Alaska may have harsh weather conditions but its location is part of the military’s strategic advantage. It may seem that a place that is known for winters with possible lows of around -45°C would not be a good place to have the tactical F-35 aircraft. But it actually increases the U.S. military reach.
Key Military Location in Alaska
Alaska gives the F-35s based at Eielson AFB the ability to go anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Because of its location being bordered by both the Pacific and Arctic Ocean. Eielson AFB is in the heart of Alaska, about 160 kilometers from the Arctic Circle meaning when you fly over the North Pacific you find yourself in Asia. Head over the Arctic, and you find yourself in Europe.
On July 24 Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III held a press conference at Eielson AFB alongside Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan highlighting the importance of the strategic location and the future investments needed. There he talked about “how strategically important Alaska is to national security and to homeland defense. We are an Indo-Pacific nation and we are an Arctic nation. And here in Alaska those two critical regions intersect. This is where we can project power into both regions and where we must be able to defend ourselves from threats coming from both places. It’s also where we can better posture ourselves and prepare for climate changes that will impact our future.”
Military Footprint Growing in Alaska?
Another important aspect of the location of both Alaska and specifically Eielson AFB is their proximity to U.S. adversaries of both China and Russia. The U.S. has beefed up defenses and expanded training in an effort to increase its competitive advantage.
“It truly is a place where we think that as we continue to – develop our capabilities here, it will certainly help us in our efforts to – to create capacity and capabilities that allows us to do what we set out to do in increasing the competitive edge with adversaries like China and Russia,” he said.
Will this mean more troops being sent to Alaska? Time will tell. While Secretary Austin mentioned the importance of investing appropriately in infrastructure to keep troops ready and vigilant, he was vague on what will happen next. However he said, “You have seen us increase our capabilities up here recently with the arrival of additional F-35s. And we’re in the process of building out the capabilities to support that effort. And, of course, we’ve already announced that and I don’t have any further announcements to make today.”
Wide Open Spaces
Another important strategic advantage of Alaska is the open land, giving the military plenty of space to train. There’s a 200,000 square kilometer training range. Secretary Austin mentioned how impressed he was by all the trainings going on in Alaska from missile defense exercises, the Red Flag Exercise, to the cold weather and mountain warfare training.
He ended his remarks by focusing on the people who make the military mission happen. Having spent time prior to the press conference meeting with soldiers and airmen, he says, “My first priority is to defend this nation. And I’ve seen a lot of things today that help us accomplish that goal. But key to achieving it is taking care of our people, taking care of each other. And that was one of my messages to the men and women that I spoke with today.”