MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. We are very honored to be joined by Admiral Nathan Moore, the deputy Atlantic Area commander, and the captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, Captain Michele Schallip.
Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Admiral, thank you so much for joining us today. We’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Okay. Good afternoon. Thanks very much for putting this together and for allowing me to participate. I am Admiral Nathan Moore. I am the deputy commander for the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area, and I’m happy to be here and speak to you today. We’re really excited for the opportunity to do this and to discuss the Coast Guard’s operations in the Arctic region.
As the deputy commander for the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, we’re responsible here for coordinating operations, which includes search and rescue, combatting illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, capacity building with our partner nations, and humanitarian relief and disaster response throughout the Atlantic region. That includes operations within the Arctic.
The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative Arctic region, and for more than a century the U.S. Coast Guard has been the visible U.S. surface presence in the Arctic working with tribal and native populations in Alaska and the U.S. Arctic, rendering aid to mariners, and ensuring a rules-based order is adhered to.
Today the Arctic is experiencing unprecedented levels of environmental, operational, and geostrategic stress requiring continuous U.S. Coast Guard presence to protect our interests and the mutual interests of our allies and partners in the Arctic. We share national interests such as maritime security, environmental stewardship, and search and rescue in the high latitudes, and work with the partner agencies and the scientific community to better understand and act on the implications of climate change. I’ve got personally experience working on the Alaska side and the Pacific side of the Arctic, and now I’m pleased to be here part of the Atlantic team on the European and Atlantic side of the Arctic as well. And so I’m really happy to be here with you today and I’ll answer any of your questions on behalf of the service and the Coast Guard.
We have with us one of our preeminent icebreaker sailors. She is the captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, who has a vast amount of experience in the Arctic. Her name is Captain Schallip, and I’d like to turn it over to her to share a little bit about her ship, the Cutter Healy’s recent science mission. Michele, go ahead.
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: Thank you, Admiral, and thank you for having me here today to talk about Healy’s recent work. Admiral, I echo your sentiment that this is an exciting time to be here to discuss the great collaborative work that Healy is doing in cooperation with Arctic nations in addition to the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research as we jointly look to further long-term scientific observations of the Arctic marine environment.
Our most recent mission recovered subsurface instruments and collected data in international waters that will inform the global science community on how changes are occurring in the upper ocean circulation within the Nansen and Amundsen basins of the Arctic Ocean. We truly appreciate the collaboration with our partner nations in the region as we jointly work to promote a rules-based international maritime order and provide access to the most remote reaches of the Arctic Ocean for scientific research.
MODERATOR: Thank you both for your opening remarks. I will open the floor to questions now. We’ll go first to a submitted question from Aya Sayed from Roayah News Network in Egypt. They note, “There has been an increasing amount of cooperation between Russia and China in the Arctic, as was evident in their joint naval patrols. What threats do their activities pose to U.S. interests in the region? And how could the U.S. prevent the Arctic from becoming an arena for superpower competition?” Over to you both.
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Okay. Thanks. Hey, this is Admiral Moore; maybe I’ll take a shot at that one first. Thanks for the question. Certainly, what we know is that both China and Russia will continue to test our response and our resolve. And the Coast Guard is committed to meeting presence with presence in the U.S. Arctic to compel compliance with international law. And what that means is being on scene and exerting our sovereignty where it’s appropriate. At the end of the day, our commitment – and the U.S. Coast Guard is a significant part of this – taking effect – our commitment is to be – to make sure that we have a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative Arctic even during dynamic and challenging times like we’re seeing today.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Captain Schallip, anything additional?
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: No, nothing additional to add to the admiral’s remarks. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Copy that. Thanks. Let’s go to a live question. Christopher Woody, your mike is open. Can you hear us, Christopher? Christopher, are you there?
We’ll go to another submitted question, and then we can come back in a moment. Claus Blok-Thomsen from Politiken in Denmark asks: “Do you fear a Russian attack on Pituffik Space Base? Do you plan to upgrade the base so it can accommodate more fighter jets to protect itself in a situation of conflict?”
