POLITICO: Senator slams lack of port infrastructure in the Arctic

The chairman of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee sounded the alarm Tuesday on what he said is practically nonexistent port infrastructure in the Arctic, even though the Defense Department's Arctic strategy calls for enhancing port capability in the far north.

Sen. Dan Sullivan noted that legislation from his subcommittee on readiness, as well as provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, has long addressed a lack of strategic ports, specifically in the Arctic. The Alaska Republican pointed out that the closest strategic port that could handle a destroyer or icebreaker is about 1,500 nautical miles from the Arctic Circle. That's a distance the the U.S. would never allow on the Eastern seaboard.

He added, “and yet, Russia has probably a dozen or two dozen of these ports,” to pull up to, resupply and refuel, something Sullivan said is key to operating in such a location.

“I certainly grant in a matter of principle that ports are important, but I am going to reserve judgment until I see the results of that analysis,” James Anderson, the Pentagon's top policy official, told Sullivan.

Anderson was referring to the final version of a report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Nome, a port in Alaska, to evaluate the “cost benefits of deepening the existing port, so that it could accommodate larger vessels.”

Sullivan shot back: “This is a classic example where the Pentagon has come back to us and saying, ah, you don’t really need anything. I mean, no kidding, I think that’s fundamentally ridiculous. Of course you need some kind of port infrastructure capacity that can handle the very ships we need to protect our sovereignty. We can’t even do [freedom of navigation operations] in the region. ... I’m just saying a place to park ships.

“The infrastructure is not fine,” Sullivan added, raising his voice. “It doesn’t exist, and we need it to exist.”

Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, pointed out that Dutch Harbor in Alaska has sufficient port capabilities. The Navy relies on Nome to get fuel, though the service uses barges to go back and forth.

Sullivan said that's not good enough. “You can’t pull a ship up [in the entire U.S. Arctic],” he said. “We really need to look at this gentleman and take this seriously.”

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Source: Politico