A new Navy and Marine Corps arctic strategy released this week emphasized the need to increase presence in the Arctic to compete with Russia and China amid melting sea ice.

The strategy released on Tuesday, called “A Blue Arctic – a strategic blueprint for the Arctic,” describes how the Department of the Navy plans to apply naval power as it prepared for an increasingly navigable Arctic region over the next 20 years.

A Blue Arctic; Department of the Navy, a Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic. (Image: U.S. Navy)

Although it primarily outlined the broad strokes, the report stressed integrating U.S. naval power with joint forces, interagency teammates, allies, and partners.

“In the decades ahead, rapidly melting sea ice and increasingly navigable Arctic waters – a Blue Arctic – will create new challenges and opportunities off our northern shores. Without sustained American naval presence and partnerships in the Arctic Region, peace and prosperity will be increasingly challenged by Russia and China, whose interests and values differ dramatically from ours,” the report said.

The strategy defined the Arctic as “all United States and foreign territory north of the Arctic Circle and all United States territory north and west of the boundary formed by the Porcupine, Yukon, and Kuskokwim Rivers; all contiguous seas, including the Arctic Ocean and the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi Seas; and the Aleutian chain.”

The department said given challenges ranging from the changing environment due to climate change, greater access to sea routes and resources, and increased military activity by Russia and China have all grown more complex and urgent.

“Peace and prosperity in the Arctic requires enhanced naval presence and partnerships.”

The strategy argued U.S. naval forces must operate “more assertively across the Arctic Region to prevail in day-to-day competition as we protect the homeland, keep Arctic seas free and open, and deter coercive behavior and conventional aggression.”

It continued that the U.S. challenge is to apply naval power in daily competition “in a way that protects vital national interests and preserves regional security without undermining trust and triggering conflict. These challenges create a unique – but limited – window of opportunity to chart a new course for American naval power in the Arctic Region.”

The Navy said it plans to maintain an enhanced presence in the region by regionally posturing forces, conducting exercises and operations, integrating Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard capabilities, and synchronizing fleets.

“In the decades ahead, the Department will continue to provide the right levels and types of presence overseas. We will continue to assess our force posture requirements in Alaska to meet the unique and evolving requirements of the Arctic Region, often in conjunction with the joint force, U.S. interagency, allies, and partners – including NATO. The Department will take a more cooperative and tailored approach through a mix of permanently stationed forces, rotational forces, temporary forces, pre-positioned equipment and stocks, and basing infrastructure across the region,” the report said.

In the coming years, the department plans for U.S. naval forces to increase participation in regional exercises and operations across Arctic sub-regions, including namechecking working with the Alaskan State Defense Force and Alaska National Guard.

Specifically, the report said DoD plans to organize, train and equip an integrated naval expeditionary force capable of operating in the Arctic littorals.

“The Marine Corps will facilitate sea control and sea denial operations in support of Fleet commander plans. Integrating the Coast Guard’s unique authorities and capabilities with the Navy-Marine Corps team expands options for Fleet Commanders in day-to-day operations and crisis. This combination of resilient, mobile, and self-sustaining forces will enable us to persist, partner, and operate in the Arctic Region.”

Moreover, the document outlined several areas of naval investment.

“The Department will continue leading critical advancements in research, development, testing, and evaluation – including the development of cold weather-capable designs, forecasting models, sensors, high latitude communications, and navigation systems – while enhancing our ability to meet future demands.”

This includes access to infrastructure by exploring how to reduce transit times, preserve mobility, and meet logistical demands of naval forces operating in the Arctic.

The strategy also highlighted needed investment in command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C5ISR).

“The Department will assess and prioritize C5ISR capabilities in the Arctic Region, to include resilient, survivable, and interoperable networks and information systems of naval tactical forces, operations centers, and strategic planning. These capabilities will enhance domain awareness with the joint force, U.S. interagency, allies, and partners in the Arctic Region.”

The Navy plans to evaluate and modernize forces for operational presence and patrol options in Arctic waters.

“We will improve hydrographic surveys and sensors to support the Fleet. In a Blue Arctic, the Department must have a more credible presence in Arctic waters. This means ensuring that Arctic operations are considered in our design and modernization plans, and that our defense industrial base can build and sustain forces for the Arctic.”

The strategy said the department will keep using the Office of Naval Research for basic and applied research efforts, namechecking programs like the Arctic Mobile Observing System (AMOS) Innovative Naval Prototype and International Cooperative Engagement Program for Polar Research (ICE-PPR).