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Pentagon increases military presence in Alaska to help defend Arctic

Published: Mar. 21, 2021 at 6:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -Four KC-135 Stratotankers will soon be on their way to Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks. They will join the other eight KC-135′s in the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Wing.

They are expected to arrive in 2023, and will be part of the only Arctic region air refueling unit in the United States. There’s an even bigger payoff for the state.

“That’s 200 estimated airmen. That doesn’t include their families, so it’s strong for the economy,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “Particularly when you add the F-35′s that are enroute to the Interior.”

Those jets will also be assigned to Eielson AFB. The last of the 58 F-35′s are scheduled to get to arrive by the end of the year.

Senator Sullivan sits on the Armed Services Committee, and believes the move is also strong for national defense.

“China, Russia are in the Arctic,” Sullivan said, “We need to be able to defend our interests, our fishermen, our waterways, our environment. With this buildup, it’s going to happen.”

The additional KC-135′s are part of the Air Force’s Arctic strategy announced last year. Meanwhile, another service has unveiled its plans for the region.

Army Alaska soldiers took part in the annual Arctic Warrior last month. The exercise helps improve their winter training.

“More importantly than that, it kind of sets conditions for where we’re going in the future,” said Major General Peter Andrysiak, the commanding officer of Army Alaska. He previewed the Army’s role in the Arctic back in February.

NASA found year round ice cover in the Arctic Ocean fell by 11.5% each decade between 1979 and 2012. That’s the conclusion in a new Army report released this week regarding its Arctic strategy.

The loss of sea ice opens up the Arctic to more traffic, as nations, especially Russia and China, look to expand commercial fishing, and the extraction of natural resources, such as oil and natural gas.

The Army report shows the Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s oil, and 30% of its natural gas. The Arctic will be critical for Russian economic survival over the next 30 years. As for China, the report predicts the Arctic will be a necessary source for energy, manufacturing, transportation, and food.

“There’s a realization now that we’ve got to be able to operate in and through the Arctic,” Andrysiak said. “We’ve got to be able to respond to any contingencies or concerns.”

The Army now has the blueprint to help it better defend the Arctic.

The Defense Department called for revised Arctic plans by all of the services in 2019.

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