WASHINGTON — U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville teased a virtual audience by discussing the recently completed Arctic strategy and emphasizing it would provide the U.S. with capabilities to compete and deter conflict in the region.
The Army’s strategy recognizes “where our national interests are,” McConville said during an Association of the U.S. Army virtual event on Jan. 19, “and we certainly have and share national interests up in the Arctic.”
The “situation” is changing in the Arctic, he said, “and there’s more freedom of movement. We certainly want to make sure we protect our interests there and what we are doing in the Army and, certainly, as we look at Alaska, which sits in a very prominent place in the Arctic, we want to have the appropriate capabilities offered from the Army so that we can protect those interests.”
Those capabilities include transforming a two-star headquarters into an operational headquarters, McConville said.
The Army is looking at establishing a multidomain task force in the region as well as an Arctic-capable brigade, he added.
The Army’s only operational MDTF is based in the Indo-Pacific Region, but the service is on its way — albeit more slowly — to stand one up in the European theater.
The task force in the Pacific has worked for several years to help validate the Army’s Multidomain Operations (MDO) war-fighting concept as the service transforms it into doctrine.
U.S. Northern Command leadership in recent years has said the Arctic — as it warms — means the Arctic is the first line of defense of the U.S. homeland.
The Arctic is receding at a rate of about 13 percent per decade giving way for more activity from friends and foes of the U.S.
Russian forces have long projected power and continue to build out the world’s largest icebreaker fleet and have been building air bases and sea ports to house weapons and other operational capabilities.
And China has also increased its presence and desire to operate in the Arctic, vying for natural resources in the region as well as trade routes opening up as the ice melts.
Defense officials have been spending more money on training and capability for the cold, harsh Arctic climate. Congressional appropriators provided $100 million for the U.S. North Warning System in the fiscal 2021 defense spending bill and is requiring the Pentagon to provide a report on the status of the system to include its operational integrity and what technology is used by the system compared to technology necessary to detect current and anticipated threats, particularly cruise missiles. The North Warning System is a joint U.S. and Canadian early-warning radar system for North American air defense.
The bill also requires the Defense Department to come up with a plan to modernize capability to defend the homeland against cruise missiles including the modernization of the North Warning System.
Appropriators also injected cash into a variety of Army cold-weather pursuits in the FY21 bill.
Lawmakers added $8.25 million more above the FY21 Army budget request to expedite a Family of Cold Weather Vehicles and required a report on current capabilities for arctic overland mobility capabilities.
Additionally, appropriators added $10 million for counter-unmanned aircraft technology for arctic environments, $8 million for rapid entry and sustainment capability for the region, $2 million for visual and tactic arctic reconnaissance and $1 million for sub-surface infrastructure in arctic environments. Another $50 million was added to develop arctic communications technology development.
The Army, in its FY21 budget request, kicked off a new-start effort for Cold-weather All-Terrain Vehicle -- or CATV -- but only budgeted for $1 million with funding to ramp up in subsequent years as the program progresses.
The Army’s Arctic strategy has yet to be publicly released.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for nearly a decade. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.