Wednesday, Congress passed a bill that will bring more resources to Alaska's Arctic, where receding sea ice is opening new areas for shipping and exploration. 

It's attracting the interest of Russia-- which has 46 icebreakers, according to the federal government. The U.S. Coast Guard has only two-- and one of them is 10 years beyond its intended use. 

The bill passed Wednesday authorizes six new icebreakers.

“For the first time ever, the NDAA includes an authorization of up to six heavy, polar-class icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard – something that is long overdue,” said Senator Dan Sullivan (R - Alaska). “America is beginning to wake up to the strategic importance of the Arctic. This year’s authorization, coupled with an updated Department of Defense Arctic Strategy, starts to signal to the world, that because of Alaska, we are an Arctic nation and that we will protect our interests in this critical region.”

The bill also calls for an updated Arctic strategy, with specific roles and missions for each military branch. 

Icebreakers/Updated Arctic Strategy:

Authorization of Six Heavy Polar-Class Icebreakers: The FY19 NDAA includes a provision secured by Senator Sullivan to authorize up to six heavy, polar-class icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition, this provision expresses Congress’ belief that the first new icebreaker should be delivered no later than Fiscal Year 2023, the next two by FY 2026, and the final three by FY 2029.

Arctic Strategy: Continuing Senator Sullivan’s work on Arctic issues, the FY2019 NDAA requires an updated Arctic Strategy. This strategy would include a description of the roles and missions of each military service in the Arctic region in the context of joint operations to support the Arctic strategy and a description of near-term and long-term training, capability, and resource gaps that must be addressed to fully execute each mission described in the Arctic strategy against an increasing threat environment. This strategy would also require DoD to detail its cooperation with Alaskan State and local governments, and tribal entities related to the defense of the Arctic region.

Missile Defense:

Overall Missile Defense Funding: Fully authorizes the President’s request for missile defense and adds $140 million to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for development of critical directed energy and space sensing projects, and the acceleration of hypersonic defense capabilities.

Develops and Deploys Space-based Sensors: This year’s FY19 NDAA mandates the development of space-based sensors and requires those efforts be compatible with on-going efforts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Additionally, this provision requires a report on how MDA would accelerate the development and deployment of the sensor architecture.

Boost Phase Missile Defense: the FY19 NDAA includes a provision to require the Department of Defense to develop air-launched and/or ship-based boost phase intercept capabilities, working with both Japan and South Korea. Additionally, the provision requires the Secretary of Defense to conduct a feasibility study on providing an initial or demonstrated boost phase capability using unmanned aerial vehicles and kinetic interceptors by December 31, 2021.

Supports a Layered Defense: The FY19 NDAA includes a provision to express the Sense of Congress that the U.S. should continue to explore and deploy capabilities that increase the layered defense of the United States homeland.

Accelerating Capabilities: the FY19 NDAA includes a provision to require MDA to report on accelerating key capabilities including the deployment of 20 ground-based interceptors with redesigned kill vehicles to Alaska.

Acceleration of Hypersonic Defenses: The FY19 NDAA includes a provision to require MDA to accelerate the hypersonic missile defense program and requires that it be deployed in conjunction with a persistent space-based missile defense sensor program.

Missile Defense Testing: The FY19 NDAA includes a provision to express the Sense of Congress that MDA should continue to pursue a more rigorous testing regime that more rapidly deliver capabilities to the warfighter as the threat evolves.

Alaska Specific Items:

Alaska MILCON: The FY19 NDAA authorizes $286.8 million for Alaska military construction.

OCONUS Medical Facility – Medical Readiness Regions’ Hubs: Directs the Department of Defense to create a new healthcare delivery framework by establishing five health-readiness regions – three regions within the contiguous U.S (CONUS) and two outside the continuous the U.S. (OCONUS) – with each region containing a hub facility provide complex, specialized medical services. For the OCONUS region, language inserted by Senator Sullivan specifies that, when deciding which location to choose for regional OCONUS hub, the Department of Defense should focus their decision on meeting the needs of existing and future contingency and operational plans. As Alaskans know, Alaska’s strategic location makes it a critical part of such contingency and operational plans.

Cold Weather Training: The FY19 NDAA requires the DoD to analyze current and future cold weather training requirements for all four services and to look for opportunities to expand cold weather training. Notably, this provision requires an analysis of potential cold weather amphibious landing locations for live fire exercises and an analysis of potential State and tribal partnerships on cold weather training.

Innovative Readiness Training: The FY19 NDAA supports funding future local reserve training projects in Alaska, including Operation Arctic Care, which provides roving medical and dental care to Rural Alaska villages.

Spaceports Study: Complimentary to efforts Senator Sullivan has led over the past three NDAAs, the Conference Report includes a provision to require the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study on space launch locations, including with respect to the development and capacity of existing and new locations. The conference report notes that Alaska already has an operational spaceport and encourages the use of such spaceports and complexes, like the one in Alaska, for certain orbits in support of national security space priorities

Kodiak Spaceport: Given the importance of assured access to space to U.S. national security, this provision highlights and encourages expanding the Department of Defense’s and the Missile Defense Agency’s use of FAA-licensed spaceports, like the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island, as a vital part of our space and missile-defense test missions.

Arctic Search and Rescue: The Alaska National Guard independently developed an Arctic search and rescue package that allows them to respond to potential large-scale mass-casualty events in the Arctic. The FY19 NDAA includes a provision that brings attention to that effort and encourages the DoD to provide additional resources to field and expand Arctic search and rescue capabilities.

SUSV Replacement Report: This provision requires the Department of Defense to conduct a DoD-wide operational needs review and to consider granting rapid acquisition authorities to procure a replacement to the Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV), which is the only vehicle that units can use to operate in deep snow conditions in Alaska.

BCA for 168th ARW: Requires the USAF to update a Business Case Analysis on creating an active-association with the 168th Air Refueling Wing. This provision has the USAF consider new factors since the last analysis including the stationing of two squadrons of F-35s at Eielson AFB and increased operations tempo due to increased NORAD mission requirements since 2014.

Kodiak Spaceport: Given the importance of assured access to space to U.S. national security, this provision highlights and encourages expanding the Department of Defense’s and the Missile Defense Agency’s use of FAA-licensed spaceports, like the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island, as a vital part of our space and missile-defense test missions.

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