New NORTHCOM Chief Calls for More Exercises Near Arctic Amid Growing Chinese, Russian Military Buildup

Foreign Affairs

Washington: The new head of US Northern Command and NORAD, Gen Gregory Guillot, is calling for an increased US military “presence” via exercises along Alaska’s coast to help push back against growing Chinese and Russian military activity in the Arctic.

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“The best way for us to counter them is to have presence of our own. So, the execution of exercises [and] patrols, in all domains, is extremely important off all of our coast, primarily focusing right now in the region of Alaska,” Guillot told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And the same thing applies on what we call the ‘two o’clock approach’ off on the northeast, making sure that we have presence there,” he said.

Guillot called for a “strong exercise program, multinational, a lot of partners, showing that we have the resolve to defend that most strategic area.”

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Guillot took over the NORTHCOM and NORAD reins from Gen Glen VanHerck on February 5 and this week provided his first testimony about his command’s posture to both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

Guillot said he is worried about China’s military buildup in the Arctic zone — in particular repeating to senators his warning  to their House counterparts that he expects the People’s Liberation Army soon will begin deploying aircraft along US Air Defence Identification Zones where NORAD tracks aircraft headed toward US airspace.

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“Fortunately, we haven’t seen Chinese aircraft operate near our … Air Defence Identification Zones yet, but I think that that’s coming as early as this year. That shows an overall concern I have about the growing capability of China not only with the aircraft, but also with ships and even submarines being able to range further from China and closer to  our shores,” Guillot said in his HASC testimony.

In response to questions about PLA presence in the region from Sen. Mark Kelley, D-Ariz., who recently visited US Navy forces in the Arctic, Guillot stressed that he has seen “a willingness and a desire by the Chinese to act up there.”

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He elaborated that China is conducting regional maritime activities “under the cloud of a technical or scientific research, but we think it’s certainly multi-mission to include military” operations. “And then I expect to see air activity in the Alaska part of the Arctic as soon as this year potentially. It’s a very big concern of mine.”

Guillot noted that Russia also is stepping up its military forces in the Arctic. “Just last week, for the first time in over two years, the Russians sent two Bear bombers down along that avenue through what we call the GIUK gap — Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom — approaching the Canadian and the United States Air Defence Identification Zones,” he said.

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The GIUK gap separates the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, and is considered a naval choke point. NORAD on February 6 issued a press release saying that four Russian aircraft were seen operating inside the Alaskan Air Defence Identification Zone, but did not specify what type.

“We were able to track them the entire time thanks to the radar network and the information sharing between countries within EUCOM [US European Command] — Norway is one I’ll point out — and Northern Command,” Guillot explained.

“We didn’t have to intercept them because we had aircraft flying to the point where we would intercept them before they crossed the identification zone. And the Russians turned around prior to reaching that zone,” he added. “So, we had aircraft, both Canadian and US fighters postured along the line, which I think is probably disheartening to the Russians to fly all that way to find out that that we’re waiting for them.”