Defense Department officials on Wednesday released an updated military strategy for the Arctic that previews an expansion of the U.S. Navy to deter Russian aggression in the region.

“It is DoD’s intent to anticipate the need to respond to emerging challenges in the Arctic and to position itself to take advantage of opportunities to advance U.S. national security objectives,” the unclassified report said.

The planners foresee that melting sea ice “will eventually open a northern maritime avenue of approach to North America” and potentially damage the tools currently being used to detect incoming ships.

With Russia expanding its naval presence in the region, the Pentagon will have to plan for that contingency and ensure that current shipping lanes remain open.

“The biggest thing, from my perspective: they talk about the importance of freedom of navigation operations,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who co-sponsored the legislation requiring the revised plan with Maine independent Angus King, told the Washington Examiner. “We don’t even have the capacity to do that right now, but the fact that they say that is a goal to keep that area open, free — new transportation routes, incredible resources. It’s not 100 percent better, but it’s a significant upgrade.”

To execute the plan, the Navy will have to expand the fleet of submarines and icebreakers, just as Russia has done in recent years. “History is repeating itself,” said Vladimir Blinov, a tour guide on a decommissioned nuclear icebreaker called the Lenin, during a tour of the ship with Reuters. “Back then (in the 1950s) it was the height of the Cold War and the United States was leading in some areas. But we beat the Americans and built the world’s first nuclear ship (the Lenin). The situation today is similar.”

To catch up, the United States will have to increase military spending. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis plans to amend the 2017 budget request in order ask Congress for more money than President Obama’s team planned to seek and gain the flexibility to shift money away from low-priority programs.

“[I]t is up to Congress and the new administration to develop and implement that comprehensive policy in an expedited manner,” Sen. Angus King said in a statement on the report. “If we do not, we risk ceding our influence in the Arctic to others who may not share our objectives.”

Military spending has been an occasion for intense political fights in recent years. Russia’s military buildup — to say nothing of the 2016 campaign cyberattacks against the Democratic party — could provide a measure of bipartisan support for the funding.

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02/01/17 5:42 PM

“No one in Congress should sleep on the future of the open seas,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, whose state of Connecticut is home to the some of the companies that build naval vessels, told reporters last March. “If you look at what the Russians are doing in the Arctic and you look at what the Chinese are doing in the South China Seas, we have reason to believe that commercial shipping could be interrupted in a major way within the next decade.”

The updated strategy document also suggests that U.S. naval expansion in the Arctic could provide another rebuke of Russian aggression in Ukraine, according to the report. “Although few Russian activities or investments occur in the Arctic region itself, they signal a recommitment to deterrence and to build capability to defeat aggression against the United States and its allies in the Arctic as well as in other regions,” the document said.

President Trump attends return of Navy SEAL killed in Yemen

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President Trump and his daughter Ivanka departed the White House for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Wednesday afternoon to witness the arrival of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed during an intelligence gathering raid in Yemen last weekend.

Owens, a member of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, was killed in a clandestine raid at an al Qaeda facility that Trump had authorized early Sunday morning. The operation left four additional U.S. service members wounded and marked the first military fatality under the new administration.

Trump, who was to be joined by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., upon arriving at Dover, had a “very somber and lengthy” conversation with Owens’ family on Tuesday.

02/01/17 3:38 PM

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