Vice Adm. Neffenger testifies on implementing US policy in the Arctic

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger testifies on implementing U.S. policy in the Arctic before the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger testifies on implementing U.S. policy in the Arctic before the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Today, Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger testified on implementing U.S. policy in the Arctic before the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

The Vice Commandant led his opening statement by sharing his personal experience with Coast Guard operations in the Arctic; experiences that have shaped his understanding of the service’s role as the nation’s lead federal agency for ensuring maritime safety and security in the region.

“Over the last several years, I had the opportunity to visit and spend a significant amount of time at both poles where I was able to personally witness the challenges of operating in such extreme environments,” said the Vice Commandant. “The primary lesson from my travel is that these regions are remote, hostile and unforgiving, however, they also provide the potential for substantial economic and scientific gains. Operations in the Arctic demand detailed and deliberate planning supported by specialized, reliable and unique equipment.”

Currently, Coast Guard vessels and aircraft monitor close to one million square miles of ocean off the Alaskan coast to enforce U.S. laws, conduct search and rescue, assist scientific exploration, advance navigation safety and foster environmental stewardship. Throughout his testimony, the Vice Commandant spoke to these diverse operations, focusing on the need for the continuous assessment of capabilities required to operate in the region, long-term icebreaking needs and the National Arctic Strategy.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy hove to for first on-ice science station of mission 1401 during their current Arctic West Summer deployment. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Carolyn Mahoney.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy hove to for first on-ice science station of mission 1401 during their current Arctic West Summer deployment. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Carolyn Mahoney.

“We recently published an Arctic Strategy to address the Coast Guard’s near-term approach to meeting the mission demands generated by these activities,” said the Vice Commandant. “Our strategy complements the National Strategy for the Arctic and envisions a mobile, seasonal Coast Guard operational presence to meet mission demands over the next decade.”

The Coast Guard’s objectives in the Arctic – as set forth in the service’s Arctic Strategy – are to improve awareness, modernize governance and broaden partnerships. All three of these are front and center during annual Arctic Shield operations. Arctic Shield 2013 was in western Alaska and the Bering Strait whereas Arctic Shield 2014, currently underway, is centered primarily in the North Slope of Alaska and Barrow. As part of Arctic Shield 2014, the Coast Guard has deployed cutters, aircraft and personnel to the region to engage in operations encompassing a variety of Coast Guard missions.

The extreme environment and limited infrastructure create unique logistical challenges when conducting operations in the Arctic. To overcome the challenges in this vast area of operations, the service works closely with international, federal, state, local and tribal partners and industry to ensure the protection of the nation’s Arctic interests. This partnership was reflected during the testimony as the Vice Commandant was joined by U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Jonathan White, oceanographer and navigator of the Navy and director, Space and Maritime Domain Awareness; and Ambassador David Balton, deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Department of State.

“We are committed to working with our partners including international and multilateral organizations, such as the Arctic Council and the International Maritime Organization to coordinate prevention and response strategies such as the 2011 Arctic Search and Rescue and the 2013 Oil Spill Prevention and Response Agreements,” said the Vice Commandant. “Increasing engagement with other maritime services from Arctic countries remains an important facet of our Arctic strategy as well. To this end, we support the establishment of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum to serve as a unique maritime governance group for the eight Arctic countries to coordinate exercises, strengthen relationships and share best practices.”

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger speaks with committee representatives after testifying on implementing U.S. policy in the Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger speaks with committee representatives after testifying on implementing U.S. policy in the Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The Coast Guard leverages its partnerships and combines efforts to ensure the safety of the maritime community. But operating in the Arctic also gives the Coast Guard an opportunity to exercise its capabilities to ensure the right resources are identified for Arctic operations.

“Current and future operations in the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to be informed by the availability of polar icebreakers and ice-strengthened vessels. Polar Star’s recent reactivation will provide the U.S. with heavy icebreaker capability for another seven to 10 years,” said the Vice Commandant. “We believe that Polar Star along with the medium icebreaker Healy provide a minimum capability necessary to address the nation’s near-term icebreaking needs in the Arctic and Antarctic, and will give us the time we need to assess longer term national needs and requirements.”

With the unique challenges of operating in the Arctic, also comes opportunity. The Coast Guard will seize upon these opportunities and support national Arctic objectives to ensure the emerging frontier remains a safe, secure and environmentally protected region.

“We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to ensure that the Coast Guard, with its unique authorities, missions and partnerships, can continue to support U.S. national priorities in the Arctic and Polar Regions and to remain Always Ready to meet the demands of emerging maritime frontiers,” said the Vice Commandant.

For more information, read the Coast Guard’s Arctic Strategy. Testimony video and transcript are also available.

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