Transport ships involved in the construction and maintenance of the massive Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar system along the north coast of Alaska and the central Canadian Arctic in the mid-1950s were at risk of entrapment by severe ice conditions in the area of Point Barrow, Alaska. They were also in danger of having the Bering Strait itself closed in the event of a military conflict with the Soviet Union.
The commander of the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John M. Will, had personally flown over Bellot Strait in the summer of 1956. As a potential passageway for 16-foot-draft ships, it would allow access to DEW Line sites from both the Atlantic and Pacific. And it remained ice-free longer than the perennially ice-clogged straits farther north. His survey work led Will to push for a U.S. Coast Guard Northwest Passage expedition by way of Bellot Strait as a key component of MSTS's 1957 operations.