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Yeah, okay. Hey, it’s Admiral Moore again. I’d have to really to defer to the Department of Defense and the State Department kind of on those sort of questions. They asked a specific question of what we would do in defense of that – of that base, of that facility. What I – what I would tell you, or maybe as a way to answer the question from the Coast Guard’s standpoint, is, again, we are committed to that rules-based order and a peaceful, stable, cooperative Arctic. And what that means is we’re going to have to meet presence with presence. We’re going to have to be on scene, and that’s what we are committed to with our assets (inaudible) like the Healy, what you’ll see in the future with Forward security cutter, our icebreakers that are coming – are specifically missions that are designed to provide that level of national security in the Arctic. That’s what that program is designed to give us is the ships to be able to do that. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Christopher, can we go back to you and see if you are still – have a question? Can you hear us? No. It doesn’t look – let’s go back to – let’s go to another question from Aya Sayed in that case. He asks: “Is there any coordination between Washington and Moscow at this point regarding military presence and activities in the Arctic to try and prevent accidental encounters?”
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Yeah, I – Admiral Moore here, and maybe I’ll refer to Captain Schallip a little bit on this one a well. But in terms of the discussions between Washington and Moscow, I’d have to defer to the State Department specifically for those discussions. But I can tell you from the Coast Guard standpoint, from the U.S. Coast Guard standpoint, we are committed to ensuring that that rules-based order – which includes IMO oversight, which includes things like unplanned encounters at sea, how we cooperate in the international maritime commons – those things are very important. And part of the U.S. Coast Guard and our allies and partners working together in the Arctic is to ensure that that any risks, like any accidental encounters, is lowered. And that’s exactly what we’ve worked to do, and the Coast Guard Cutter Healy has done a really good job along those lines as well.
Michele, maybe if you want to just talk about your own experience there.
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: Thank you, Admiral. Yes, sir. Our mission was widely broadcast. It was published through several scientific outlets; we did press releases. So we broadcast very openly our intent and where we’re – we would be working in the Arctic Ocean.
Additionally, as Healy transited the region, we broadcast live on our Automatic Identification System, or AIS, for the entirety of the voyage. And what this did was provide awareness for all other vessels operating in the area where Healy was, what our intents were – what our intentions were, excuse me – and what our operating status was so that there was a predictability and an understanding on where Healy would be.
So in addition to the short-range visibility through our AIS, our track was visible to any audience who monitored commercial AIS tracking systems. Oregon was in the vicinity of Healy.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks for that, Captain. Captain, I’m wondering if you could give us a little more context on the science aspect of your mission right now, maybe the – you mentioned measurements and – but would you mind giving us some more context and telling us what the overall goals of this trip, as far as the science component is concerned?
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: Absolutely. Healy really did two missions this year. The first one was just north of Alaska in the U.S. Arctic, and part of that mission was recovering and deploying subsurface arrays of instruments that collected year-round data that otherwise would not be accessible to provide scientists with an understanding of changes in the water column, whether salinity or temperature. And the second mission, which was the NABOS mission, the Nansen and Amundsen Basin Observational System, or shortly called NABOS – did something very similar.
This particular program started in 2002 with an international effort to understand that portion of the Arctic Ocean. However, the particular mission that Healy was on this year was to service subsurface moorings that were first deployed in 2021 and need to be retrieved every two years due to the battery life. So Healy set out to do that mission. We were able to recover all but one subsurface mooring, which we were unable to locate, and then we redeployed new subsurface moorings which will continue to gather the data.
So what was very exciting about this is all of the instruments that we collected had very, very good data from year round, and this is a region that informs a lot of how the Arctic climate is changing from a maritime perspective. And so this information will provide invaluable information to the global scientific community.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Thank you, ma’am. A couple more questions we have coming in. Cal Biesecker from Defense Daily asks: “Did you use any unmanned systems during your latest operation, and if so, what systems? Are you using these for science missions or domain awareness or something else?”
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: During this particular mission we did not use any unmanned systems. There have been missions in the past that we used them for a variety of scientific data gathering, but not on this particular mission.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. There’s another question from Christopher Woody directly to Captain Schallip: “Healy has a history of mechanical issues. Are you operating – as you are operating during this deployment, did you any encounter any issues with the ship’s systems or take any proactive steps to manage the systems that have faced issues in the past?”
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: Thank you for the question. As with any ship, there’s ongoing maintenance and work. But no, Healy did not experience any significant issues during the ship – with the ship systems during this deployment. We did encounter both ice-free and ice-covered waters. Healy performed admirably in both conditions, particularly the ice-covered waters, and was very capable to conduct the work as needed in those situations. But thank you again for the question.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Also from Christopher Woody, directed at the admiral: “Given that Healy usually operates in the Pacific and around Alaska, what is the significance of its presence in the European Arctic as it relates to the Coast Guard’s ability to operate across the entire Arctic?”
