As the US military is focusing on the Russian and Chinese threat, the Arctic becomes an ever more important region. The bountiful natural resources reportedly existing under the endless ice of the Arctic make the contested region highly desirable for all contestants — and there’s a lot of them.
In addition to the US, the European Union, China, Russia, Canada, and the United Kingdom all present some claim to the Arctic and are claiming sovereignty over portions of the plentiful natural resources that are hidden underneath the ice.
US special operations units, thus, have every interest to prepare for action in an arctic environment since they are at the tip of the spear of the American military.
In September, a Special Forces mountain team from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, participated in exercise Valor United 20. The exercise, which brought together special operations and conventional troops, took place in Seward, Alaska. Its aim was to boost the experience and expertise of the participants in arctic warfare and increase the interoperability between special operations and conventional forces.
The participants focused on patrolling, arctic, alpine, and glacier movement, crevasse rescue, and long-range communications under the austere conditions of the arctic environment. Regarding the last aspect of the training (long-range communications), the Special Forces team’s communications sergeants were able to send high-frequency messages from their positions to their headquarters in Okinawa, more than 4,400 miles away. In doing so, they tested their ability to securely transmit a message over an extremely long distance without being compromised. It’s important to remember that in a near-peer conflict, the enemy’s capabilities compete with or match those of the US military, unlike what has been happening in the Middle East for the past 20 years where US troops have been fighting a technologically inferior enemy.
While they were in the area, the 12-man Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) had the chance to work alongside the 212th Rescue Squadron and assist the Air Commandos in wilderness search and rescue missions.
“This was a great opportunity to refine previous Small Unit Tactics training and expand our proficiency to conduct arctic operations in an austere mountain environment,” said the ODA’s team sergeant in a press release.
Training offers units the opportunity to test tactics, techniques, and procedures, the utility of gear, and the rationale of established concepts in different environments. For example, a soldier moving and fighting in the arduous arctic environment needs significantly more calories than a soldier who sits on a forward operations base most of the day and goes out on a direct action mission at night or from a troop who is training a partner force. Thus, exercises like Valor United 20 are a great opportunity to answer the “what” and “how” questions units might have about operating in different geographical environments.
Army Special Forces soldiers aren’t the only ones who are getting additional arctic warfare training. The 75th Ranger Regiment, arguably the world’s premier light infantry special operations unit, has been sending troops to the Cold Weather Operations Course (CWOC) with increased frequency.
The Army has recognized the increased importance of and emphasis on arctic warfare by introducing the Arctic Tab. Since January, soldiers who successfully complete the Northern Warfare Training Center’s Cold Weather Leaders Course (CWLC) are awarded the Arctic Tab. This decision sparked some controversy since many feel that another tab would diminish the value of the preexisting ones, such as the Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Honor Guard Tab, or Sapper Tab.