Alaska is a strategic hotspot for defending the United States, the Indo-Pacific region and the Arctic, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said during his visit to Eielson Air Force Base on Saturday. But it is also literally getting hotter.
The secretary met with troops and leaders at Eielson and Fort Wainwright. He spoke about climate change during his visit.
“We are an Indo-Pacific nation, and we are an Arctic nation,” the Austin said. “And here in Alaska, those two critical regions intersect. This is where we can project power into both regions and where we must be able to defend ourselves from threats coming from both places. It’s also where we can better posture ourselves and prepare for climate changes that will impact our future.”
Climate change is already altering the strategic picture in the north, Austin said. The ice pack is melting, and there is a viable Northwest Passage across the Canadian-U.S. Arctic coast for much of the year. Permafrost is not so permanent, Austin said. this change could lead to a scramble for resources in the region. He said this might mean the Arctic could become “a theater for resource competition and even instability, and we need to stay ahead of that.”
Austin, accompanied by Sen. Dan Sullivan for portions of his trip, also spoke with Army leaders at Fort Wainwright and came away impressed by the thinking on the issue and how the service — which has two brigades in Alaska — is applying operational concepts to the Arctic.
On the way to Eielson in Army helicopters, local commanders gave Austin an aerial tour of the Clear Space Force Base and the missile fields that protect the homeland from rogue state missiles.