SEA-AIR-SPACE NEWS: Navy Undersecretary Warns of Climate Change Challenges

By Shreeya Aranake

Navy League photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Climate change will be a major challenge for U.S. maritime forces, the acting Undersecretary of the Navy Meredith Berger said on April 3.

“Climate readiness is mission readiness,” she said.

“Climate change increases instability and demands on our forces, while simultaneously impacting our capacity to respond to those demands,” Berger said during the opening ceremony at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference at National Harbor, Maryland. “Mitigation and adaptation to increase our resilience is an operational imperative.”

In addressing the climate crisis, strong partnerships are crucial, she said.

“The value of forward naval forces cannot be overstated,” Berger said. More than 90 percent of trade and over 95 percent of international communication cables span across the seabed.

“They provide a combat credible presence, ensuring critical waterways remain open,” she continued. “Our forward deployed and strategic forces signal formidable strength to our allies and deter our adversaries.”

Among the challenges posed by a changing climate, the melting sea ice in the Arctic is a major concern for the Navy, she said. Open waterways boosts opportunities for commerce in the region while also increasing other countries’ presence there. “As maritime traffic increases in the Arctic waters, we’ll work with our partners and allies to project strength and keep the region safe and secure.”

“The Arctic is not ice free yet,” said Rear Adm. Ronald J. Piret, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. “What we’re really talking about is a lower percentage” of ice, he said during a panel discussion on the Arctic later in the conference.

“We are continuing to enhance our presence in the region,” he said although the “tyranny of distance” makes the region challenging. Communications and sensing are two of the biggest hurdles the Navy faces. GPS signals are not robust and the ionosphere interferes with radio signals, he added.

The Navy needs more environmental sensors in the Arctic to make better weather forecasts, he added.

“It’s a data sparse region,” He added.

Berger also outlined the Navy’s other future needs — acknowledging Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine — and China’s “exponential expansion” of maritime capabilities.

The Navy is operating under the “context of a dynamic security environment,” Berger said, referring to Russian aggression toward Ukraine. The United States is working with NATO allies and partners to enforce robust deterrence as the conflict continues.

“We face increasing global threats from coercive and malign actors, whose actions threaten peace, stability, and rules-based order,” Berger said. “Russia poses an acute threat.”

China has also drastically increased incursions in the maritime environment and is normalizing provocative behavior, Berger added.

Information dominance and cyber security are also defining threats for the Navy and shape the way that it operates.

— Additional reporting by Stew Magnuson

Topics: Maritime Security, Shipbuilding

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