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Arctic security: patrolling NATO’s High North

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Why is securing the Arctic so important? Learn how climate change, which is causing the polar ice caps to melt at an alarming rate, might also impact our security.

Synopsis

The Arctic region is the gateway to the North Atlantic. For NATO and its Allies, maintaining a strong presence here is vital to protect trade, transport and communication links between North America and Europe. As climate change causes the polar ice caps to melt and the sea levels to rise, new sea routes are beginning to emerge, which could present a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.

Greenland is considered by scientists to be ground zero for climate change. Along with the Faroe Islands, it forms part of the Kingdom of Denmark and is therefore under Danish military protection. That protection falls to the Joint Arctic Command, or JACO, a Danish-led operational command with a central headquarters in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.

In this video, a NATO video producer joins the Danish Armed Forces in Greenland, at sea, in the air and on land, to discover more about how security might be affected in this region and learn about the capabilities and experience NATO Ally Denmark has in the North Atlantic area.

Transcript

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —
Commander Senior Grade Peter Krogh, Commanding Officer, HDMS Triton, Royal Danish Navy

“All the units operating here in the Arctic region, they need to be very, very robust to cope with this harsh environment. It just prevents any aid from the outside, you need to bring everything yourself.”

--VOICEOVER—
The Arctic region is the gateway to the North Atlantic. For NATO and its Allies, maintaining a strong presence here is vital to protect trade, transport and communication links between North America and Europe.

--VOICEOVER—
Historically, this has been an area of low tension, but that is changing.

—PIECE TO CAMERA —
Jake Tupman, Reporter
“Climate change is causing the world’s ice caps to melt at an alarming rate. As this ancient landscape forever changes, what does the future hold for security of the region known as the High North?

--VOICEOVER--
I’ll be joining the Danish Armed Forces in Greenland, at sea and in the air, to find out the challenges of patrolling this vast area.

— TEXT ON SCREEN —

ARCTIC SECURITY:
PATROLLING NATO’S
HIGH NORTH

--VOICEOVER—
Greenland is considered by scientists to be ground zero for climate change, where its melting ice caps are significantly contributing to a rise in sea levels.

Along with the Faroe Islands, it forms part of the Kingdom of Denmark and is therefore under Danish military protection, which falls to the Joint Arctic Command, or JACO, a Danish-led operational command with a central headquarters in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.

—SOUNDBITE IN ENGLISH —
Brigadier General Poul Primdahl, Deputy Commander, Joint Arctic Command

“The GIUK Gap, Greenland, Iceland, and the UK, is hugely important for NATO. It’s what ties the transatlantic bonds together, it’s the way we would get reinforcement from North America in a conflict scenario in Europe.”

--VOICEOVER—
No one knows how to operate in the freezing waters off the coast of Greenland better than the Royal Danish Navy, who have been patrolling here for centuries.
We’ll be boarding the HDMS Triton, one of four Danish ocean frigates patrolling Greenland at any given time under the Joint Arctic Command.

—PIECE TO CAMERA —
Jake Tupman, Video producer for NATO
“Right now, we are coming alongside the HDMS Triton. Here. And they’re going to winch us up onto the ship.”

--VOICEOVER—
Safely onto the ship, I went up to the Bridge to meet the commanding officer.

Commander Senior Grade Peter Krogh is a veteran of these waters and a former commander of one of NATO’s naval task forces.

--INTERVIEW—
Jake Tupman with CDR Peter Krogh, Commanding Officer, HDMS Triton

Jake Tupman: “Can you give us some idea of just the vastness of this area?”

CDR Peter Krogh: “It’s extreme distances. So you need to think ahead about the ship’s performance, about the crew skills and about logistics. We start to feel a growing interest from other navies that also wish to explore the northern region. And of course, we want to keep the sovereignty and protect the interests of Denmark and also our allies up here. Therefore, we are very pleased to share our knowledge with others, and especially allied navies.”

Jake Tupman: “So you say that you’re surveying this area, mapping this area. Has that mapping or surveillance changed due to climate change over the last few years, do you feel?”

CDR Peter Krogh: “I mean, it’s the sea level that‘s changing and it’s the amount of ice that is changing. Let’s take an example here in the Bay of Disko, where we are now. People on the shore side, they used to visit the Isle of Disko and they could go there by foot, but they haven’t been able to do that for a very long time because the temperature is increasing. So it is very, very easy to see the changes of the climate.”

--VOICEOVER—

The Triton is uniquely adapted to these waters. While not technically an ice breaker, it has a reinforced hull, meaning it can break through ice up to 80 centimetres thick. It is also highly manoeuvrable, which is key when operating in Greenland’s narrow ports and waterways. With a crew of roughly 55 highly trained personnel and equipped with advanced radar systems and a Seahawk helicopter, the Triton’s main role is protect Danish sovereignty, but it is also responsible for search and rescue missions, environmental monitoring and logistical support to local communities.

In these vast regions and testing conditions, a successful patrol relies on the competence and teamwork of the crew members.

--UPSOT—
Jake Tupman learns to tie an ‘ice splice’ knot on board the HDMS Triton

SPC Malikshahi: “Yeah, that’s right.”

Jake Tupman: “I got it right?”

SPC Malikshahi: “Yeah.”

Jake Tupman: “Fantastic. Thank you very much.”

--PIECE TO CAMERA—
Jake Tupman, Video producer for NATO

“I got it right. I’m quite happy with myself.”

