Allied submarines like HMS Superb, the USS Billfish (SSN-676), and the USS Sea Devil (SSN-664) may pop up occasionally at the North Pole, but the Soviets live in the Arctic, and their operational experience there is growing steadily. The United States needs to establish its own continuous high-level focus on that theater of operations.
Since the late 1950s, the U. S. Navy's interest in the Arctic has waxed and waned, largely according to fluctuations in the perceived Soviet threat in this region. On the other hand, Soviet interest and operational experience in the Arctic has grown steadily, as demonstrated by the size and extent of Soviet Northern Fleet operations conducted there.
According to leading naval analyst Norman Polmar:
"The Arctic is an important naval and maritime area for the Soviets, beyond ballistic missile submarines. The Northern Fleet is the largest of the four Soviet fleets. In addition to 65% of the Soviet Navy's SSBNs, some 50% of the Soviet general-purpose submarines and 27% of major surface combatants are assigned to the Northern Fleet. At the same time, the Arctic Sea Route is important to the Soviet economy, especially to help exploit Siberian resources. The continued building of nuclear icebreakers and reports of Soviet construction of nuclear merchant ships for Arctic operation demonstrate the importance of the area.
"In contrast, major U. S. naval interest in the Arctic is relatively recent and limited. For most of this century the Arctic was looked upon by the U. S. Navy as an interesting place to explore, but few hard military requirements could be found."
Polmar's findings do not represent startling new intelligence. Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Watkins recognized the traditional importance of the Arctic to the Soviets in his contribution to the Naval Institute's Maritime Strategy Supplement to the January 1986 Proceedings. The frequent exercise areas that Admiral Watkins showed support the contention "that initially [at the outset of hostilities] the bulk of Soviet naval forces will deploy in areas near the Soviet Union , with only a small fraction deployed forward." Then-Secretary of the Navy John Lehman viewed the Arctic as a major potential area for U. S. naval operations and called the Kola Peninsula "the most valuable piece of real estate on earth," saying, in reference to this Soviet bastion, "The only way you can really keep them above the GIUK gap…is to be up there…forcing them onto the defensive initially because they know they will have to protect their assets."
Despite apparent, if sporadic, high-level U. S. recognition of the Arctic's importance, the Soviets' gradual shift of the bulk of their nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) from the Atlantic and Pacific to the Arctic Ocean, for example, has not initiated any calls to general quarters from the United States. A U. S. News and World Report article made the observation "that the Navy has been agonizingly slow to recognize and adapt to this shift. 'This is not a surprise, but we just didn't focus on it,' a top intelligence officer admits."
There is a glaring lack of a continuous, high-level focus on integrated plans, operations, and intelligence gathering for the Arctic theater. The Navy's traditional and existing commitments in support of long-standing national priorities are about all it can handle, given existing resources. This constraint, coupled with a lack of high-ranking advocates pressing for a standing capability for credible U. S. Navy force projection in the Arctic, has ensured that significant thought will only be given to the Arctic theater when some dramatic event occurs. We need a high-level Navy advocate for Arctic theater operations.
The advocate envisioned, Commander Naval Forces Arctic (ComNavForArctic), would be permanently and directly responsible to one of the Commanders-in-Chief (CinCs). The small, permanent command, headed by a flag officer, would be the focus for all Navy, naval aviation, and Marine Corps operational, intelligence, and planning actions for any potential force projection in the Arctic theater. While ComNavForArctic would maintain a close liaison with the many existing programs—largely naval laboratory-based—currently focused on the Arctic, the command, in association with higher authority and the relevant Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Op-codes, would set Navy priorities for the Arctic theater and be responsible for ensuring operational readiness in the region. ComNavForArctic would have no permanent assets; assets would be assigned to it, as necessary for exercises and operations in the Arctic. It would have permanent N-1 through N-6 staff functions.
An Arctic command would enhance the value of the many mid-level military and civilian personnel with Arctic experience stationed at the various naval offices and laboratories. Their experience, gathered over many years—especially that of the nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) officers who have made Arctic patrols—would be reinforced by the authority and sense of purpose, presently lacking, that ComNavForArctic would provide.
Why Do We Need ComNavForArctic? Logistical differences in supporting force projection in the world's diverse geographical regions have dictated the nature of unified commands. Subordinate organizations have been established in specific geographical areas to concentrate on specific sub-areas within the larger organizations' theaters. This is a sensible arrangement that works. The Arctic is one of these specific sub-areas, geographically, environmentally, and logistically. With proper organization, and at minimal cost, the establishment of ComNavForArctic as one of those subordinate organizations would add substantial benefits to our posture in the Arctic. Commander U. S. Forces Caribbean (ComUSForCarib) serves as an ideal model for the proposed ComNavForArctic.
