>Operation Salliq 2008: The Coast Guard Arctic Initiative

>During the summer of 2008 the Coast Guard pushed forward to develop Arctic Domain Awareness, to test our existing platforms, assets, and competencies in the Arctic environment, and to document future requirements to provide maritime safety, security, and stewardship in the opening Arctic. Consistent with the guiding principle of “Do No Harm” to Native Alaskan culture and subsistence, all operations were coordinated with, and enhanced by, engagement with the people of the North. By fall 2008 Coast Guard assets and capabilities completed their Arctic deployments and work began on building the requirements deck for future Arctic operations.

Outreach to and engagement with Native Alaskans was absolutely imperative for safe operations and was an integral component of senior-leadership operational risk management (ORM) decision-making. Effective, culturally-sensitive engagement, employing a strategy based on respect, humility, and non-confrontation, allowed us to take advantage of Native Alaskan experience gained through thousands of years of triumphs and tragedies. The strategy of employing the Coast Guard diversity philosophy externally, to support field operations, is counter-intuitive to historical federal governmental business practices and traditional western perspective and relationship processes-but it worked very well, due in large part to the efforts of Mr. Joel Casto, the Seventeenth District Native Liaison.

Our first step was to begin the development of Arctic Domain Awareness. We defined ADA as Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)+ or MDA within the Arctic context. When MDA tells us that a given ship with a given crew and a given cargo is at a specific place, transiting from a certain port to another port-we know what that means. We understand the context. We understand the risks. In the Arctic we do not know the context. We do not know the risks. Developing ADA means that we need MDA but we also must understand the homeland security context, the risks that a certain vessel poses to the maritime community and infrastructure, the Arctic environment and Native Alaskan culture and subsistence lifestyle.

Because traditional sensors are very limited in the Arctic we began building ADA the old-fashioned way, with the Mark 1 Mod 0 “eyeball” from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130s. We began biweekly flights during the shipping season and began building our expertise. Because the C-130s were capable of doing more than marine surveillance, we used the flights to carry scientists, interagency partners, press, and others with interest in the Arctic. A flight over the geographic North Pole flight was one of our early Arctic efforts, teaching us the capabilities and challenges required to operate in the polar domain.

But it wasn’t just C-130s. Through engagement with the Canadian Coast Guard and Canada’s Joint Task Force North in Yellowknife, we began intelligence sharing with Canada, enhancing the awareness of both countries. Our Canadian partnership has strengthened to the point that we are full partners in our Arctic initiatives.

The observed maritime activity in the region was at or slightly above anticipated levels. While this maritime activity must be characterized as “low” by continental United States standards, there are several key points. First, there were two instances of minimal ice-strengthened industry vessels (a total of six vessels) being beset in late summer ice west of Barrow. This demonstrates the potential for significant search and rescue and marine environmental protection activity.

Second, each village had several (6-10) small personal vessels (less than 30-ft in length) engaged in subsistence hunting (typically pursuing marine mammals). These vessels would range upwards of 90 miles out to sea with little to no personal protective gear.

Third, multiple (10-20) re-supply vessels routinely transit Western Alaska and the U. S. Arctic to provide goods and services to regional villages and the western Canadian Arctic.

Fourth, current technology provides insufficient sea ice awareness for all assets other than icebreakers. Small pieces of sea ice (personal vehicle size) are often missed by current technology. While inconsequential for icebreakers, this sea ice represents a significant hazard for the remainder of the Coast Guard’s surface resource portfolio. “Open water” in the ice forecast does not mean the sea is ice free, it means less than 1/10th ice coverage. The 1/10th that is ice poses serious hazards to vessels not designed or equipped to operate in ice.

Our second major effort was to employ the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea in a multi-mission role. Following negotiations with the National Science Foundation, Polar Sea conducted both Spring and Fall patrols into the Arctic, conducting full multi-mission operations including fisheries boardings in the Bering Sea, HH-65 and HH-60 flight operations, small boat operations, and oil skimmer exercises off Nome. While maintaining their ice skills at high latitudes, the Polar Sea provided maritime homeland security and search and rescue response capability. Her patrols were coordinated with the Whaling Commission to ensure no conflicts existed with native subsistence activities. Concurrently the Coast Guard Cutter Healy continued Arctic science operations for the National Science Foundation with two Arctic deployments, working very successfully most of the summer with the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Louis S. St-Laurent , Canada’s premier icebreaker.

Our third effort was to resurrect the historical tradition of deploying our buoy tenders to the Arctic. The Coast Guard’s relationship with the remote native villages of Northern Alaska dates back to the days of the Revenue Cutter Service. The maritime heritage and history of these villages provide a commonality with the Coast Guard cutter fleet that inherently serves as a foundation for our outreach and shared interest in the safety and protection of the region. In furtherance of that goal, the Coast Guard Cutters SPAR and Hickory conducted Waterways Analysis & Management Studies (WAMS) of Arctic Alaska, querying local mariners and evaluating the aids to navigation needs in the region. SPAR deployed to the North from 22 August to 14 September, conducting aids to navigation (ATON) servicing, WAMS, and local engagement at Kaktovik, Barrow, Wainwright, Point Lay, Point Hope, Kivalina, Kotzebue, and Little Diomede. SPAR also supported the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton with an Arctic Search and Rescue exercise that tested our capabilities to respond in the region. CGC Hickory deployed north from 24 September to 3 October, conducting ATON servicing in Wales, Unalakleet, and Kuskokwim Bay and conducting WAMS in Nome, the Bering Strait and Golovnin Bay. Both tenders did an outstanding job in presenting the Coast Guard to Northern and Western Alaska, and in the future, D17’s goal is to send the same cutter to the region every year to continue to build upon the positive relationships that have been established with Arctic Alaska villages.

