8,000+ soldiers were tested in large-scale combat in the Arctic

More than 8,000 troops in Alaska recently completed a large-scale exercise that included a 150-mile deep helicopter strike, flying a missile launcher 500 miles operate above the Arctic Circle and squads of avalanche hunter-killers armed with shoulder-launched rockets.

Major General Brian Eiflercommander of the Alaska-based 11th Airborne Division, spoke to reporters Monday about the Joint Multinational Readiness Center Pacific training exercise that took place Feb. 8-22 across the state.

It’s been three years since the Army began its rotations at the Joint Multinational Pacific Readiness Center in Alaska, and Eifler said this was the largest and most complex version of the training yet.

A company of Mongolian Armed Forces infantry and 600 Canadian soldiers, 350 from the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 165 from the Royal Canadian Air Force and 100 from various support forces, joined the US forces. Other partner nations, such as Sweden, Finland and South Korea, sent forces to work with personnel sections of US units.

Another 18 states sent observers to the exercise, Eifler said of the growing exercise.

The Army released it Arctic Strategy 2021. In June 2022, the agency reactivated the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska to oversee and deploy Arctic-focused forces and training to counter the growing militarization of the region by Russian and Chinese militaries.

The 1st Brigade, 11th Airborne Division, served as the “blue force” fighting for two weeks against two battalions of the 2nd Brigade, 11th Airborne Division, which served as the enemy force.

Both units ran their field operations, but were joined by simulated brigades. Eifler and his team were able to fight an entire division in the exercise using simulated forces alongside real soldiers, he said.

The 2nd Brigade was given about five times the amount of rockets, artillery and ammunition to fight the 1st Brigade. The “enemy” brigade also had air defense, communications jamming and electronic warfare tools.

That added firepower meant blue force fire units had to choose their targets wisely, fire quickly and move quickly to avoid enemy counterfire, Eifler said.

Enemy anti-aircraft defenses challenged the blue force to create attack windows and advance realistic approaches to a quasi-rival who controlled the skies.

A typical air or air strike mission would be easily detected in this scenario, he said. Which meant the division’s airmen had to strike first.

“We made a 150-mile deep attachment with our Apache unit while avoiding the air defense emitters that we shut down,” Eifler said. “They had to duck and weave over that 150 miles close to the ground to get to the target and destroy it and get back safely.”

Deep blow

This was the first and longest such deep strike of this distance since rotations began, Eifler said.

Once the strike had its effects, the blue power brigade flew an air strike over 80 miles using 15 aircraft, including Chinooks and Black Hawks, he said.

On the ground, Soldiers used the five new Cold Weather All Terrain Vehicles, or CATVs, during the exercise, which Eifler said performed well and allowed Soldiers to maneuver over a variety of snow, mud and wet terrain. Temperatures ranged from -40 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit

BAE Systems won the $278 million contract to produce the all-terrain vehicle for the Army in 2022. At the time the agency planned to buy 163 of them to replace the decades-old small unit support vehicle.

The Cold Weather All Terrain Vehicle is a tracked vehicle that can carry nine soldiers and equipment.

At the same time, the 1st Brigade sent teams of soldiers on snowmobiles armed with Javelin rocket launchers to navigate off-road and engage enemy tanks and vehicles.

“One of our standing orders is to stay off the road when you’re fighting in rough weather because the roads and trails are like enemy engagement areas,” Eifler said. “We always say ‘if your journey is easy, you are in danger. And if it’s very hard and difficult to move, you win.”

Over the airwaves, the enemy force jammed digital communications that, at times, forced commanders to send the same CATVs and snowmobiles to hand-deliver orders to battalions and other units.

The unforgiving cold

Eifler stressed that soldiers operating in the Arctic must simultaneously keep their high-tech equipment operational but be prepared to “manually or mechanically” to get the job done.

The unrelenting cold can cripple some systems and drain batteries in minutes, not hours.

As part of the exercise, soldiers used a C-130 cargo plane to fly a high-mobility artillery rocket system more than 500 miles to Utqiagvik, Alaska – a town at the northernmost point of the state and above the Arctic Circle.

Eifler’s blue power also had to deal with smaller, but still challenging threats.

The enemy force used small drone swarms of a dozen or fewer drones used to locate unit positions. They even “armed” some of the small drones with tennis balls and Nerf footballs to throw at locations, showing soldiers they could be hit by untracked gunfire.

During the two-week exercise, Eifler said the soldiers tested 40 different types of equipment, from communications equipment and vehicles to tents, skis and boots.

The two stars said that in the future the force will likely need more snowmobiles for the types of missions used in this exercise, as well as for casualty evacuation and basic mobility.

Early observations include the need for a better tent system that can fit in a backpack and improved ski bindings to withstand extreme cold temperatures, he said.

Todd South has written on crime, courts, government, and the military for multiple publications since 2004, and was named a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist for a co-authored work on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine from the Iraq War.

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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