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As Winter Looms, DoD Sets its Sights on Antarctica

Written by on Friday, October 12th, 2012

Fall is in full swing, which means that the leaves are slowly turning orange and the days are getting colder and darker. Most of us are breaking out the winter clothes, but a few snow-loving brides-to-be are looking forward winter wonderland weddings. They’re not the only ones looking forward to frigid temperatures. The USAF, the Navy, the Army, and the Coast Guard are setting their sights on Antarctica.

Why, you ask? Three reasons: oil, research, and politics.

Last year there was speculation that untapped oil reserves could lead to political turmoil as companies fight for drilling rights in polar regions. That made people a little nervous because even though the US has a mighty naval force, it’s ice-cutting fleet is a little bit lacking compared to Russia’s (no surprise there).

Ice Breaker Ship

Image source: Motherboard.vice.com

We’re still nowhere close to a frozen World War III, luckily, but the military still has a vested interested in the coldest spot on earth. For one, the military needs to offer support to military operations and US research facilities in Antarctica through Operation Deep Freeze. Without doubt, Antarctica poses the most difficult peacetime challenges for the US military because the unforgiving arctic climate challenges the US supply chain.

The polar ice caps are slowly shrinking due to global warming, but the ever-shrewd military sees this as a golden opportunity. Darpa recently revealed that they want to attach sensors to floating icebergs as a cheap, stealthy way to map the ocean floor and keep tabs on enemy submarines. It might valium no prescription needed seem silly, but it’s actually a fairly efficient plan. Icebergs float as far as three-and-a-half miles (six kilometers) per day, so a fleet of icebergs can cover more area than the entire US Navy.

Arctic Submarine

Image source: Wired.com

Darpa has already started siphoning money into the project. Science Applications International Corporation secured a $2 million contract in August to work on iceberg sensors. This data can help monitor the positions of enemy submarines, but it can also give the US invaluable data about the waters surrounding the north and south poles. Knowing where ice will be and (more importantly) knowing how to distinguish enemy submarines from iceberg interference can be the deciding factor in a theoretical Arctic War.

Granted, an Arctic War isn’t very likely and it doesn’t pose much of a threat for the US military because of our dominant submarine presence, but the US military has never been one to sit back and hope for the best. The DoD’s growing interest in the north and south poles could be the first steps in an arctic military presence. Is a USAF base in Antarctica right around the corner? Will China, Russia, and other heavy hitters start shoving their weight around as melting ice promises big bucks? It’s hard to say for sure, but if the answer is “yes” to either of those questions, then the steps that the US military takes today at the poles could give it a running start in future conflicts.

LC-130 in Antarctica

Image source: 13af.pacaf.mil

 

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