Thule Air Base, the Department of Defense’s northernmost installation, has been renamed Pituffik Space Base. The renaming recognizes Greenlandic cultural heritage and better reflect its role in the U.S. Space Force.
The US Department of Defense’s northernmost installation, Thule Air Base in Greenland, was recently renamed to Pituffik Space Base in a ceremony held on April 6.
The renaming of the base will better reflects its role in the U.S. Space Force, while also recognizing Greenlandic cultural heritage, a press release from the US Space Force states.
Pituffik Space Base is located approximately 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the northwestern coast of Greenland. Pituffik is the traditional Greenlandic name of the region where the base is located.
Collective defense in the Arctic
“Today is a day of great significance as we commemorate the renaming of Thule Air Base to Pituffik Space Base," said Chief of Space Operations U.S. Space Force General Chance Saltzman in his opening remarks during the ceremony.
The United States greatly values the contributions that the Greenlandic people bring to defending the Arctic region and to global security, the Chief of Space Operations said and added that renewed strategic competition in the Arctic can be expected with Russia’s historically significant presence in the region and the People’s Republic of China self-proclaimed near-Arctic power, seeking opportunities to expand its influence.
“From here, we have maintained an unbreakable bond working towards the collective defense and stability of the northern Arctic. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the people of Greenland and Denmark for their partnership and friendship over the years. Today marks a new chapter in our shared history, one in which we recognize and celebrate the contributions and traditions of this land and its people. Together the men and women of Pituffik Space Base and our Greenlandic and Danish partners will ensure a safe, secure, and prosperous future both in space and above the Arctic Circle," Saltzman concluded.
Key US military installation
The base was built in 1951 and provides installation support for vital space-based missions, and is home to the DoD’s northernmost deep-water port. It has a 10,000-foot runway, according to the Space Force. The installation plays a key role in the U.S. military's ability to detect and provide early warnings for ballistic missile attacks.
In a previous interview with HNN, Assistant Professor Marc Jacobsen from the Royal Danish Defence College explained that while Greenland is experiencing more self-determination, its geostrategic importance in the protection against missiles from Russia and so-called rogue states has yet again increased during the past approximately five years.
"Trump’s idea of purchasing Greenland in the summer of 2019 and Pompeo’s infamous speech in Rovaniemi a few months earlier, both exemplify the renewed U.S. geostrategic interest in Greenland and the Arctic. The Biden administration shares the same geostrategic perspective but surely uses much softer rhetoric," he added.
The U.S. Air Force also recently awarded a new maintenance contract for the Thule Air Base, keeping in line with an agreement to revert contracts back to Greenlandic-controlled companies. The renegotiation of the contract has been a top priority for Greenland, explained Jacobsen from the Royal Danish Defence College.
Jacobsen told HNN that the new contract is expected to have significant economic effects for Greenland in the form of tax income and by involving more Greenlandic workers, apprentices, and interns in the maintenance business at the base to the benefit of the local households and the national economy.
"The agreement also has great symbolic significance in the way that it is a tangible sign of U.S. acknowledgment of Greenland’s contribution to the protection of U.S. national security through hosting the U.S. military – as well as signaling that the Greenland Self-Government constitutes a still more equal partner in international politics," he explained.
He emphasized that the maximum amount of $3,95 billion can be used for operations and maintenance services for the base, and not for any potential military upgrade of the base.
During the recent renaming ceremony, Greenlandic Minister for Foreign Affairs, Business, and Trade Vivian Motzfeldt and U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark Alan Leventhal also emphasized the importance of the installation.
“With the decision to re-name, the U.S. has demonstrated its respect to the friendship between us, recognizing cultural heritage, and the history of the base," said Motzfeldt.
Ambassador Leventhal furthermore emphasized the U.S. government’s priority to continue to deepen their ties with the people and government of Greenland.
“We recognize the important role this installation has played in ensuring our countries and all of North America have remained safe and secure,” said Leventhal. “I hope today’s ceremony and the new name, Pituffik Space Base, will become a symbol of our cooperation in science, climate, and space research, the common defense of our countries, and the stability of this amazing part of the world that is so vital for our survival, the Arctic.”