ComUSForCarib: The Caribbean Basin is a small geographic entity within the purview of Commander-in-Chief Atlantic (CinCLant). For years, the Caribbean, despite many policy studies and high-level blue-ribbon recommendations, was overshadowed by other concerns in the Atlantic region. The U. S. Government did not see a threat of catastrophic proportions in the Caribbean. At the end of 1981, the Caribbean Contingency Joint Task Force, established at Key West to study Caribbean problems, especially Cuban-related ones, was upgraded to ComUSForCarib, a sub-unified command under CinCLant.
ComUSForCarib's continuous—as opposed to reactive—focus on Caribbean problems, through detailed intelligence analysis and the development and exercising of numerous plans, did more to promote understanding of the threat in the Caribbean and the development of appropriate responses than the more globally oriented staff at CinCLant and CinCLantFIt. Headed by a succession of dynamic and articulate flag officers, ComUSForCarib, with no permanent assets , ensures that defense-related problems in the Caribbean are regularly brought to the attention of the highest levels of government and that realistic responses are developed. Through numerous exercises, both active and reserve forces have become acutely aware of this theater's specific problems, and they are now in a much better position to function effectively.
The Arctic theater is similar in many ways to the Caribbean theater before ComUSForCarib was established. As in the case of the Caribbean, policy studies and high-level committees have expressed deep concern over operational problems in the Arctic. For example, the Arctic Program Steering Committee was created in May 1982 at the three-star level to coordinate development of fleet Arctic capabilities. Yet, several larger commands with widespread concerns share operational responsibility for the Arctic theater, and meaningful attention is given to the area only when they have planned Arctic nuclear-powered attack submarine operations.
Although SSN operations may well be the most important means of force projection in the Arctic theater, integrated plans for the Arctic involving naval aviation, the Marine Corps, and SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams and other naval assets should not be neglected; these other elements need to be exercised regularly also. Just as there were political, economic, and strategic problems specific to the Caribbean that needed to be addressed before an effective defense policy could be developed for the Caribbean theater, there are problems specific to the Arctic that must be assessed before we can develop an effective force projection capability in the Arctic theater.
The Arctic waters have been largely considered the same as other ocean areas, only colder, and the CinCs, the CNO Op-codes, and the various commands that have some Arctic interest administratively lump together all the ocean areas. Unfortunately, this practice ensures that the Arctic operational concerns will not have the flag-level advocates necessary to develop an effective Navy force projection capability.
The diverse communities—both operational and technical—that comprise the Navy's larger Arctic community fall under separate commands whose charters regarding Arctic matters are so general that these matters have low priority and are handled at a relatively low level in each command. Arctic SSN operations, antisubmarine warfare (ASW) , mine warfare, acoustics, aviation, and weapons are all subsets of their more general communities. Spokesmen for each specialized interest must compete for attention within their own commands before they can have any influence in the highly specific Arctic warfare arena. Even within the SSN community, which conducts essentially all of the Navy's current Arctic operations and, therefore, is the repository for most of the Navy's Arctic operations experience, this knowledge resides principally with commanders and below. To affect policy, these officers must attempt to influence decisions impinging on Arctic force projection in a milieu where their bosses are concerned with operations in much larger, more general arenas.
A far more effective solution would be to assemble representatives of each of these scattered Arctic communities on the ComNavForArctic staff where they can directly influence the commander while maintaining a liaison with their specific communities at other commands. The commander will have both the charter and the rank to ensure that his command's more global views and concerns will be heard at a level where policy is made.
A Proposed Arctic Command: Although operations in the Arctic cannot be viewed solely in terms of submarines, undersea warfare must playa major role. What is envisioned, however, is a broader Navy purview of this theater, with the typically wider concerns of a theater commander. The Commander and Deputy Commander/Chief of Staff should come from the SSN and aviation communities. There should also be senior Marine Corps and SEAL representatives on the staff. A senior Canadian Navy liaison officer should also be considered. Headquarters for ComNavForArctic would probably best be co-located with CinCLantFlt or in England. ComNavForArctic's mission should be essentially as follows:
ComNavForArctic is responsible to the Navy for conducting any U. S. Navy and Marine Corps operations north of the Arctic Circle in the furtherance of national objectives in time of war, or as otherwise provided by law. ComNavForArctic, assisted by submarine, aviation, Marine Corps, surface and special warfare commands, will develop plans, institute and conduct exercises, assist in collecting, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence, facilitate logistics, and in any appropriate manner as directed by higher authority, ensure that Navy and national interests in the Arctic Theater are best served.
