Top US Northern Command official calls Arctic military resources insufficient at Senate hearing

The commander of U.S. Northern Command called for enhanced defense infrastructure in Alaska during a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday.

“I don’t think I have the infrastructure, the communications, the ability to respond and be persistent in the Arctic,” Gen. Glen VanHerck said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. VanHerck, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said there is a need for more icebreakers and bolstered radar capabilities in Alaska.

Arctic military capabilities were a focus at the hearing, alongside the Chinese spy balloon that traversed Alaska and the Lower 48 in January. Several senators on the panel, including Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, questioned VanHerck about Arctic priorities and strategy as the committee considers the fiscal year 2024 defense authorization package.

Independent Maine Sen. Angus King, the co-chair of the Senate Arctic Caucus, asked VanHerck if the U.S. has what he called an “Arctic gap.”

“That’s my assessment as I mentioned earlier, on the respond side, we’re not organized, trained and equipped to operate and respond in the Arctic,” VanHerck said.

VanHerck identified insufficient Arctic infrastructure — including runways, buildings, weapons and fuel storage — as significant concerns.

“When you only have a few days’ worth of fuel and that fuel is shared with the Indigenous local communities, those are challenges that we’ll face in a crisis,” VanHerck said.


The commander also called for more U.S. icebreakers, an issue that has been key for Sullivan and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Last year, Congress authorized $150 million for the Coast Guard to acquire an icebreaker that was likely to be home-ported in Alaska. However, funding for the vessel was not included in last year’s omnibus spending package.

Sullivan said in December that Russia has 54 icebreakers while the U.S. has two.

“We, as a nation, are in bad shape when it comes to icebreakers,” VanHerck said.

Last fall the White House published a “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” that emphasized competition with Russia and China, and all five branches of the U.S. military have released similar documents.

Russia, Alaska’s Arctic neighbor, has conducted military exercises and invested in military infrastructure in the region. China also proclaimed itself a “near Arctic state” in 2018 and has signaled interest in the region.

The Chinese spy balloon, and an unidentified object shot down near Deadhorse, also brought broad attention to defense resources in Alaska.

Sullivan at the close of the hearing asked VanHerck to speak about Alaska’s role in national defense.

“Alaska may be the most strategic location on the planet,” VanHerck responded.

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Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at