OTTAWA—Speaking at the Conference of Defense Associations' gathering in the Canadian capital this morning, the U.S. Navy’s Adm. Gary Roughead stressed the need for the U.S. Navy to work with regional allies to protect the global commons from both state and non-state actors who seek to disrupt trade on the surface, and disrupt lines of communication and resource extraction on the ocean floor.
Roughead told the audience that the challenges presented by the vast spaces of the global commons are too great for any one nation to handle alone, but that patrolling sea lanes—as opposed to major combat—has been the traditional role for large naval forces. “Navies have been there to provide the presence and the security” he said, adding that it’s critical to “work with friends and partners to make sure the flow of natural resources can flow.”
As part of this, Roughead sang the praises of submarines and unmanned underwater technologies that can perform information gathering operations while remaining largely undetected. He said that “subs are the class of ship that I see growing faster than any other,” adding that “they are proliferating” globally. He is particularly interested in unmanned platforms that can perform missions like protecting the ocean floor—with its increasing importance for natural resource extraction and in international communications—since the floor is “going to become much, much more important.” Disruption of communications cables “is perhaps more damaging than sinking a tanker” on the surface, he said, since so much information passes through them on a daily basis.
But a big part of the morning revolved around the growing recognition of the strategic value of the arctic region. Due to receding ice caps, for the first time shipping is starting to become possible though the formerly ice-locked area, and countries like Russia, Canada, the United States and China are rushing to explore the resource extraction possibilities in places where it wasn’t possible just a few years ago.
Dr. Rob Huebert from the University of Calgary pointed out that China is taking the Arctic very seriously, stressing that China isn’t only becoming a Arctic research nation, but is “becoming the arctic research nation.” According to Huebert, China is already spending more money on exploring the arctic than Canada does, and has buildings there that “already exceed anything that [Canada has.]” He also pointed out that the arctic is increasingly becoming a “globalized environment” with Canada, Russia, the United States, Sweden, Finland and China all firming up their presence in the region—to say nothing of international shipping—which he fears is giving rise to the “initial stages of an arctic arms race.”
(Pic: USS Annapolis after the sub broke through the ice March 21, 2009, while participating in Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009 in the Arctic Ocean.)