The following specialized concerns need to be included among the standard staff functions:
N-1 (Administration): Close working-level relationships must be secured among planners, operators, and intelligence personnel and the other governmental organizations possessing Arctic expertise. ComNavForArctic will not have much of the technical and operational expertise in-house needed to carry out its mission properly. Therefore, N-1 will have to find contacts worldwide, through travel and conferences, to apply all available expertise to ComNavForArctic's mission. In developing the command's staff, N-1 must seek personnel with polar experience.
N-2 (Intelligence): There is already a substantial infrastructure for intelligence-gathering for the Arctic theater. What appears to be essential now is appropriate and continuous interpretation of the available data, including data from our allies, in conjunction with strategic, operational, and environmental inputs from other U. S. Navy communities. This intelligence needs to be presented regularly to the commander for his information and action. Establishing ComNavForArctic's chain of command would eliminate a significant information disconnect. Many operational and technical personnel with Arctic experience who could, for example, interpret special intelligence data do not now have an easy path for communication, either because of lack of appropriate clearances or the current cumbersome chain of command between them and a cognizant intelligence officer. ComNavForArctic's mission would facilitate this communication. Although N-2 could request special intelligence tasking, its basic function would be to provide detailed analysis of the substantial data already existing but currently underused. ComNavForArctic's N-2 would be the Navy's senior intelligence advisor for the Arctic theater.
N-3/N-5 (Operations and Plans): The basic motivation establishing ComNavForArctic is to ensure that plans and operations are developed and conducted, not just for submariners, but for all naval and Marine Corps elements that together may be called upon to achieve national objectives in the Arctic: integrated planning for integrated operations. It implies continuity from one year to the next. Although there currently may be sufficient polar planning and operations expertise scattered throughout the Navy, not since Operation Highjump (1946) and the early days of Operation Deepfreeze (1956-63) has there been major cooperation among the various naval elements on polar operations.
Aviation elements need to plan and perform ASW and SAR exercises with SSNs in ice-infested waters. Mine and special warfare elements should be brought into plans development early so they can work efficiently with the overall team. Traditional Marine Corps participation must be integrated at the outset so that the logistic and personnel problems associated with cold-weather operations can be addressed beforehand. Special operations and tactics should be planned. Exercises combining all these elements ought to be scheduled annually at least.
N-4 (Logistics): Only those who have served in the polar regions understand what can go wrong owing to cold weather. N-4 has to have personnel familiar with polar operations to guide development of plans and exercises and needs to be involved in assisting outside elements assigned to the command for exercises or operations.
N-6 (Communications): Special considerations may well be needed to establish communications networks in the Arctic theater sufficiently reliable to support ComNavForArctic. Planners must make a point of stressing communications exercises.
The Arctic is increasingly important to our national interests. Recognizing the reality of budget constraints, perceiving a need for a permanent flag-level command to coordinate policy for Arctic theater operations, and understanding the major environmental differences that separate the Arctic from traditional Navy operations areas, ComNavForArctic is necessary. This command would be co-located with another Navy CinC: CinCLantFlt or CinCUSNavEur are possible choices. It would have assets assigned to it for exercises and operations as appropriate.
ComNavForArctic would ensure that the Navy's many diverse and relatively low-level Arctic interests and capabilities would be molded into an effective and permanent high-level instrument for carrying out the Navy's goals for the Arctic theater.
Captain LeSchack received his commission in 1959 from Officer Candidate School. While on active duty, he was the U. S. official representative to the Argentine Naval Antarctic Expedition in 1962-63. He also served on Arctic Ocean Drift Stations T-3 and ARLIS II, and was an Arctic Program Officer at the Office of Naval Research during 1960-62. Captain LeSchack studied the logistics of polar operations at both the Argentine and French polar institutes and did graduate work at the Geophysical and Polar Research Center at the University of Wisconsin. As president of his own firm, he has conducted Arctic sea ice research. In 1980-81, he returned to active duty as the coordinator for the Cuban-Haitian refugee center in Puerto Rico, and then as special intelligence officer at the U. S. Naval Station Panama. Upon release from active duty, he has assisted in establishing the Dedicated Naval Reserve Intelligence Unit that supports Commander U. S. Forces Caribbean, Key West, and became the unit's first commanding officer in 1983.