"Our Russian friends are warming up five airstrips and 10,000 Spetsnaz troops [in the Arctic] for quote unquote search and rescue. The Chinese are up there. Everybody is up there," US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told lawmakers last week.
"Everybody but us," fired back Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan.
"If I had a at blank check for everything, it would be terrific to ice-harden ships, but with the demand we have right now it is unaffordable," Spencer said at a hearing December 14 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But "we need to get up there. I can commit to the fact that we're trying to figure out how we do service that."
After the hearing, Spencer told Breaking Defense that the airstrip on the island of Adak — a remote island hundreds of miles from the Alaskan coast on the Aleutian island chain — is in "great shape." In order to make the airfield useable for the Navy, the service branch would have to pay for hangar cleanup, but besides that, "it really isn't a big bill."
Previously, Navy officials estimated some $1.3 billion would be needed to reopen the Adak base, but Spencer told lawmakers that the Navy could get away with spending less to get the base up and running.
The Arctic region is estimated to hold 15 percent of the world's remaining oil and as much as 30 percent of global natural gas deposits.
On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu acknowledged US plans in the Arctic at a year-end session held by the Russian Defense Ministry's board. "Since August, the second operational fleet of the US Navy is being created. Its main task will be to expand US military presence in the Arctic," Shoigu said.
Russian Rear Admiral Viktor Kochemazov, head of combat training for the Russian Navy, said in 2017 that "in the future, we plan to further increase our presence in the Arctic region as a matter of national state security," Sputnik reported.