Our fourth effort was to insert a tailored force package into Barrow, Alaska. The idea was to forward deploy helicopters and small boats to the North Slope and to use them as we would use them in Southern Alaska, in places like Sitka, Juneau, or Ketchikan. Air Stations Kodiak and San Francisco provided HH-65s and crews; D17 provided two RB-S small boats and crews; CAMSPAC and PACAREA provided a Transportable Communications Center and watchstanders. A joint D17-Sector Anchorage command and control element was led by a D17 commander and a Sector executive officer, supported by the D17 tribal liaison officer.

We learned some things. First, there are “summer storms” in Barrow in August that can reduce the temperatures into the 20s with zero visibility in snow. Second, if the wind blows from the north for a week, the sea ice will come down and jam the beach for a week preventing all boat operations. Third, consultation and integration with local people and their resources and infrastructure were invaluable.

The unpredictability of sea ice, beach erosion (all small boats are beach launched) and “normal” sea state in the U. S. Arctic render the Coast Guard’s current portfolio of small boats ineffective for safe operations. Initial indications are that if mission requirements indicate a need for shore supported boat operations, a beach deployable boat that is ice resistant and has good heavy weather sea keeping capability will be required.

The vast distances, predominant icing conditions and scarcity of aviation fuel render the Coast Guard’s SRR aircraft (HH-65) ineffective for operations on the North Slope. If utilizing shore based helicopters for Coast Guard operations in the U.S. Arctic, a longer range, medium to heavy lift helicopter will be required.

The lack of communications networks (to include VHF and UHF) limited resources to operating within 60 miles of the forward-deployed Tactical Communications Center. High-frequency is unreliable for low flying aircraft in the U.S. Arctic and as demonstrated by the C-130 patrol to the North Pole, HF is highly ineffective at extreme latitudes. Regional NGOs that operate assets rely on satellite based communications (generally non-voice satellite based position tracking).

Our fifth effort was to deploy Maritime Safety and Security Team Anchorage and two district RB-S small boats to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska for a conceptual security exercise. We experienced the same small boat, communications, and infrastructure challenges that we experienced in Barrow. In sum, our HH-65 helicopters were too small and our RB-S small boats were too large. Ice and beach conditions inhibited boat operations in both sites.

The boat/helicopter challenges in Barrow and Prudhoe Bay forced us to push the Hamilton into the Arctic to test a 378-foot High-Endurance Cutter in summer conditions. Threading her way through the sea ice, The Commanding Officer, Capt. Vincent Delaurentis and the Hamilton became the first 378 to deploy to the Arctic and proved that cutter-based aircraft and boats could compensate for the ashore limitations. Because the ship could move, the lack of helo legs wasn’t as critical and they could always find a place to launch a boat. Based on the environmental and infrastructure challenges in the U.S. Arctic, the maritime component (icebreakers and ice-hardened cutters, with embarked helicopters) will be critical to fielding an integrated and flexible force package in the region and operating effectively for any extended period of time, at least in the near to mid-range future. The SAREX with SPAR proved that ice-strengthened patrol cutters are the best way to provide seasonal maritime homeland security, SAR, and marine environmental response to the Arctic.

During one of our early visits to Barrow community leaders asked us not to come up there and “start writing a bunch of tickets.” They knew that none of their boats were compliant with our boating safety requirements and other agencies often began with the “ticket” approach. We decided to go forward with our District Boating Safety Team comprised of one person from D17 recreational boating safety staff and members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, our volunteer civilian component, because they teach boating safety courses in Southern Alaska. When I presented this idea to the Auxiliary, they embraced it but pointed out that we didn’t know how the Northern people used their boats and we would have to engage them, learn their boating practices, and then adapt our courses to their experience. The team noted they could not even purchase a personal floatation device in Barrow or the surrounding villages.

In a joint effort with the Alaska State Boating Administrator, the District recreational boating safety staff, Commodore Robinson and the Auxiliary went forward with a substantial engagement program across Northern and Western Alaska, visiting the communities of Barrow, Savoonga, Point Lay, Nuiqsut, Wainwright, Point Hope, Wales, Unalakleet, Nome, Kotzebue, and Kaktovik. In every town and village our Auxiliarists, primarily Dean and Nanci Terencio and Sandy Mazen, did an outstanding job of adapting our programs in culturally acceptable ways, always enhancing boating safety. Many elders and members of the communities suggested evening town meetings to further enhance boating safety outreach. The team also found that visits to the villages during the school year would be an effective way of reaching all the school age children to promote boating safety.

Last, Arctic logistics were challenging. The existing infrastructure in the U.S. Arctic is insufficient to support prolonged or seasonal Coast Guard operations. Thirty-seven Coasties in Barrow completely consumed their infrastructure. Any and all items not part of the support kit forward deployed with Coast Guard resources require 18-24 hours (minimum) lead time to acquire and transport to theater. Due to the resource redundancy required for self-rescue, the loss of one asset (aircraft, small boat, etc.) rendered the entire asset class Not Mission Capable. Non-governmental berthing and messing in the U. S. Arctic is insufficient to support prolonged or seasonal Coast Guard operations. When considering the levels of material required to be forward deployed to the U.S. Arctic; a typical summer day across the North Slope of Alaska is comparable to a typical winter day in the Pacific Northwest.

In sum, Operation Salliq 2008 was an outstanding success because we were able to test the current Coast Guard asset inventory under Arctic conditions while providing maritime safety, security, and stewardship. We learned that the helicopters we sent were too small and our boats were too big. Next summer we’ll look to larger helicopters, smaller boats, all supported by offshore cutters and continued Native Alaskan engagement.