ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - This month the U.S Navy and Marine Corps with about 3,000 people, are having a major Arctic exercise in Alaska. It's called, Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise (AECE) 2019 and it will happen in the Aleutian Islands, South Central Alaska, and Southern California this month.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, (R) and U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer spoke with Channel 2 today about the joint expedition.
Rebecca Palsha: You'll have people training in Seward, Dutch Harbor and Adak, talk about what the exercises will look like and why Alaska is the best place?
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer: Rebecca, Alaska is one of our best training venues that we have. The senator, from the day I arrived from my confirmation, through now, has been a terrific proponent of Alaska and has really given me the impetuous to focus on what we can do up there. You'll see us up there for the whole month of September, doing various things, from wet logistics to practice delivering fuel from shore, from sea to shore. You're going to see us doing amphibious exercises on Adak, Alaska, as you said with 3,000 marines aboard the Comstock and the Somerset, aviation assets, seaboard assets, doing great training that we need to do north of the Arctic Circle. It truly is a priority for us because the Arctic is a priority for us going forward."
Palsha: Adak is somewhat, frozen in time, few people actually get to travel there. What do you think the experience of being there will be like during this training?
Spencer: Well you know Sen. Sullivan and I went out there this last spring to give the initial walk-through. To see if, in fact, it would be a good training area, which we both concluded it would be. It really is a unique outpost. But it is a truly strategic location for a gateway to the Pacific from the North and into the Arctic itself.
Palsha: The U.S. Navy is increasing its presence in the Arctic. As climate change opens sea lanes, why does the Arctic become more important?
Spencer:It becomes more important in many ways because the location of Alaska is tremendously strategic when it comes to protecting the homeland. I'll let Sen. Sullivan talk about that, but as far as the Naval approach goes, one of the duties and missions of the United States Navy is peace through presence: to make sure we have great hauls sailing on the open ocean, to protect the lanes of communication and trade on the open oceans. As climate change occurs we have opening of sea lanes. Not only do we have to be up there to provide stability amongst all the people, we have to be up there to be make it's known we can transit those areas."
Sen. Dan Sullivan: And Rebecca, as you know other countries, particularly some of the rivals that we have in the world, Russia in particular, with 14 new deepwater ports, I think almost two dozen airfields, 40 ice breakers. Building 13 more. Some of which are nuclear powered, and they're weaponized. And even the Chinese are up there now calling themselves a 'Near-Arctic Nation,' whatever that means. And yet there has been what I've been calling an 'American Arctic gap' where we're not there, in terms of our presence, and that's finally starting to change. You know on the Armed Services Committee, on which I sit, we've been able to move through, into law, the authorization of six polar-class icebreakers. We're already building one. We haven't done that in 40 years. The designation of what I'm calling 'Strategic Arctic ports' by the Department of Defense. So we have a presence there and I will tell you, the leadership in the Pentagon has been slow to this. It's an issue that I've raised literally daily, but one member of the Pentagons leadership that has not been slow to this is the secretary of the Navy."
Spencer: "Thank you, Dan."
Sullivan: "He certainly understands it. He and I were in Alaska last year on Adak, in Nome and other places in our state, and the fact that he's going to be there again with this major exercise of thousands of sailors and marines just shows his commitment, the navy's commitment, and I think it's a good sign we're starting to close this Arctic gap. We've got a long way to go, but when the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and the Coast Guard are up there in force, it's not only good for our state but trust me, other countries, like Russia, like China, are going to be watching this exercise as well and we want them to see it.
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