US military seeks to close capability gaps as it rebuilds Arctic operations

PARIS – Paratroopers based in Alaska deployed above the Arctic Circle in Norway in a joint forcible entry operation as part of the US-led exercise Swift Response last month, marking the first time a unit has rapidly deployed from Alaska to the arctic terrain of northern Europe. in the annual exercise.

While weather prevented paratroopers from jumping onto a frozen lake, the preparation and all that came before it restored a capability that the U.S. military had from the 1950s through the 1990s.

The US used to put 20,000 troops on the ground ‘in the dead of winter’, Gen. Peter Andrysiak, deputy commander of US Army Europe and Africa, told Eurosatory, a defense exhibition in Paris , last week.

“You’re talking ranges from minus 30 to minus 60, no problem,” he said. “They were equipped, they were trained and there was a philosophy that was embedded in the organization. It was very unique and it has its own pride and identity.

Since 9/11, the US military’s attention has turned to the war in the Middle East.

The military “can’t support itself anymore,” in the Arctic, Andrysiak, former commander of U.S. Army Alaska and deputy commander of U.S. Command Alaska, told Defense News in an interview. .

The deployment over the Arctic Circle and the jump, he said, was intended to teach the US military how to bring back the ability to sustain itself in such a harsh environment.

The Arctic has become increasingly strategically important to many world powers. Russia’s continued military investments in the region are one of the reasons the United States and NATO countries are focusing more on defense planning in the region.

Last year, following the release of the Army’s Arctic Strategy, the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth along with all of the other Centers of Expertise conducted a gap study of everything that would be required to operate from sustained manner in extremely cold environments.

Some of the issues the study highlighted included the inability of artillery to fire in extreme cold conditions and the limitations of wheeled vehicles that can traverse up to 18 inches of snow.

“Our ability to get off the road and through open terrain,” Andrysiak said, “we don’t have that.”

The military has drawn up a rough roadmap for improvement, but tinkering and evaluation remain, including taking pages from service members used to operating in the cold. For example, some have all-ski units, some use snowshoes, and some have a mix. The US military will have to decide what the right balance is for the force.

The only major difference from other armies that have units operating in the Arctic is that the U.S. military plans to not only use the region for operations, but also as a location from which to strategically project forces. , Andrysiak said, and this needs to be factored into his calculation when selecting equipment and trains.

Most recently, the Army made major changes to its Arctic force, announcing plans last month to reactivate the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska and remove Stryker combat vehicles from the force structure there.

Andrysiak noted that this will require changes in equipment, structure, strategy and formation.

Army replacement vehicle

The Army is focused on replacing a critical vehicle needed for operations in arctic regions. The service organized a competitive evaluation last year for six months, evaluating the Beowulf cold weather all-terrain vehicle from BAE System’s Land and Armaments and Hagglunds business units, and a vehicle from a team from the American company Oshkosh Defense and the Earth Systems Division. of ST Engineering of Singapore.

The department is expected to make a decision on which vehicle to build and put into service in the coming weeks. The vehicles are intended to replace the aging small unit support vehicle used in Alaska.

BAE Systems presented Beowulf’s “big brother”, the BvS10 all-terrain vehicle at Eurosatory, which is an armored version of its US CATV competition entry.

The BvS10 has five customers: Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Austria.

European nations are also coming together to buy a larger order of Bvs10. BAE expects an announcement on the deal soon, according to Mark Signorelli, the company’s vice president of platforms and services.

Now that the Strykers are rolling out of Alaska, BAE now sees an opportunity to supply not only unarmored Beowulf vehicles to the US military if selected for the CATV program, but also armored BvS10s.

“At least conceptually they’re talking about a mix of armored and unarmored vehicles,” Signorelli said.

Oshkosh Defense did not participate in Eurosatory.

As the Army plans to equip these formations, “they will find the type of vehicle they need. The technology exists,” Andrysiak said, adding that the vehicle ultimately chosen will have to have an armored variant.

The vehicle offered by Oskosh and ST Engineering is armored.

Units also spend all of their time training in Alaska and other cold weather environments rather than traveling to the National Training Center and other irrelevant and different environmental locations, noted Andrysiak. This is a significant shift, he said, to recapture a philosophy for Arctic units.

Eurosatory suppliers have placed increasing emphasis this year on operational capability in the Arctic, from arctic enhanced camouflage heating and shelter solutions to tracked vehicles designed for maneuver easy on snow or ice.

Denmark’s outdoor pavilion was all about the Arctic, seemingly out of place as exhibits baked in the late spring Parisian sun. The exhibition showed how Danish industry came together on a project to create a mobile command post capable of operating in extreme weather conditions. The concept was tested at Eurosatory 2018 and has since evolved.

Jen Judson is an award-winning reporter covering ground warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in Journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.

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