The Army is nearing completion of its strategy for the Arctic region that will have a two-part focus, one on what needs to be done to man, equip and train its forces to operate in extreme cold and mountainous conditions and second on how its forces will be used, an Army officer that is helping in the development of the forthcoming strategy said last week.
One outcome of the strategy development so far is that participants “are convinced” that the service must “rebuild domain expertise through training” at the individual and echelon levels, Col. J.P. Clark, chief of the Strategy Division under the Army Director for Strategy, Plans and Policy, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff G-3/5/7, said Dec. 11 during a panel discussion hosted by the Wilson Center on the forthcoming Arctic strategy. “We know that we have to be able to train units to operate in this environment at echelon, not simply train individuals to survive.”
Clark described the strategy as an “action plan” that will be “very easily translated into a headquarters Department of the Army execution order, into the Army campaign plan, into directives signed by the secretary and chief [of staff] for action.”
The strategy is expected to be published in February and has been staffed at the colonel-level throughout the Army and this week will get its first look at the general officer level, Clark said. From here, depending on the diverging views that will arise, the strategy is expected to be delivered to the secretary and chief of staff in late January or early February, he said.
Based on the initial staffing and coordination across the Army’s component commands, Clark said participants have a “pretty good bead” on the options for the Army leadership “to consider in terms of how we want to reconfigure our forces and how we want to project power and be part of the joint force.”
Clark described two driving forces behind the new strategy. One was a visit last July by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville to Alaska, where he realized that the service’s ability to operate in the Arctic and subarctic “had really deteriorated over time” given the Defense Department’s focus the past 20 years on conflicts elsewhere, he said.
“And so, it really struck him just how much we’ve lost in our capability to operate in that specific environment,” Clark said.
Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, Commander U.S. Army Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, said during the Wilson forum that the need for improved readiness “is getting a lot of momentum pretty fast.” He said the chief of staff has been to Alaska three times and the Army secretary twice so there is a lot of support from the service leadership.
The Army’s development of Arctic strategy is also being driven by the updated DoD Arctic strategy that created a “policy framework” that allows the service to suggest how it can employ forces as part of a joint force, multinational combined forces, Clark said.
The DoD in June 2019 released its Arctic strategy that said potential investments in the region would be prioritized to support “enhanced domain awareness” and also put focus on Russia’s and China’s activities there (Defense Daily, June 11, 2019). Prior to the release of the DoD strategy, the Navy in January 2019 issued its strategic outlook for the Arctic, noting that the region “is assessed to be at low risk of conflict and nations have demonstrated their intent to resolve differences peacefully,” although the service must be ready to safeguard U.S. interests there.
The Air Force this July released its Arctic strategy, which also assesses risks of conflict as low but highlights that “The Arctic’s capacity as a strategic buffer is eroding, making it an avenue of threat to the homeland, due to advancements by great power competitors (Defense Daily, July 21).”
Clark said that even with a pending change in presidential administrations, the incoming Biden administration will likely continue to view China and Russia as threats to the U.S. and that “the changing Arctic offers new paths for enemies to attack us potentially.” He also said the Army has opportunities with its “multidomain operations concept” to be part of the joint force in the Arctic, pointing out in the not-too-distant future it will have long-range hypersonic weapons that will give it greater reach.
While the Army’s Arctic strategy is still two or more months away, the service isn’t exactly waiting around to improve its capabilities in the region.
Andrysiak said the Army’s training focus in Alaska has already begun to change, although he described the current capability to operate in the region as atrophied, adding the peak of the Army’s capabilities there were in the early-1990s before the service’s focus shifted to combat training centers and combat deployments.
When the Army transitioned its force structure to brigade combat teams and standardized a lot of its equipment and organizational structure, it lost the “niche capabilities” to operate in an environment like the Arctic, Andrysiak said.
In the 1980s, the as many as 27,000 soldiers participated in the joint force Brim Frost exercise but now it provides companies for limited duration, 24 to 36 hours, as part of U.S. Northern Command’s Arctic Edge exercise, he said. “We’re not training at duration. We’re not training at echelon and scale.”
Arctic Edge, which is managed by U.S. Northern Command, typically lasts about a week and involved 1,000 to 2,000 troops.
Andrysiak said he has been charged with improving readiness for Arctic operations so “My focus now is training in the winter.” The service will be doing a “larger” exercise every February it calls Arctic Warrior, he said.
At the individual level, Andrysiak said the Army has the clothing it needs, including the snow shoes, although more progress is needed with skis to equip the force. As for larger equipment needs, overland mobility is hampered by a lack of vehicles for operating in snow, which limits where training can be done.
Units at the battalion level have been training in winter conditions and the Army has scaled up its training of leaders in the region, he said.
In the next couple of years, Andrysiak said he is focused on five key lines of effort, including talent management and expertise, to “thrive” in the Arctic environment.
The second line is training, which will include the annual brigade-level Arctic Warrior series, which will align with Northern Command’s biennial Arctic Edge exercise for joint force training, he said. He also said that the Army Alaska Command’s 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team won’t be going to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in the Mojave Desert in March, giving the Army the opportunity to build its capabilities and skills for operations in the Arctic region.
Eventually, the Army will bring units from elsewhere to train for Arctic operations, Andrysiak said.
Andrysiak said that the Army has created an integrated strategy for using all of its training ranges in Alaska as well, including involving the joint force.
The training will inform eventual Army decisions on equipping forces for Arctic operations, he said.
The other two key lines of effort include organization and manning, which will include rapid capabilities assessments, and “inform, influence, engage and educate,” he said, adding that relationships with U.S. partners in the region, including native populations, need to go beyond airborne capabilities to include “cold weather capabilities.”