Coast Guard initiates Arctic Shield 2015

Since 2007, the Coast Guard has purposefully expanded its reach into the Arctic.  Arctic Shield consolidates Coast Guard Arctic missions including a year-round focus on educational outreach and improving community, tribal, local and state government relationships.  Arctic Shield 2015, which kicked off in June, consists of comprehensive   Coast Guard operations to protect the Arctic maritime community.

Since 2007, the Coast Guard has purposefully expanded its reach into the Arctic. Arctic Shield consolidates Coast Guard Arctic missions including a year-round focus on educational outreach and improving community, tribal, local and state government relationships. Arctic Shield 2015, which kicked off in June, consists of comprehensive Coast Guard operations to protect the Arctic maritime community.

“As the nation’s lead federal maritime agency we are committed to ensuring safe, secure and environmentally responsible activity in the Arctic,” said Rear Adm. Dan Abel, commander, Coast Guard 17th District.
As part of operation Arctic Shield 2015, the Coast Guard has deployed cutters, aircraft, and personnel to the region to engage in operations encompassing the wide range of Coast Guard missions in the vicinity of the Bering Strait, Alaska’s North Slope and Outer Continental Shelf, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

“The Coast Guard will have several surface assets in the region, including the icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Healy,” said Lt. Ann Sparks of the 17th District Arctic planning branch. “The Healy will conduct missions for the National Science Foundation and will partner with the Coast Guard Research and Development Center to collect science data and evaluate developing capabilities and technologies designed for the Arctic.”
In addition to the Healy, the Coast Guard intends to deploy the Coast Guard Cutters Alex Haley, Waesche, Sycamore and Maple as command and control platforms that will perform multiple missions including maritime domain awareness, aids to navigation, search and rescue and law enforcement. These assets are in addition to deployed personnel at a Forward Operating Location established in Deadhorse. Coast Guard aviation crews along with MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters from Air Station Kodiak reported to Prudhoe Bay in June to execute maritime domain awareness missions and establish a forward Arctic search and rescue response presence.

“In 2014, there were an estimated 340 transits through the Bering Strait, a number that is expected to increase this year,” said Sparks. “Deploying our helicopters and personnel to Prudhoe Bay will give us an opportunity to use the existing infrastructure to increase our awareness of regional activity while also improving our ability to establish an on scene presence during emergent events.”

Conducting effective outreach and engagement is always a high priority for the Coast Guard in Alaska, and successfully connecting with local Arctic stakeholders is especially important. Coast Guard officials continue to focus on building collaborative partnerships and participate in numerous events including wide ranging discussions on the potential impacts of a changing Arctic environment.

“We understand the importance of strong relationships with tribal and local governments and have directly engaged in meetings to discuss subsistence, shipping and other Arctic concerns,” said Sparks. “We continuously strive to build and strengthen our relationships throughout the Arctic by promoting open dialogue, actively listening and responding to tribal and local government concerns.”

Coast Guard personnel visited schools in 30 different communities in and around the hub community of Bethel to teach children about water safety and the importance of life jackets as part of the Alaska Office of Boating Safety’s Kids Don’t Float program. Additionally, commercial fishing vessel and boating safety exams will be conducted in the Bering Strait region to reinforce the importance of good safety practices while also giving local mariners the opportunity to personally meet Coast Guard members.

“Reaching out to these communities provides valuable local insight for the Coast Guard and our Arctic partners as we manage the challenges of increased activity in the region,” said Sparks. “It’s important that we all act as good stewards of the environment and promote responsible economic development while respecting subsistence and cultural customs and legacies.”

As ice coverage recedes, Arctic activity has rapidly increased with no slowing in sight. This increased activity makes it imperative to develop an increased awareness of maritime activity and efficiently provide maritime domain awareness information to USCG Commands, operational planners, afloat and air assets, and other government agencies. To that end, the Coast Guard and agency partners created an Arctic Shield Fusion Center to consolidate and provide stakeholders with relevant operational information.

“The creation of a Fusion Center for Arctic Shield 2015 represents an initial step toward improving our comprehensive awareness of Arctic activity. By combining information from multiple sources and appropriately disseminating it to a wide range of stakeholders , we will improve our common operating picture of the Arctic” said Lt. j.g. Genevieve Rich, Arctic Shield information officer. “The Fusion Center contains multiple references, including Arctic Shield force laydown, commercial assets in the Arctic, research vessel activity, Arctic region contacts and various operations plans.”

Finally, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, the Coast Guard conducted an environmental assessment for Arctic Shield 2015. The assessment included consultations related to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act and several public outreach events to ensure all concerned stakeholders had the opportunity to provide input or voice concerns related to Coast Guard Arctic operations. The information was used to inform and improve current Arctic planning and operations.

“Increased vessels transits and activity in the Arctic create increased risk,” said Abel. “The Coast Guard will remain vigilant and dedicated to protecting the Arctic’s environment, marine transportation system, and all those who depend upon it.”

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