Arctic Capabilities:

DOD Addressed Many Specified Reporting Elements in Its 2011 Arctic Report but Should Take Steps to Meet Near- and Long-term Needs

GAO-12-180: Published: Jan 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2012.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

John H. Pendleton
(202) 512-3489
pendletonj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

DOD’s Arctic Report, submitted May 31, 2011, addressed three and partially addressed two of the elements specified in the House Report.

While DOD has undertaken some efforts to assess the capabilities needed to meet national security objectives in the Arctic, it is unclear whether DOD will be in a position to provide needed capabilities in a timely and efficient manner because it lacks a risk-based investment strategy for addressing near-term needs and a collaborative forum with the Coast Guard for addressing long-term capability needs. DOD’s Arctic Report acknowledges that it has some near-term gaps in key capabilities needed to communicate, navigate, and maintain awareness of activity in the region. However, DOD has not yet evaluated, selected, or implemented alternatives for prioritizing and addressing near-term Arctic capability needs. In addition, DOD and the Coast Guard have established a working group to identify potential collaborative efforts to enhance U.S. Arctic capabilities. This working group is focused on identifying potential near-term investments but not longer-term needs, and it is currently expected to be dissolved in January 2012. Uncertainty involving the rate of Arctic climate change necessitates careful planning to ensure efficient use of resources in developing Arctic needs such as basing infrastructure and icebreakers, which require long lead times to develop and are expensive to build and maintain. Without taking steps to meet near- and long-term Arctic capability needs, DOD risks making premature Arctic investments, being late in obtaining needed capabilities, or missing opportunities to minimize costs by collaborating on investments with the Coast Guard.

Why GAO Did This Study

The gradual retreat of polar sea ice, combined with an expected increase in human activity––shipping traffic, oil and gas exploration, and tourism in the Arctic region––could eventually increase the need for a U.S. military and homeland security presence in the Arctic. As a result, the Department of Defense (DOD) must begin preparing to access, operate, and protect national interests there. House Report 111-491 directed DOD to prepare a report on Arctic Operations and the Northwest Passage, and specified five reporting elements that should be addressed. House Report 112-78 directed GAO to review DOD’s report. GAO assessed the extent to which 1) DOD’s Report to Congress on Arctic Operations and the Northwest Passage (Arctic Report) addressed the specified reporting elements and 2) DOD has efforts under way to identify and prioritize the capabilities needed to meet national security objectives in the Arctic. GAO analyzed DOD’s Arctic Report and related documents and interviewed DOD and U.S. Coast Guard officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD develop a risk-based investment strategy and timeline for developing Arctic capabilities needed in the near-term; and establish a forum with the Coast Guard to identify collaborative Arctic capability investments over the long-term. DOD and the Department of Homeland Security generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To more effectively leverage federal investments in Arctic capabilities in a resource-constrained environment and ensure needed capabilities are developed in a timely way, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, should develop a risk-based investment strategy that: 1) identifies and prioritizes near-term Arctic capability needs, 2) develops a timeline for addressing them, and 3) is updated as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD took steps to identify and prioritize near-term Arctic capability needs through its March 2012 DOD-Department of Homeland Security Capability Assessment White Paper. DOD also developed a timeline for addressing near-term Arctic capability needs and updating the investment plan. Specifically, the U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014-2030, which updated the U.S. Navy's 2009 Arctic Roadmap, prioritized near-term and mid-term investments for capability development. The Roadmap included an implementation plan timeline for operations and training, science and technology, facilities, weapons and support equipment, and maritime domain awareness, among other capabilities. Consistent with our recommendation, DOD's efforts to update its Arctic capability investment plan and develop a timeline to prioritize resource and operational requirements will assist the department in acquiring the key enabling capabilities it needs to communicate, navigate, and maintain awareness of activity in the Arctic region.

    Recommendation: To more effectively leverage federal investments in Arctic capabilities in a resource-constrained environment and ensure needed capabilities are developed in a timely way, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, should establish a collaborative forum with the Coast Guard to fully leverage federal investments and help avoid overlap and redundancies in addressing long-term Arctic capability needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its April 2014 update on the status of implementing our recommendation, DOD cited the establishment of several collaborative forums. Among them, the March 2014 National Fleet Plan chartered the establishment of a joint U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Working Group. Additionally, DOD stated that U.S. Northern Command has partnered with the Coast Guard for a biannual Arctic Collaborative Workshop, with events held in March 2012 and April 2014. Consistent with our recommendation, the establishment of collaborative forums between DOD and the Coast Guard to address long-term capability needs will help avoid fragmented efforts, reduce unaffordable overlap and redundancies, and allow leveraging of resources to address Arctic capability gaps in support of future planning and operations.

    Jul 31, 2014

    Jul 30, 2014

    Jul 28, 2014

    Jul 17, 2014

    Jul 14, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here