WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department and its counterparts in six allied nations have adopted a new agreement to better understand the Earth’s changing polar environments.

With the rise in temperatures, attributed to climate change, melting Arctic sea ice and opening up of new opportunities for maritime operations, the U.S. Navy wants a better understanding of Arctic conditions to counter what it considers aggression in the region from China and Russia.

In November, the Pentagon signed a new memorandum of understanding for the International Cooperative Engagement Program for Polar Research effort. The ICE-PPR involves a group of seven nations that formalized efforts to cooperate on basic research projects and solve the “biggest challenges of safely operating in the extreme polar environment,” John Woods, deputy director of the International Engagement Office with the Office of Naval Research Global, told C4ISRNET.

Aside from the U.S., the participating nations are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand, all of which have strategic interests in the Earth’s poles. The partnership includes both the Arctic and the southern portions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

The ultimate goal is to boost “cooperation, planning, integration and interoperability among our international partners to ensure safe and secure polar regions,” Woods said.

The group’s initial research projects involve the following:

  • Communications.
  • Environmental modeling and observations.
  • Researching human factors.
  • Detecting underwater changes.

The ICE-PPR hosts four working groups — environmental, human performance, platforms and situational awareness — that will “explore, study and report” on issues related to their focus area. Woods said the implementation of the working groups was one of ICE-PPR’s top successes so far.

The project also includes personnel exchanges to “increase awareness and understanding of each [of] our partners’ strengths and challenges” in the region, he said. The ICE-PPR is a whole-of-government effort that allows the military services and civilian agencies performing Arctic research to take part, he said.

“I see ICE-PPR as being a great tool for participating nations to get work done,” Woods said.

“This is not a group to have meetings just to have meetings. The engagements are geared toward harmonizing requirements to be turned into project arrangements to increase capabilities. I already see the operational users’ input getting into the workflow, ensuring the output from each project will have direct impact to the defense services,” he added.

While many of the participants are also members of NATO, Woods said the partnership presents new and unique opportunities for tangible outcomes.

“ICE-PPR is unique from NATO working groups and other activities in that the goal is for project work, not just information exchanges,” Woods said.

Under the new memorandum of understanding, the ICE-PPR executive steering group will evaluate past efforts, examine current projects and discuss future initiatives. The steering group includes flag officers and senior executives from each country.

Though the partnership has just formally launched, the group of nations have a history of working together in recent years. The U.S. and several of the participants contribute to the International Arctic Buoy Program, in which countries maintain a network of buoys in the Arctic that monitor changes in the underwater environment.

Woods said the environmental buoy deployments have achieved “outstanding” cost savings, but he would not provide details.

The ICE-PPR’s memorandum of understanding will remain in effect for the next 25 years, allowing countries to study and prepare for the long-term environmental changes for years to come.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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