GROTON, Conn. (AP) - The U.S. Navy's submarine force is preparing for its next Arctic exercises in spring 2014, but there is some uncertainty over whether they will take place due to budget pressures in Washington, a Connecticut-based admiral said Tuesday.
Rear Adm. Kenneth Perry, commander of all U.S. attack submarines based on the East Coast, said in an interview that the exercises offer vital training in a strategically important area with harsh, frigid conditions that present challenges unlike any other ocean.
Perry said an attack submarine in Groton is being readied to participate in the exercises, but they could be jeopardized by military spending cuts brought about by budget crises in Washington. The last Ice Exercise was held in March 2011.
"The ship is preparing to go up there," he said. "Given what we've gone through in the past months, I don't think anything is certain."
The intensity of U.S. submarine operations in the Arctic has tapered off since the Cold War, but American subs continue to keep a presence there and transit the area when traveling between the Atlantic and the Pacific, Perry said.
With shrinking polar ice opening up new opportunities to exploration, nations including the U.S., Russia, Canada and Norway have been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the planet's undiscovered oil and gas. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged Russia will expand its presence in the Arctic, including restoration of a major Soviet-era military base there.
Perry, the commander of Submarine Group 2, said U.S. maritime strategy is founded on ensuring it can go where it needs to go "without a permission slip" and the submarine is the only vessel that can operate year-round in the Arctic. But he described the relationship with other nations there generally as one of cooperation.
"This is an area of the world, in my opinion, that is not primarily and shouldn't be considered an area of plausible military conflict," he said. "This is an area where I believe nations are generally acting in cooperation or at least some mutual understanding of what the environment means for the world."
Automatic budget cuts that started taking effect this year are slated to cost U.S. defense programs a total of $480 billion through 2021. They are being imposed because Congress failed to reach a budget compromise for reducing federal deficits.
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