April 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. is going to need to develop more persistence in the Arctic region if it wants to be a player there, the commander of U.S. Northern Command told lawmakers earlier this week.
Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday about increased opportunities for resource development and transportation in the region due to climate change.
"To compete in the Arctic, you have to be on the field," VanHerck said, according to a Pentagon press release. "And currently, our capabilities, I would assess that we're in the game plan development [stage]. We're not able to have the persistence that I need to compete day-to-day in the Arctic."
According to VanHerck, the U.S. and Canadian militaries are now in the early stages of modernization in building additional military capabilities, where Russia is already there defending what's theirs and seeking out new opportunities and China is a player in the region as well.
VanHerck thanked lawmakers for $46 million the department received for communication and domain awareness, but also said the military needs to "be on the playing field and that requires fuel so that Coast Guard cutters, Navy destroyers and cruisers, can remain persistent in the Arctic."
That will help the U.S. better compete in the Arctic and continue to be aware of Russian activities in the region.
He noted that Russia pulls about a quarter of its gross domestic product from activities in the Arctic, and has reopened and strengthened Cold War military installations that were once shuttered.
According to VanHerck, China considers itself a "near Arctic" nation and seeks increased influence there.
"It's incumbent upon us to be persistent, working with allies and partners and like-minded nations to ensure that we maintain the consistency of the international rules-based norms and laws that have served us well over time," he said.
Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby told reporters that the Department of Defense is aware of Russian military activity in the Arctic and is committed to protecting U.S. interests in the region.
"Without getting into specific intelligence assessments, obviously we're monitoring it very closely," Kirby said. "Obviously, no one wants to see the Arctic as a region become militarized."
At the beginning of March Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a 15-year plan to develop Russia's Arctic region, which will involve upgrading infrastructure and new military deployments.
Also in March, the Army released an Arctic strategy focused on increasing cold-weather dominance as well as improving individual and collective training of forces to operate in the region.
The Department of Defense was required to provide Arctic strategy reports to Congress by defense spending bills for fiscal years in 2016 and 2019.
Its 2019 report emphasized both Russia and China as adversaries with increased presence in the region.