The United States is planning to move its 24 Ah-64 Apache over the next two years from Germany to Alaska. The 24 Apache will join 17 Grey Eagles unmanned helicopters by 2017.
The move, motivated by a cost-saving plan, is a significant decrease in US military capabilities in Europe. In fact, the Army’s overarching aviation restructure is meant to save more than $12 billion.
Three of the 13 combat aviation brigades would be deactivated. Only the 159th CAB at Fort Campbell, Kentucky has been named so far.
Defense News reported that Ivo Daalder, former US Ambassador to NATO, thinks the removal of the Apache helicopters sends “the wrong message.”
“At a time when the US is rightly pressing our European allies to do more, reducing real capability in Europe sends the wrong message — to our allies and to the Russians,” said former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “This is a time when budget decisions need to be reviewed in terms of geopolitical reality — which now includes a growing Russian threat to security in Europe.”
Only one aviation combat brigade (CAB) remains in Europe. Stationed in Katterback, Germany, the 12th CAB could very well be the ones who will see their Apaches redeployed to Alaska. The US Army has not confirmed the 12th CAB would be the source of the Apaches, however.
The removal of the Apache attack helicopters deals a great blow to America’s European allies. In fact, it sends a signal that the United States is ready to remove a powerful asset amid Russia’s aggressive stance in Eastern Europe.
However, many NATO allies has joined efforts to reassure European allies, mostly the Baltic States members. Due to a joint effort, the United States can focus more of its forces on his own territory, notably in the Arctic.
Apache to help Arctic sovereignty?
With the creation of a Russian Arctic command last December, the 24 Apaches will have a major role in Alaska. In fact, it is possible the Apache helicopters are being redeployed to Alaska to reinforce America’s presence near the Bering Strait, where only 82 kilometres separates Russia and the United States.
A stronger military presence in Alaska could challenge Russia’s Eastern Military District and its Pacific Fleet in the region. The addition of two new Borei-class SSBN to the Pacific Fleet and the great amount of Russian Marines regiments is more than enough to convince the United States to redeploy attack helicopters to its US Northern Command (US NORTHCOM).
There is already a strong Air Force presence in Alaska including F-16s and A-10s. However, an asset such as the Ah-64 Apache will also enable the ground troops to rely on them to destroy mobile targets, especially in the vast Arctic plains.
The US takes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council until 2017
The United States is also taking the Arctic Council chairmanship until 2017. Canada gave the lead to the United States today in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
According to the Arctic Council website:
“U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the new Chair of the Arctic Council, stated, “There’s only ‘one Arctic’ and all of us – the United States, other nations, indigenous peoples, and Arctic communities – must join together to ensure responsible stewardship of this incredible region.”
The theme of the U.S. Chairmanship is “One Arctic: Shared Opportunities, Challenges and Responsibilities”. During the U.S. Chairmanship, the Arctic Council program will focus on addressing the impacts of climate change; supporting Arctic Ocean safety, security and stewardship; and improving economic and living conditions in Arctic communities. The Council also established two new task forces: the Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation and the Task Force on Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic.”
Even if the Arctic Council does not include a military program, it is possible that Arctic militarization becomes a concern. Russia’s intensification of military activities in the Arctic and territorial claims are most likely to become subjects of discussions.
The Arctic Council is all about cooperation, however. Sergei Donskoi, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia said today that “there is no room for conflict and confrontation in the Arctic.”
That said, I don’t believe Russia has the intention to cause any trouble in the Arctic. In fact, Donskoi also added today that: “no matter what is happening in the outside world, Arctic co-operation must continue.”
The removal of the US Apaches in Europe comes at an unfortunate time. However, NATO allies are now greatly contributing to a stronger presence in Europe.
Nevertheless, the redeployment of the Apache to Alaska is a clear sign of America’s commitment to a strong Arctic security. Alaska is the first line of defence against potential threats in the region and the door to both Canada’s and their Arctic region.