AN ARCTIC HIKE: U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force – Europe 20.2, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, observe the mountain ranges to identify the next destination during a Narvik Battle Study Hike in Setermoen, Norway, Sept. 17, 2020. MRF-E conducts various exercises including arctic cold-weather and mountain-warfare training, as well as military-to-military engagements throughout Europe that enhance cooperation among partners and allies. (Photo by Sgt. Abrey Liggins, U.S. Marine Corps)
U.S. leaders focus on the Arctic.
By Ellen Summey
The Arctic has long served as a protective barrier for North America—a cold and nearly impenetrable wall that required little active defense. As climate change makes the region more easily accessible, the nations of the Arctic are reckoning with the new and increasing possibility of adversarial military activity in their northernmost territories. For the United States, which in recent years has focused much of its military resources on conflicts throughout the Middle East and South Asia, military leaders have decided it’s time to reassess their cold-weather capabilities.
The Army’s new Arctic strategy, released March 16, outlines the branch’s commitment to regaining dominance in the far north. This heightened focus on cold-weather capabilities will also necessitate materiel solutions for Soldiers in the region—the tools, equipment, training and infrastructure to enable rapid and sustained operations at temperatures as cold as -65 degrees Fahrenheit. “The Arctic is an opportunity to rapidly employ the speed, range and convergence of cutting-edge technologies being developed for multi-domain operations to strengthen our deterrence capabilities in the region,” said Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army.
“For a couple of decades, we’ve been meeting significant demands around the world—to a degree, it’s taken its toll,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, commanding general of U.S. Army Alaska, speaking at an October 2020 virtual meeting of the Alaska Federation of Natives. “There is a realization that we’ve got to slow things down and refocus. We are going to focus to rebuild the skills that we have lost over the years.” Andrysiak said time is of the essence, and he’s not alone in that assessment.
“It’s clear to me, there is a quickening in the Arctic,” said Michael Sfraga, director of the Polar Institute and the Global Risk and Resilience Program, during a December 2020 Wilson Center virtual panel discussion about the Army’s efforts to define its own Arctic strategy. “Whether it be the changing physical landscape, the evolving geopolitical landscape, the promise of increased development and increased commerce, or the growing interest from our non-Arctic nations, it is clear the Arctic is not what it used to be.”
Lt. Gen. William B. Garrett III (USA, Ret.) former deputy commander of U.S. European Command, also a panelist for the Wilson Center discussion, said the Army must prepare itself for large-scale operations in the Arctic. “We have to deal with the world as it is, and that means preparing for great power competition with China, and to a lesser extent, with Russia. The Arctic region is an extension of that competition, even as the security environment in the Arctic is being fundamentally altered by the impact of climate change.”
What is the Army’s role in this unique environment? “As a force organized, trained and equipped for land warfare, the Army must adapt and change to be relevant in the Arctic,” Garrett said. “Success requires adapting existing capabilities and, where necessary, selectively acquiring new capabilities, combined with Arctic-specific training, exercises and posture refinements.”
And as the U.S. reprioritizes its Arctic capabilities during this time of rapid change, it must work in concert with its allies around the world. “The United States’ greatest strategic advantage in the Arctic is our strong relationship with Arctic allies and partners,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Tom D’Arcy, U.S. European Command’s Strategic Division Arctic branch chief. “This is something our competitors do not possess. Our network of relationships and capabilities serve as a deterrent helping to deter malign activities in the region.”
This sidebar is accompanies the article “COOL UNDER PRESSURE” published in the Spring 2021 issue of Army AL&T magazine. Subscribe to Army AL&T – the premier source of Army acquisition news and information.