JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — The U.S. Army is in the process of revamping its forces in Alaska to better prepare for future cold-weather conflicts, and plans to replace the larger, heavily equipped Stryker brigade in the state with a more mobile infantry unit better suited to icy combat, say army leaders.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she expects to make a final decision on the troop change in Alaska soon, saying she will likely convert the Stryker unit, which uses eight-heavy vehicles. wheels, into a brigade of infantry.
“I think right now the goal of Army forces in Alaska is much more to create a formation that can do extreme cold” that could be used in Europe or the Indo-Pacific, Wormuth said. to the Associated Press on a recent trip to Alaska to meet with senior commanders and troops. “We’re trying to get to a place where we have Arctic capable forces – forces that can survive and operate in that environment.”
The United States has long viewed the Arctic as an area of increasing competition with Russia and China, especially as climate change brings warmer temperatures and opens up sea lanes for longer periods of time. But officials have acknowledged that the United States lags behind those nations. Russia has taken steps to increase its military presence there, and China views the region as economically valuable for shipping and natural resources.
Under the Army’s new plan, the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, now based in Alaska, would be converted to a light infantry brigade. Combined with the division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the two units would become the 11th Airborne Division, based in Alaska. And the big Stryker vehicles, which are a bit old, would be replaced by other vehicles more suited to icy and snowy terrain, Wormuth said.
The increased focus on cold-weather warfare includes a decision to conduct major training exercises for Alaska-based troops in their home state in the weather conditions they would face in combat in the cold weather. ‘Arctic. The troops were scheduled to head to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in March, but army leaders decided to keep them in Alaska so they could train in the freezing temperatures and frozen terrain. they would encounter in cold weather. -weather battle.
During his visit to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Wormuth met commanders who called the formation change a success. Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, said the benefits outweighed the shortcomings created by the need to build the infrastructure for the training exercise in the remote north.
“You get the best of both worlds, without losing too much,” Eifler said. “We got a lot more out of it than we thought.”
Eifler said that while they didn’t have as many training observers or civilian actors as they would have at one of the training centers, the trainers who came were able to learn more about the operations. Arctic weather.
Additionally, Eifler said, the change avoided costly and time-consuming shipping of vehicles, weapons and other equipment to Louisiana and back. The lengthy process of packing and shipping before and after a training exercise in Louisiana or California often leaves troops without their weapon systems and other equipment for weeks.
During briefings at the base in Alaska, commanders said the training included large-scale combat operations in extreme weather conditions in what they called “the most challenging environment in the world“. They said that 10,000 soldiers, including the Canadian army and air force, took part in the exercise.
But they said the exercise also highlighted the need for better cold weather vehicles, including those capable of carrying arctic infantry forces.
As Wormuth finished her visit, she suggested that the decision on the Stryker Brigade was moving forward soon. Any final decision would require the approval of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
The United States, Wormuth said, has resisted moves to militarize the Arctic, even as Russia has expanded its military presence and bases there. But, she said, “Will this mindset continue given what the Russians are doing in Ukraine? Or will it be revisited? Will it create a window for think things differently?