"War on the ICE" - Army Massively Revs Up Arctic Warfare Preparation
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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) War on the ice, extreme sub-zero temperatures and growing numbers of Russian forces, installations and even air defenses are all key factors informing the Army’s new Arctic warfare strategy which calls for more extensive cold-weather combat training, air-ground integration and a vastly strengthened ground combat presence in the region.
The Army is building a first-of-its-kind tactical vehicle to conduct high risk combat missions in extreme cold weather conditions in the Arctic as part of a decided and deliberate effort to massively plus up its force presence and operational tempo in the region.
The service awarded a new prototyping deal to an Oshkosh Defense-ST Engineering industry team to build its first Cold Weather All Terrain Vehicle (CATV). The CATV, based in large measure upon the ST Engineering Bronco 3 family of vehicles, will perform Arctic Command and Control, Casualty Evacuation or troop transport missions amid the frozen, dangerous and uneven Arctic landscape.
A recently unveiled Army Arctic Strategy paper, called “Regaining Arctic Dominance,” specifically cites “mobility” as a serious and growing challenge to Army operations in the Arctic, certainly a circumstance which might explain why the service is moving quickly to acquire these vehicles.
“The Arctic, however, is not challenging solely due to extreme cold temperatures. In many instances, mobility is actually at its highest state in the winter. Summer poses significant challenges for many wheeled vehicles, while the most challenging period is the spring thaw when ground movement becomes impossible across considerable swaths of territory,” the strategy writes.
Part of the Army aim articulated in the strategy is to, at least in part, address this mobility challenge by replacing its existing Small Unit Support Vehicles with a new extreme cold weather, high-altitude platform.
“The ice cover in the Arctic Ocean fell by 11.5% each decade between 1979 and 2012. The rate of decline reached 13.3% by 2017, suggesting the rate of decline in the ice pack is gaining pace rather than holding constant. The warming of the Arctic has led to longer windows of reduced ice conditions over a larger range of area,” the strategy states.
Oshkosh is of course known for building the MRAP All Terrain Vehicle as well as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, to essential components of the Army’s wheeled vehicle fleet. It would not be surprising if some of the CATV features were built upon or modeled after some of the successful elements of the M-ATV. Certainly driving off road in a high-threat IED environment requires elements of engineering expertise of potential relevance to the Arctic.
The M-ATV came into existence in 2008 and 2009 when, following the IED-thwarting success of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles in places like Afghanistan, Operational Commanders in theater released an urgent request for a more maneuverable, off-road vehicle which could both operate at high speeds and also provide MRAP-like blast protection from roadside bombs. While roadside bombs may not necessarily present a huge threat in places like the Arctic, the M-ATV does incorporate a first-of-its-kind TAC 4i independent suspension system designed to optimize off road performance. Therefore, while there may not be a need for a blast-deflecting V-shaped hull, there is quite certain to be rugged, uneven terrain in the Arctic which will require M-ATV-like suspension.
The Army plans to possibly acquire as many as 200 CATVs through an upcoming deal in 2022, an Oshkosh Defense statement says.
All of this, it seems clear, is in part intended to counter a growing Russian threat in the Arctic. According to the Army's new strategy, Russia is adding more S-400 air defenses to the Arctic in what can be seen as an overt effort to greatly “upgun” and further militarize its already sizable and growing Arctic footprint.
Certainly the arrival of more S-400s in the highly contested and increasingly tense Arctic changes the tactical circumstances in which U.S. and allied aircraft can conduct operations, and it might not be a coincidence that these advanced Russian air-defenses are arriving shortly after the U.S. sent B-1 bombers to Norway for stepped up Arctic patrols.
The Russian addition of more S-400s is cited in the Army’s newly released strategy document called “Regaining Arctic Dominance,” a text which specifies a number of pressing U.S. high-priority operations in the Arctic.
“Moscow announced it will increase the number of S-400 air and missile defense units deployed across its Arctic territory, which tracks with its deployment of more sophisticated equipment to defend its air and maritime domains,” the strategy states. “These systems create a “protective dome” across Russia’s vast Arctic coastline and improve its overall operational ability to detect and track vessels and aircraft. These systems give Russia almost complete coverage of its northern coastline and adjacent waters.”
Clearly, unless preceded by stealth bombers, or flanked by 5th-Gen aircraft, a B-1 or B-52 bomber would quite possibly be put at risk by an S-400.
All of this may be precisely why the U.S. Air Force is now in the process of preparing for integrated Arctic Patrols with a combined force of B-2 bombers and F-35 stealth fighters to patrol the Arctic on coordinated missions together. It makes sense that the U.S. would increase both stealth capacity to counter increased Russian air-defenses as well as attack maneuverability as Russia has been aggressively increasing its Arctic footprint.
“Beginning in 2010, Russia invested over $1 billion to refurbish 13 airfields, enhance search and rescue capabilities, and upgrade radar stations to improve awareness in the air and maritime domains, including Sopka-2 radar systems on Wrangel Island (300 miles from Alaska) and Cape Schmidt,” the Army strategy writes.
By extension, the added air-defense power, according to the Army strategy, adds a new dimension to Russia’s existing air-defense apparatus.
“Kotelny Island and Novaya Zemlya, for example, are equipped with Bastion-P coastal defense and Pantsir-S1 air defense missile systems, which create a complex, layered coastal defense arrangement securing territory deeper into the central Arctic,” the strategy writes.
As the ice continues to melt at a faster pace, opening up new waterways for maritime transit and segmenting new areas of ice and land, Russia has sought to expand its territorial boundaries in the Arctic beyond the continental shelf northward from the boundaries specified in the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea. “Russia’s claim now covers 463,000 square miles of sea shelf in the Arctic,” the Army Arctic strategy says.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.