Elmendorf-Richardson Joint Base, Alaska – The U.S. military is ready to rebuild its forces in Alaska to better prepare for future conflicts in cold weather, and is expected to replace the large, heavily equipped Stryker Brigade in the state with a more mobile infantry unit better suited to cold combat. , say army leaders.
Army Secretary Christine Wormut said she expects to make a final decision soon to change troops in Alaska, saying she is likely to turn the Stryker unit, which uses heavy eight-wheeled vehicles, into an infantry brigade.
“I think the goal of the Alaska Army now is much more to create a formation capable of extremely cold weather,” which could be used in Europe or the Indo-Pacific region, Wormouth told the Associated Press during a recent trip to Alaska. to meet with senior commanders and troops. “We are trying to get to a place where we have Arctic forces – forces that can survive and operate in such conditions.”
The United States has long viewed the Arctic as a growing area of competition with Russia and China, especially as climate change raises temperatures and opens sea lanes for longer. But officials have acknowledged that the United States is lagging behind those countries. Russia has taken steps to increase its military presence there, and China views the region as economically valuable for shipping and natural resources.
Changes in the military were considered long before US tensions with Russia grew after its invasion of Ukraine.
Under the new army plan, the Stryker 1st Brigade Combat Group, the 25th Infantry Division, now based in Alaska, will be transformed into a Light Infantry Brigade. Combined with the combat team of the 4th Infantry Brigade Division, these two units will become the 11th Airborne Division based in Alaska. And the larger Stryker cars, which are somewhat old, will be replaced by other vehicles that are more suitable for icy and snowy terrain, Wormouth said.
Greater attention to the war in cold weather includes a move to conduct major exercises for troops based in Alaska, in their home state, in the weather conditions they will face in Arctic combat. In March, the military was scheduled to head to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, but army leaders decided to keep them in Alaska so they could train in the frosty temperature and frozen terrain they would face in any cold-battle weather.
“I think it really makes sense to have forces trained in the Arctic for which they will be used,” Wormuth said, spending two days on the still-snow-covered base. “If we’re going to have ground troops in Alaska, that’s what we need so they can do it. They cannot gain this experience by going to the Mojave Desert or to Fort Polk. ”
Last year, during an initial test event, the Pacific Force stayed in Hawaii to conduct planned exercises at the National Training Center in the California desert of Mahava. Commanders said they have learned lessons from these first two steps as they try to rebuild conditions and move personnel and equipment from well-established training centers to more remote locations.
During a visit to the Elmendorf-Richardson joint base, Wormouth met with commanders who called the training shift a success. Major General Brian Eifler, commander of the U.S. Army in Alaska, said the benefits outweigh any disadvantages caused by the need to build infrastructure for exercises in the far north.
“You get the best of both worlds without losing too much,” Eiffler said. “We got a lot more out of it than we thought.”
Eifler said that although they did not have as many training observers or civilian players as one of the training centers, the coaches who came were able to learn more about Arctic weather operations.
In addition, Eiffler said, the change has avoided the costly and time-consuming transportation of vehicles, weapons and other equipment to Louisiana and back. The lengthy process of packing and delivering before and after exercises in Louisiana or California often forces the military to remain without weapons systems and other equipment for weeks.
During a briefing at the Alaska base, commanders said the training included large-scale combat in extreme weather conditions in what they called “the most difficult conditions on earth.” They said 10,000 troops were involved in the exercise, including the Canadian Army and Air Force.
But they said the exercises also stressed the need to improve vehicles for cold weather, including those capable of carrying Arctic infantry.
General Joseph Martin, the deputy army chief who was in Alaska this year, said the service was studying what type of machine would be best for the military. “Is the Stryker car suitable for an Arctic warrior? In winter we need cars that can move in the snow, ”he said.
In addition, he said, the vehicle should also be able to run in the spring or summer thaw when the ground turns to dirt.
As Wormouth completed its visit, she suggested that a decision on Stryker’s brigade would soon move forward. Any final decision requires the approval of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“If you’re going to do a lot of moving equipment and things like that, summer is a pretty important window because it’s much easier to move vehicles than it is to do it in the middle of winter,” she said.
And in conversations with Congressional lawmakers, including during hearings this week, she made it clear that the changes would not reduce the number of soldiers in Alaska. Instead, she said that while the infantry brigade would be smaller, the army would compensate for that loss by increasing the size and capabilities of the staff.
In a broader sense, she spoke with commanders in Alaska about the potential need for further change as the U.S. military’s Arctic strategy develops.
The United States, Wormouth said, opposes steps to militarize the Arctic, even as Russia has expanded its military presence and base there. But, she said, “will such thinking persist, given what the Russians are doing in Ukraine? Or will it be reconsidered? Will it create a window to think differently? ”
The commanders said there were questions about whether one of the Pentagon’s combat commands – such as the European Command or the Northern Command, based in Colorado – should fully own the Arctic and the US military role there. Wormouth said the issue requires further discussion, and any decision could take years.
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