--VOICEOVER--
On board the Triton, a group of 20 or so conscripts are quite literally learning the ropes. For the Danes, passing on knowledge from one seafaring generation to the next maintains mission continuity.

--INTERVIEW--
Jake Tupman with Specialist Lina Malikshahi, Deckhand

Jake Tupman: “So this is the Ice Splice, is that right?”

SPC Malikshahi: “Yeah.”

Jake Tupman: “And how is my Ice Splice?”

SPC Malikshahi: “It’s perfect. Yeah, it’s really… Yeah, it’s good. And it’s the first time you’ve done it?”

Jake Tupman: “To be fair, I didn’t do most of it, really.”

SPC Malikshahi: “I saw you got some help.”

Jake Tupman: “I did have a lot of help. You’re in such a small, limited space for such a long period of time. But does everybody get on? Is there big camaraderie? How does it work?”

SPC Malikshahi: “Usually it’s like a big family. It’s like working with your family, so… Because when we’re off from work, we’re still here. It’s like 24 hours a day.”

Jake Tupman: “Never ends. Is this your first time to Greenland? Or have you done…

SPC Malikshahi: “No, I’ve done it multiple times. We learn to have a lot of respect because the North Atlantic Ocean is one of the harshest oceans in the world. We really do have respect for the waters up here.”

--VOICEOVER—
Spending time on the Triton had given me a window in the rigours and perils of operating in these waters. The crew on board are acutely aware of their roles and there’s an almost instinctual understanding of the tasks that need to be done. Those skills and experiences could be crucial if, as expected, climate change causes this region to become more contested.

--PIECE TO CAMERA—
Jake Tupman, Video producer for NATO

“As the ice melts, it creates the opportunity for new shipping routes and with it, potential risks and threats to Euro Atlantic security.”

--VOICEOVER—
The availability of new Arctic routes, while presenting potential commercial opportunities, could also lead to competition between nations and jeopardise the security of the entire region. With Russia stating its intention to be a primary force in the Arctic region and China declaring itself as a ‘near-Arctic’ power, Arctic security has become a priority for the NATO alliance and its Allies.

--SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH)—
Brigadier General Poul Primdahl, Deputy Commander, Joint Arctic Command

“Our area of responsibility will be more used by, by the whole world. Trade ships, by research, by tourism. So there will be more people in our area and that of course gives us a challenge, both in the surveillance part but also in the search and rescue part. We need to be capable to handle that. So there will be challenges.”

--VOICEOVER—
Greenland is the world’s largest island. Six times the size of Germany, it has a coastline of 44,000 kilometres, longer than the distance around the world’s equator. With a population of just 56,000, Greenland’s communities are often thousands of kilometres apart. To patrol an area this big, both for surveillance and search and rescue missions, the Joint Arctic Command also deploys Challenger aircraft.

The Challenger patrols the regions around Greenland and the Faroe Islands on a daily basis. And today, I’ll be joining them. But first a flight briefing.

--INTERVIEW—
Jake Tupman interview with Capt Finn Hede Jørgensen – Pilot, Royal Danish Air Force.

Capt Finn Hede Jørgensen: “We’re here, Sondrestrom, going out through the fjords, up along the coastline, inspecting for ships. In around, counterclockwise around Disko Island. And when we’re done with the inspection, we go back home.

Jake Tupman: “So when you say you’re inspecting for ships, what are you looking for exactly?”

Capt Finn Hede Jørgensen: “We have a general idea of what’s out there today and we’re just going out and see if everything is like it should be. And the ships there, the fishing ships, and see if they have the permissions to be there. And just making sure that they are what they are and where they are and do what they’re supposed to do.”

Jake Tupman: “So essentially you’re creating a kind of maritime picture from the sky.

--VOICEOVER—
Briefing complete, it was time to board the aircraft.

The CL-604 Challenger has long-range and high-altitude capabilities, which makes it ideal for Arctic maritime patrol and search and rescue missions.

--INTERVIEW—
Jake Tupman with Master Sergeant Kim Skotte Svensson, Systems Operator, Royal Danish Air Force

Jake Tupman: “So guys, right now we are obviously flying over Greenland. Can you give me a little bit of an idea about what you’re doing?

MSGT Kim Skotte Svensson: “Right at the moment, I’m using the radar to look for targets on the surface and try to correlate them with what info we have on the ships that are in the area. Then we need to go and visually ID each ship, all the fishing ships, the passenger vessels, the merchant ships. We have to have a positive visual ID on them. We take some frame grabs of it and send it down to the Arctic Command, so everybody is sure that the ships are who they say they are and that they’re allowed to be there.”

--PIECE TO CAMERA—
Jake Tupman, Video producer for NATO

“As the ice caps melt, regions like this one could become more accessible to a larger number of ships. If that happens, then the role of aircraft like this one and the surveillance that they do becomes ever more important.”

--VOICEOVER—
The truth is that nobody knows exactly what will happen in the coming years and decades with regards to rising sea levels and the effects they could have on security in the High North. But what we do know is that Greenland’s ice caps are diminishing and sea levels are rising year on year. In an age when global security is both unpredictable and volatile, it is vital NATO maintains a strong Allied presence in a strategically important region.
Music
Ticking Construction by Kreuzer Passages by Azbel Aftertouch by Flores Seeking the Truth by Jeremias Solo by Muratet and Robertson Beyond the Clouds by Cacace Gangsta Shizz by Moore Blinded by Marsh and Suett
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Reference
NATO913478
ID
2060