June 24 (UPI) -- The defense bill in the U.S. Congress specifies that a new strategic port in the Arctic Ocean must be identified and designated.
The action is meant to counter Russian advances in the Arctic, notably by its submarine fleet, as the ocean warms and becomes easier to navigate.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act is expected to receive a vote in the Senate this week. It directs the Secretary of Defense to work with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration to submit a report to Congress evaluating potential sites for the port. The defense secretary must then designate, within 90 days, one or more of the choices as a "Department of Defense Strategic Arctic Port."
Russia has 7,000 miles of Arctic coast. It regards the region as an area in need of security, as well as a potential economic jackpot. Russian President Vladimir Putin estimated the Russian Arctic region's mineral wealth at $30 trillion. A Senate Armed Services Committee report to Congress said that the polar circle contains undiscovered oil and gas as well as an "abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds and millions of square miles of untapped resources."
The U.S. Congress has noted that melting ice caps could open new trade routes in the region, but a lack of icebreakers, ships designed to break through thick ice. The United States Coast Guard has two, both in need of repair, while Russia has about 40, several of which are nuclear-powered, in the region. Russia also has a military base, known as "Northern Clover," under construction in northern Siberia, as well as 19 deep-water ports and 14 airfields in the region.
"The opening of the Arctic is an opportunity to work collaboratively with other nations to maintain security and stability in the region and with those who are willing to help maintain the freedom of the seas," said Adm. James Foggo, commander of US Navy in Europe, earlier this month.