The future Arctic operating environment

FFI-Report 2024

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Michael Mayer Ingunn Helene Landsend Monsen
The Arctic is evolving rapidly due to the effects of climate change. The most dramatic of these changes is the receding ice on land and at sea that allows greater access to transportation routes and resources. Analysts and observers have actively debated the potential consequences of these developments for regional and global security. As states look to the Arctic as a potential area for military operations, the changing climate and the promise of new human activities in the region are only a few of the relevant factors that should be considered. What will characterize the Arctic operating environment over the next 30 years? One of the challenging dilemmas in defense planning is the need to prepare for unknown future contingencies that necessitate the use of military force. Military operations are highly situational, and context influences the character of the operation and potentially its outcome. One way to avoid being utterly unprepared is through a structured process of constructing potential futures and exploring how various combinations of relevant factors might influence military operations. An important aspect of the operating environment is the interaction between these factors and the second and third order effects that result. This analysis explores three possible Arctic futures, using an analytical framework comprised of five factors: geopolitical, environmental, societal, military systems, and doctrines and operating concepts. One future represents a simple and almost linear extrapolation of current trends into the future, another considers a future in which Russia and China have a close partnership in the Arctic, while a third future envisions significant technological change that reduces the need for resource extraction in the Arctic. We assess the implications for military operations within each of these futures by considering the implications of the altered operational context on the joint functions of command and control, intelligence and information, maneuver and mobility, fires, sustainment, and protection. We find that certain factors of the future Arctic operating environment will influence aspects of military operations such as mobility and sustainment regardless of how the future unfolds, mainly due to climate change effects that are “locked” into the atmosphere regardless of the progress that might be made to reduce emissions. The likely expansion of civilian infrastructure for resource extraction, greater numbers of satellites in polar orbit, and technological solutions that improve certain aspects of sustainment are also relevant. Although many aspects of the Arctic region may evolve as anticipated, they are far from predestined. Norwegian decisionmakers should prepare for a broader range of potential tasks in this perpetually challenging operating environment.

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