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Yeah. Thank you. That’s a good question. So we do routinely operate Healy on both sides of the U.S. coastline, both the Atlantic and the Pacific. The ship is homeported out of Seattle and does a lot of scientific research in and around Alaska. But this is certainly not the first time Healy has operated on the Atlantic side and in the European theater.
We’re sort of – at this point, the Coast Guard is specifically focused on the acquisition and the build of our new polar security cutters to give us the fleet that we need to have presence kind of both in the high latitudes – in Antarctic and the Arctic – but even beyond what we get today from Polar Star, that runs typically south through Antarctica and the Healy in the Arctic. So what we’re really trying to do is position ourselves when the new fleet comes to operate with multiple ships that are able to kind of do what we’re asking Healy to cover down on today by herself.
So it’s a good question, but from the U.S. Coast Guard standpoint, we are committed and have historically operated in all regions of the Arctic, and that’s what you’re seeing from the Healy this year.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. One more question from Defense Daily concerning comms. They ask: “Could we please get – have an understanding of your communications challenges and needs in the Arctic region, including satellite communications?”
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: I can answer just from our experiences in the – so certainly it’s an area of difficulty with communication. Since I’ve been operating in the Alaska and Arctic region from the late 1990s, there’s been a great improvement on the way that communications have moved and reliability, broadband, et cetera. No specific challenges really to talk about here that are of any note. We had very reliable communications for the entirety of our transit and the crew was able to communicate with their families with no problems, as well as Healy was able to conduct the missions and communicate back at the various base stations as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am.
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Maybe I can just add sort of programmatically, one of the ways that the U.S. Coast Guard tackles the challenges of communications is we do it with our partnerships and with our allies. So as part of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, specifically the Coast Guard is involved in search and rescue, coordinated operations, and exercises. We do things with our partners so that in terms of communication, you’re – it is not just a matter of every single nation operating independently and having to solve that challenge. It’s more of a whole-of-government approach.
And things that we do such as Exercise Argus, which is a annual Danish Joint Arctic Command-led search and rescue exercise, also has some marine environmental response components in it that’s held each year in western Greenland during the summer. We do that specifically to test our ability to communicate to each other. Same thing with Operation Nanook, which is a Canadian-led organized operation that offers that opportunity for us to engage with U.S. armed forces, Canadian armed forces, UK, France, Denmark, et cetera, to kind of advance that shared maritime operation space.
So part of – sometimes when people think about communications, they think about just being able to speak directly one on one. Oftentimes the communication challenges are tackled sort of through a joint cooperative engagement. And that’s what we try really hard to do with these international exercises. Thank you.
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: And if I may just add an example to Admiral Moore’s point, we were able to do exercises at sea with the Norwegian Coast Guard, and one of our goals was to communicate with them. So we were able to exercise exactly what the admiral talked about, about the ability to interoperate with our allies and partners in the Arctic region.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you both for that context. We still have time for a couple more questions. I’ll open the floor for about 30 more seconds to see if anyone has additional questions or comments.
It doesn’t look like it, so, Admiral and Captain, thank you so much for taking the time today to explain your mission and to give a little more context for Coast Guard operations in the Arctic. Before we close the call, I’d turn it back to both of you or either of you for any final thoughts.
REAR ADMIRAL MOORE: Yeah, thanks. This is Admiral Moore here. So thanks for doing this and for the opportunity to offer a few comments here at the end. From the Coast Guard standpoint, remaining a credible and collaborative partner takes commitment, and we want to make sure that we demonstrate that. The Coast Guard continues to support the scientific community as they collect data that informs understanding of a changing Arctic region and as the Arctic communities learn how to adapt to longer ice-free seasons, thawing permafrost, and that stressed traditional sources of protein that we’re seeing.
So we’re committed to doing that, and we really appreciate the opportunity to speak today about the Coast Guard’s value in the Arctic. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Captain Schallip, any final thoughts?
CAPTAIN SCHALLIP: Just additionally thank you for the opportunity to talk about Healy’s operations in support to the science community and to our commitment to our allies and partners. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Appreciate that. Thank you, ma’am. Shortly, we will send the audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – that’s one word – @state.gov. Thanks to everyone for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the future. This ends today’s briefing.