Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the commanding general of the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaska Command and 11th Air Force, at end of table, right, testifies before the Alaska Joint Armed Services Committee Thursday about coming increases to the operational tempo of military forces in Alaska. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the commanding general of the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaska Command and 11th Air Force, at end of table, right, testifies before the Alaska Joint Armed Services Committee Thursday about coming increases to the operational tempo of military forces in Alaska. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Experts, military officers testify about rising importance, threat in Arctic

America isn’t the only country with abiding interests in the north

Russian and Chinese interest and power in the Arctic will continue to grow, an expert in Arctic policy testified before lawmakers Thursday.

“Every time we think about the Arctic from now on, we should think about China,” said Mike Sfraga, the director for the Polar Institute, part of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C., thinktank. “We should think about China and their motivations.”

Sfraga testified before the Joint Armed Services Committee of the Alaska Legislature Thursday afternoon, along with Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the commanding general of the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaska Command and 11th Air Force.

Sfraga framed the issues facing the Arctic through a lens he termed the “7 C’s”: climate, commodities, commerce, connectivity, communities, cooperation and competition. All are factors in the rising importance of the Arctic, as sea lanes open, more resources become available, and the rapid and relentless effects of global warming change life for everyone living in the north.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the commanding general of the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaska Command and 11th Air Force, at end of table, right, testifies before the Alaska Joint Armed Services Committee Thursday about coming increases to the operational tempo of military forces in Alaska. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the commanding general of the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaska Command and 11th Air Force, at end of table, right, testifies before the Alaska Joint Armed Services Committee Thursday about coming increases to the operational tempo of military forces in Alaska. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

“That’s why I’ve called Alaska the nation’s vanguard. It’s a new ocean and new competition,” Sfraga testified before the committee. “Alaska is part of a bigger geopolitical play for the entire world, not just the Arctic.”

Sfraga testified on the importance of increased naval power, icebreakers and a deepwater port in Alaska. Russia has designs to make the Arctic an economic preserve backed up by military might, Sfraga said, clinging to the wealth of the Arctic as their population growth stagnates.

“Progress is being made on the Polar Security Cutters. That’s a good thing,” Sfraga said. “This nation needs a deepwater port. Pick one, and then do a Manhattan Project on it.”

He also cautioned against the Arctic ambitions of Russia and China. China, while not technically an Arctic power, has often ignored international court rulings and precedents and does what it pleases, Sfraga said.

“Russia is a declining superpower in population and economic power. China is the opposite. They have the ability to build more icebreakers. They will go both north and south. There will be more Chinese naval ships and cutters in the Arctic. The dragon will be shown up there.”

Bussiere testified about the readiness of the military commands in Alaska to defend the homeland in the Lower 48, and highlighted the rising tempo of military exercises in the region.

“Homeland defense is our No. 1 priority,” Bussiere testified. “We believe that the changing climate presents opportunities and a challenge.”

Increased emphasis on the defense of the Arctic and requirements for cold weather operations have seen a push from the Navy and Marine Corps to expand training in Alaska, recently demonstrated recently in a joint exercise in coastal Alaska. Bussiere also pointed to the imminent arrival of squadrons of the advanced F-35 multirole fighter.

Whatever the future holds, Bussiere said, the military will be ready to meet it, in cooperation with the communities and people of Alaska, emphasizing engagement. Without the support of Alaskans, Bussiere said, the military could not do its job.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee adjourns

The committee will deliver recommendations to school board in July

Soldotna Elementary School Principal Dr. Austin Stevenson points out corroded insulation outside of the school building on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Soldotna . (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna Elementary awaits action on approved bond

Almost two years after public OKs bond, borough asking for more time

Soldotna Police Chief Dale “Gene” Meek stands in his office on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna police chief resigns

The resignation was effective immediately on Friday, City Manager Janette Bower confirmed Monday

A sign along a trail to Exit Glacier marks the spot to where the toe of the glacier reached in 2010, photographed on June 22, 2018. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Exit Glacier reopened for summer, snow and bears reported

Visitors should check the park website for updated conditions and ensure they are prepared before visiting the area

Dale Chorman stands with his wife, Dianne. (Photo provided by Tom Kizzia)
Long-time Homer resident, photographer dead after Sunday moose encounter

Troopers on Monday identified the victim as 70-year-old Dale Chorman

A sign warning of a June 28, 2021, bear attack is placed at the head of the Kenai River Trail on Skilak Loop Road in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Federal wildlife officers seek information about early-May black bear poaching

Officials think the poaching happened near the east entrance of Skilak Loop roughly 2 miles from Jims’ Landing

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Ninilchik woman dead after Tuesday collision

The woman was attempting to cross the Sterling Highway from Oil Well Road when she was struck by a pickup truck

Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday in Soldotna. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Expect a lot from yourself and from others’

Connections Homeschool students accept diplomas at commencement ceremony

Most Read