the world?” Sullivan, speaking Thursday morning at a symposium on the Arctic hosted by the Wilson Center, said Milley replied, “Yes. U.S. U.S. maritime forces should be appropriately manned, trained and equipped to project power anywhere in the world’s oceans. This requirement should not be limited by geography and should include the Arctic.”
Having that statement on the record is “important,” Sullivan said, noting that Milley, who is the Army’s chief of staff, is likely to be confirmed by the Senate as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the next two weeks.
Mark Esper, President Trump’s nominee be Secretary of Defense, had his confirmation hearing with SASC on Tuesday, after which Sullivan also submitted a question for the record about the importance of the Arctic to the U.S. amid a return to great power competition and both Russia and China seeking leverage in the region.
In reply, Sullivan said Esper wrote on Wednesday that “The Arctic is strategic terrain for the United States. The region has significant economic opportunity and must remain free and open. It is also growing more complicated as strategic competitors, Russia and increasingly China, seek to enhance their position in the region. It is critical that the Arctic remain a secure and stable region where U.S. national interests are safeguarded, the U.S. homeland is defended and nations work together to address challenges.”
The SASC voted Thursday to confirm Esper and the nomination is expected to be considered by the Senate next week.
The Senate this summer included in its defense authorization bill a provision authored by Sullivan directing the Defense Department to establish at least one strategic port in the Arctic that could accommodate Navy destroyers and Coast Guard vessels. The House version of the bill included an amendment by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) calling for a study of strategic ports in the Arctic but only asking DoD to consider establishing at least one such port.
A spokesman for Young told Defense Daily on Thursday that the congressman crafted an amendment that has bipartisan support and gives DoD the authority to designate a strategic Arctic Port.
“If stronger language is included in the final National Defense Authorization Act, Congressman Young will enthusiastically support it,” he said.
Sullivan, in another question for the record to Milley following his confirmation hearing, also asked what U.S. “military capabilities are lacking to be able to compete with Russia and China in the Arctic.” Sullivan’s office provided Defense Daily with Milley’s and Esper’s replies related to the Arctic.
Milley stated that “From my current perspective, we are currently lacking sufficient icebreaking capability,” which is a Coast Guard mission. “Additionally, an Arctic port that can handle U.S. Navy ships may be needed.” Milley also wrote that he’ll work with the joint chiefs and the combatant commanders to “to identify any capabilities that are necessary to meet U.S. military requirements for operations in the Arctic.”
Esper was also asked about the importance of the Arctic before his confirmation hearing and told the committee in a written response that the region is a “potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific region, Europe, and the U.S. homeland.” He also said the near-term potential for conflict in the Arctic is “low” and that the DoD’s work with its allies in the region and partners “strengthens our shared approach to reginal security and helps deter strategic competitors from seeking to change the existing rules-based order unilaterally.”
Sea ice in the Arctic is melting and for short periods each year potential shipping lanes are opening, creating the possibility for new commercial sea routes and increased mineral and petroleum exploitation.
Milley was also asked about improvements to U.S. ground forces for Arctic operations and he replied that “Training and equipment” need to be improved and that current “training is limited in scale, scope and time.”
In response to another question about the “strategic message” to Russian and China if the U.S. collocated 5th generation fighter aircraft and KC-46 aerial refueling tankers in Alaska, Milley wrote it would be a “strong strategic message of deterrence” and that he will “take a hard look” at the issue and work with the “Air Force on their KC-46 basing plan.” He also said these capabilities have to be integrated with other domains such as “maritime, land, space, and cyber capabilities,” highlighting that such a combination “may change our competitors’ approach to challenging the existing globally-accepted norms.”