Reestablishing the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska could entail cutting Stryker vehicles from a brigade there and adding personnel to create an operational headquarters.
But the changes are expected to be cost-neutral in the immediate future and even the manpower added to the upgraded headquarters would come out of the cannibalized Stryker brigade, should that plan move forward, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
“We will be looking at basically having that division headquarters have sort of the same types of capabilities that you see in the 173rd in Italy, for example,” Wormuth said.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is a strategic response force for U.S. European Command, hinting at the kind of roles Alaska-based soldiers could eventually play in their own region.
Army officials said last week that they’re planning to reflag U.S. Army Alaska as the 11th Airborne Division, a storied unit that fought in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II before it was deactivated in 1965.
The change could breathe new life into two brigade combat teams currently based in Alaska, one of which is an airborne unit and the other a mechanized unit manning the eight-wheeled Stryker armored vehicles.
“We are looking at potentially taking the Strykers out of Alaska,” Wormuth said. “We have not made a final decision about that, but if we do that, we will basically take them and look at the ones that we can reuse elsewhere or basically use for parts.”
Because a Stryker brigade has more personnel assigned to it than a typical brigade, the extra billets could be added to the new operational headquarters, according to Wormuth. The headquarters is currently set up for administrative tasks.
“There won’t be cost immediately associated with that particular step,” she added. “We won’t need to do new military construction, for example, to house people at this time. So, I don’t think that these changes are going to have large price tags, but we will be continuing to put money in the budget for things like the CATV [Cold-Weather, All-Terrain Vehicles].”
CATV prototypes underwent testing in Alaska late last year and are intended to replace the Small Unit Support Vehicle, which is 1960s-era technology that was purchased by the Army in the 1980s. New vehicles are part of a slew of changes being made to Army units in Alaska after the service rolled out its Arctic strategy in 2021.
Like many Arctic strategy documents produced by government agencies in recent years, the Army’s plans warn of a region where climate change is expected to open new shipping lanes and offer access to energy and mineral resources.
China, which considers itself a “near-Arctic nation,” has interest in the region. But Russia is the country with the largest amount of land above the Arctic Circle and, like the United States, it is protective of that territory.
The Army’s Arctic strategy suggested establishing a two-star general-led operational headquarters in Alaska to manage Arctic-focused combat brigades outfitted with tracked vehicles, tents, sleds and other equipment to help soldiers navigate deep snow and rugged terrain.
The strategy also discussed plans to put a multidomain task force in Alaska that combines intelligence, cyber, space and electronic warfare to deny access to enemy forces — potentially valuable in a region where remote sea lanes and flight routes are needed to traverse great distances.
Arctic warfare also requires different equipment. Most soldiering gear and vehicles are tested at about minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. But soldiers in the Arctic face much worse conditions, including temperatures that drop below minus 65 degrees Fahrenheit. That causes problems for even the rugged Stryker vehicle.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer