Inside the Arctic Military Base at the Center of U.S.-Russia Tensions
Melting sea ice in the Arctic is spurring a scramble for resources, shipping routes and strategic strongholds in the region. WSJ's Michael M. Phillips travels to Tin City, Alaska, to see what that means for the U.S. military's strategy in the far North.
Photo: Robert Alcaraz/The Wall Street Journal
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The new film 'The Social Dilemma' looks at the impact social media and technology is having on our everyday lives. Director Jeff Orlowski and the Center for Humane Technology's Tristan Harris join Morning Joe to discuss. Aired on 12/02/2020. At 2:12 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Trump began climbing through a window they had smashed on the northwest side of the U.S. Capitol. "Go! Go! Go!" someone shouted as the rioters, some in military gear, streamed in. It was the start of the most serious attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. The mob coursed through the building, enraged that Congress was preparing to make Trump's electoral defeat official. "Drag them out! … Hang them out!" rioters yelled at one point, as they gathered near the House chamber.
Officials in the House and Senate secured the doors of their respective chambers, but lawmakers were soon forced to retreat to undisclosed locations. Five people died on the grounds that day, including a Capitol police officer. In all, more than 50 officers were injured.
To reconstruct the pandemonium inside the Capitol, The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and hundreds of videos, some of which were exclusively obtained. By synchronizing the footage and locating some of the camera angles within a digital 3-D model of the building, The Post was able to map the rioters' movements and assess how close they came to lawmakers — in some cases feet apart or separated only by a handful of vastly outnumbered police officers. Ryan Clark, Domonique Foxworth and Dan Graziano join Mike Greenberg on Get Up to discuss the Pittsburgh Steelers' issues during their three-game losing streak, the most recent loss coming vs. the Cincinnati Bengals and their next chance to reverse the trend coming vs. the Indianapolis Colts.
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✔️ President Trump took part in the opening coin toss at the annual Army-Navy football game on Saturday at West Point in New York, his last appearance at the event as commander in chief.
(dramatic music) - Decreased Arctic sea ice has resulted in increased human activity, both from Russian and from China. - We're really on the front lines of what I would consider kind of a red dawn or Cold War type mindset. - The Russians are pushing and probing and seeing what they can achieve here. The U.S. is trying to figure out how best to defend against that sort of aggression. - The need for the ice breaker is both from a commercial side, from a search and rescue side, and from a military side. - 24/7, 365, we're here with pilots and maintainers, ready to get these airplanes airborne on a moment's notice. - [Michael] Melting sea ice is changing the nature and politics of the Arctic Ocean. New sea passages opening through international waters are spurring geopolitical competition for resources and strategic strongholds. Now, the U.S. military is revising its arctic strategy. - During the Cold War, we saw a significant amount of activity in the arctic, all the way from aircraft activity, for example flying the Russian bombers, as well as on both sides having a increased military capability. We see some of that activity happening again today. - So, what do the Russians actually do? - Well, we see multiple different things. We see them practicing attacks on the U.S. and Canada through the Arctic. - And what are they trying to achieve? - The first is clearly strategic messaging, right? They're flexing their muscles, if you will. And then we also see that they're practicing. They're exercises and training. - Is there a thought that if there actually were a conflict in the U.S. and Russia that the bombers would come over the Arctic, that that would be the route to the United States? - Absolutely. As the closes avenue of approach, we do see that as a frontline of defense and something that we are making sure that we are able to defend. You can see the operating environment in here is just incredibly harsh. This is actually from the Cold War era. These are radars that were installed in that timeframe. But the basic system remains the same. You'll get to see some of that. - I traveled north with the Air Force to see how the U.S. is confronting Russian military advances in the Arctic. This is Tin City, Alaska, which is the closest point in the mainland United States to Russia. There's a radar station here at Tin City. Its job is to look out for Russian bombers that might be trying to push the limits of U.S. air space. Built during the Cold War, long-range radar stations like Tin City are suddenly on the front lines again. - I've been working for the Alaska radar system for about 24 years. The radar looks for bogies, unidentified aircraft, which just occurred like a month ago. - [Michael] What happened a month ago? - They spotted Russian fighter planes and bombers. There was two of each. So I think the Russians, they like to do that while they're doing their training missions so they see how quickly we respond. - The big landmass on the left is Little Diomede Island. It's U.S. territory. On the right, a little bit further away, is Big Diomede Island. That's Russian territory. And way along there, just above the waterline, you can see a strip; that's Siberia. So this is really the front line in what is an increasing competition for the Arctic. Commercial, military competition. Several times a year, the long-range radar sites pick up Russian Bear bombers, sometimes escorted by jet fighters, penetrating the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone. That's where the U.S. expects all planes to identify who they are. The Russians don't always do that. U.S. jets scramble and fly alongside the Russians until they leave. Overseen by Lieutenant General Tom Bussiere, long-range radar sites act as a tripwire to deploy U.S. jets. - We can't do without 'em. There's no gap in requirements for our 24/7, 365 mission. - How are things changing, and why are they changing? - The decreased arctic sea ice has resulted in increased human activity, both from Russia and from China. And that's presented unique opportunities for national security concerns, environmental concerns, as well as economic concerns in the Arctic. The mission's absolutely essential so that we can maintain our situational awareness to defend North America. - Who sees the images that are gathered by the radars? - All our long-rang radar sites provide information to our command and control facility here in this building. And then, if necessary, we'll launch aircraft to go intercept anyone that's approaching our air space that hasn't been properly identified. - The closest point of approach to Russia is two miles away. We're really on the front lines of what I would consider kind of a red dawn or Cold War type mindset. And in some way, the Cold War still exists here in Alaska every day. - [Michael] This year, Russian bombers have doubled the pace at which they've attempted to penetrate the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone. Moscow's embassy in Washington says Russian long-range pilots make regular flights over neutral waters in the Arctic, flying in strict accordance with international norms. Lieutenant Colonel John Krellner is one of the fighter pilots who scrambles to intercept Russian planes. - We're standing at the combat alert cell with our F-22s that are on alert here. We are here 24/7, 365, ready to respond to any incursion into our Air Defense Identification Zone by unidentified, foreign military aircraft. - Tell me about the time that you went up to try to intercept a Russian plane. - We got the order to launch our aircraft. Clock someone off, we got into our flight gear, hopped in the airplanes, taxied out right in front of here of the combat alert cell, and we took off, and we positioned ourselves into a position where we felt the Bears were approaching, and we waited. And with our sensors we were able to see and identify a couple of Russian Bear aircraft that were operating just on the west side of the Air Defense Identification Zone. That particular day, they never crossed the line. So, between Alaska and Russia right here, this black line represents our Air Defense Identification Zone. These stars are all representative of intercepts that have happened throughout the years. Many of these go back well into the Cold War era. Those black dots represent the long-range radar sites, like Tin City. - [Micheal] So, effectively, here at this base there are guys who are looking at screens and interpreting what those bleeps are, and that then get passed on to the people who make the decision about whether to scramble jets. - Absolutely. They're identifying everything. And anything that's not identified, they start to pull the string on that. - Now we're heading to Eielson Air Force Base, by Fairbanks. They're holding aerial combat exercises, where half the planes are American. The other half of the pilots are pretending to be enemy fighters, probably Russians. The airmen trained here are some of the pilots who scramble to intercept Russian fighters on the Arctic border. Beyond sharpening their dog fighting skills, these combat exercises also help them better understand the tactics of their potential rivals. (jet whooshing) - [Pilot] How you feeling there in the back? - [Michael] Colonel Shawn Anger is Vice Commander of the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks, Alaska. - We try to replicate Russian tactics and Chinese tactics as best we can. The tactics that our adversaries typically fly are more reliant on controllers on the ground to direct their maneuvers. I would say the the U.S. Air Force has always been on the leading edge of tactics, and we have tried to drive the autonomy to the cockpit and allow the pilot, who's there, present, to make as many decisions as he can, based on the information he has available to them. - We thought that the Arctic was a bit of a buffer. It provided us a little bit of insolation from the threat. Currently, the one iceberg that we have is a very old polar star. I've been on it myself. And it's clearly not giving us the capability and capacity we need to operate in the Arctic environment. But as we've seen the increased activity in the Arctic, we are responding in kind with a corresponding increase in the resources being applied to that. - [Michael] At the heart of the new U.S. Arctic strategy is more: more ice breakers, which help keep commercial routes open and serve in rescue operations. More advanced planes. Russian pilots venturing toward U.S. and Canadian air space can expect to see Eielson's new cutting edge F-35s pulling alongside them in the near future. One thing that isn't changing? The Arctic rivalry between the U.S. and Russia.