JUST IN: Senior Officer Concerned About Competition Extending to Antarctica

By Mandy Mayfield

Photo: iStock

Great power competition in the Arctic region could eventually spread to Antarctica, a top U.S. military officer is warning.

The decades-old Antarctic Treaty was designed to de-militarize the continent and promote scientific research and other peaceful activities. More than 50 nations are consultative or non-consultative parties, including the United States and its great power adversaries China and Russia. However, the agreement is set to expire in 2048, noted Gen. Charles Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces.

"The treaty ... is going to be expiring and up for review, and both China and Russia have a presence in the Antarctic," he said July 30 during an event in Arlington, Virginia, hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Brown pointed to growing tensions in the Arctic — where a number of nations are increasing their presence and pursuing their interests as melting sea ice opens up new shipping routes and access to economic resources — as a potential precursor to great power rivalry in the other Polar region.

The Pentagon released a new Arctic Strategy in June which focuses on threats in the far north. It notes that Russia views itself as a “polar great power.” Since the creation of Russia’s Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command in 2014, Moscow has ramped up its presence in the region with refurbished airfields, new military bases and a network of air- defense systems, according to the document.

Although China currently has no territorial claims in the region, it has signaled its interest in the area by declaring itself a “near Arctic state.” The United States does not recognize this status, according to the strategy.

“When I look at the competition ... both with Russia and China … I have got to pay attention now" to what could eventually happen in Antarctica, Brown said. “Right now, we want to keep it free and open for research," he added.

Pacific Air Forces is a component of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Part of Antarctica is within INDOPACOM's area of responsibility.

Brown noted that Russia's icebreaker fleet far surpasses that of the United States. The U.S. Coast Guard — which operates the nation’s fleet of icebreakers — currently has just one heavy vessel, the Polar Star, and one medium vessel, the Healy, which is primarily used for research.

“Russia has a number icebreakers, much more than we do,” Brown said. “China has an icebreaker. And so part of the aspect is, how do we think about the capability we require for the Arctic and Antarctic?"

The United States aims to acquire six new icebreakers, known as polar security cutters. Brown noted that although icebreakers are a Coast Guard capability, he feels the need to advocate for the ships.

Topics: International

Comments (1)

Re: JUST IN: Air Force Commander Concerned About Great Power Competition Extending to Antarctic

Besides new USCG Polar Security Cutters, what is the Arctic and Antarctic plan? These new icebreakers won't be armed, and having containerized cruise missiles is dubious at best because the USCG isn't the U.S. Navy and these new icebreakers might lack the sensors and fire control system to launch cruise missiles.

I highly doubt that the DoD will militarize Antarctica. But what if there's a requirement to ship arms to both Poles for National Interests and defense?

I advocate the F-15X and F-18 Advanced Super Hornet. The stealth coatings on the F-22 and F-35s are so finicky and sensitive that they slough off in Syrian heat. The F-15X and F-18 ASH Fourth Generation Plus fighters are still needed because they LACK stealth coatings and can fly practically anywhere in short notice.

I advocate the Mobile Protected Firepower Light Tank. ANY Light Tank is required now for a Show of Force for armor in all environments as the M1 Abrams is often too heavy to deploy. We need a mobile 105mm to 120mm cannon on a lighter chassis, period.

Finally, I advocate some form of new medium tracked Arctic vehicle, possibly AMPV or Ripsaw with remote weapons armament. Tracks are required in the snowy environments and the HMMWV and JLTV aren't going to cut it all the time in the snow. Both chassis can mount anything from guns to SHROADS to UAVs to sensors.

Just these three things can add some "Fighting punch" in snowy environments---if they get built and not canceled.

Krashnovians at 12:02 PM
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