A number of articles in these pages have looked at various aspects—resources, diplomacy, logistics, and environmental factors—of the emerging Arctic region. Coast Guard Captain Kevin W. Riddle issues a clarion call for the United States to sharpen its focus on the new North. Although many strategy documents have been released in recent years, “they do not adequately address all the strategic risks at stake and do not provide clear guidance to the Department of Defense for defensive lines of effort,” he says. What’s needed is collaboration between Northern Command, the Coast Guard, and other stakeholders to ensure U.S. vital interests in the Arctic are well defined—and well defended.
Since the last Iowa -class battleship was decommissioned in 1992, there have been periodic calls by advocates to reactivate them. Not only were these behemoths imposing (though graceful) symbols of national might, more importantly they could deliver a vital capability with greater effect than any other surface vessel currently in the Fleet: naval gunfire support (NGFS). For the past 20 years, the Navy has had to rely on the 5-inch Mk 45 guns found on Ticonderoga -class cruisers and Spruance - and Arleigh Burke –class destroyers to execute this mission. While the experimental deployment of the 6-inch/155-mm Advanced Gun System on the three Zumwalt -class destroyers will improve NGFS capability, according to former surface warfare officer Steve Paschal, the real potential lies in the development of the electromagnetic railgun (EMRG). He argues that the Navy should add railguns to expeditionary strike groups (ESGs) and amphibious readiness groups to enhance their firepower. Doing so “would provide a world-class NGFS and impressive power-projection capability, increasing their ability to act independently—which has been the goal since the ESG concept was introduced in the 1990s,” he concludes.
But the consideration of EMRGs has other implications for the Navy—mainly, how will it be possible to source the massive quantities of electricity needed to adequately energize them while still having enough power for an underway vessel’s other necessities? Lieutenant William Spears thinks that the answer could be in our fairly recent past: nuclear energy. “Emerging technology like high-powered radar, electromagnetic railguns, and directed-energy weapons portend a steadily increasing need for electrical power, and a reactor may be the only practical way to deliver that,” he says. He details the cost effectiveness of nuclear power for surface combatants while acknowledging the myriad complications that arise when nuclear power is factored into any equation. “A new ship class of this scale is not realistic in the near term,” he allows, but “what is unaffordable today . . . may be the most practical answer to a critical weakness tomorrow.”