HANOVER, N.H. – As focus continues to shift towards the complexities of the Arctic, the Department of Defense (DOD) hosted an Arctic science and technology (S&T) summit at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in Hanover, New Hampshire.
More than 120 attendees from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and a multitude of other federal agencies, as well as partners from allied nations with interests in the Arctic such as Canada and the United Kingdom, participated in discussions on developing new technologies, new means of international communication and how to overcome the challenges of maintaining Arctic dominance as a united group.
“A lot of it is due to the changing climate and the impact that's having in terms of opening up areas of the Arctic that historically have remained frozen,” said Dr. Ben Petro, director of Human Systems within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “Creating potentially new economic and other kinds of opportunities, for ourselves, our partners, and other actors in that region, and some of those actors are near their competitors.”
As the only laboratory in the public sector traditionally focused on the cold environment, CRREL has historically hosted the Arctic S&T, says Jason Weale, a CRREL research civil engineer.
“I'd like to think of us as the hub in a hub and spoke model with respect to cold,” said Weale. “We're the hub, and we have a lot of contacts in the government, private sector and academia. It makes sense to gather and host something like the science and technology summit at CRREL.”
The National Defense Strategy released by the DOD clearly highlights planning scenarios and challenges for which the department must prepare. The purpose for bringing all these people together at CRREL is to gain a good understanding of the policies and priorities across the department from the standpoint of the people that must think about the different operational scenarios, Petro says.
“What are the specific things that the department needs to be able to do within those combatant commands?” he said. “What are they capable of doing today? What would they like to be able to do, and then within the context of those areas — wanting to do things that we can't currently do, — how should we be focusing investments in science and technology to open up new opportunities and new military capabilities and get them out to the field faster?”
Over the course of three days, numerous panels were held to answer those questions. Subject matter experts on the Arctic — the majority CRREL researchers — provided the S&T attendees the opportunity to hear from experts and ask them questions regarding their organizations concerns of regaining and maintaining Arctic dominance.
Petro says CRREL is a world leader in cold regions science and technology and has some of the best and brightest researchers in the country with the most knowledge on the topic of Arctic research and engineering. The DOD wants to benefit from that unique perspective by examining the challenges and opportunities that science can provide for the Warfighter.
“It is natural to come to CRREL, because you want to go where the bulk of the expertise is on the Arctic,” said Petro. “What makes this DOD workshop valuable is that we're bringing in subject matter experts in other technology areas, that aren't based at CRREL, to come together and leverage both the unique Arctic expertise along with all that technical domain expertise in a variety of critical technology areas and other emerging technologies that are all going to be necessary to address some of the challenges that the department faces in conducting Arctic operations.”
“There are a lot of knowns that describe Arctic challenges to operations,” said Randy “Church” Kee, the senior advisor for the Arctic Security Affairs at Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies under the DOD, who was the keynote speaker for the summit. “We need to be able to unpack what has arrived new on scene in these topic areas and not simply regurgitate what we have known and are trying to address.”
Department of Defense communications, domain awareness and understanding, uniqueness of the theater such as magnetic variance, aurora, lacking sensors, too little infrastructure, too little ability to project persistent presence, ill-suited personnel equipment and the limits of equatorial geo synchronous orbit are among the issues, concerns, or areas of concentration that were addressed during the S&T.
Kee says that America’s best defense in the past, today and in the future is interdependent with continued commitment to advancing science, engineering and technology — a mission in which the nation cannot afford to make less than a national priority.
“We who worry about the Arctic, need to remain connected and integrated to the greater defense science and research community and avoid becoming trapped and pigeonholed as a group of Arctic zealots,” said Kee.
Science and technology have a couple of different roles to play in national defense. In one sense, there's the academic type of science and technology where organizations are exploring and discovering new things. Second, there are situations where an organization may want to take the scientific method, or a gap analysis type of a method, to figure out solutions for current or future problems, which are areas that the S&T will dive into.
“Because the Arctic is changing, all the services within the last three to four years have started to really realize and understand the importance of that,” said Andy Margules, a CRREL liaison. “As we're seeing new national strategy and national security documents come out, we're seeing all the different service strategies come out.”
Margules says having an Arctic S&T form is a unique opportunity to get these different international and federal government organizations together in person and will act as a prime time for questions regarding new artic strategies or guidance to be answered.
“You can play the email game, and you may never get connected to the right people, or it's going to take a long time,” said Margules. “The value of having an event like this is getting the right people in a room together to talk face to face. I think that's the biggest piece of it. Where you can have those conversations, you'll get random stray electrons that come out and say, ‘oh, I never thought of that’.”
“We hold workshops like this where we've got all of the services,” said Dr. Eric Gottshall, the director of environmental sciences for the Officer of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “We're looking across the services, and we're looking across our allies and trying to come up with solutions that benefit all of us.”
Gottshall says the uniqueness of the Arctic, with the magnetic pole and the axis of rotation of the planet, can negatively impact inertial and electromagnetic systems.
“It makes sense for us to get together and find common cause and common solutions,” said Gottshall. “There are still service specific solutions out there that folks need to work on. For example, the Navy still needs to figure out a way to ice harden ships and manifest that change somehow. We hold these specialized workshops that are meant to be cross cutting activities, and we'll see what comes out of it, but hopefully we'll get some good solutions.”