Army Announces Arctic Strategy as a Front Line of Defense and Deterrence

March 19, 2021James R. Webb
US Army Arctic Defense Strategy

US Marines conduct a safety of use memorandum (SOUM) on an assault amphibious vehicle in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II, Reindeer I, and Joint Viking in Setermoen, Norway, Nov. 19, 2020. The SOUM test assessed the watertight integrity of the AAV’s hull on a submerged ramp and is part of a continuing effort to ensure the equipment is safe. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. William Chockey, courtesy of DVIDS.

On Tuesday, the Army announced the release of its Arctic strategy. Titled Regaining Arctic Dominance, the plan dovetails with the 2019 Department of Defense Arctic Strategy — a document that included the reactivation of the 356th Fighter Squadron in Alaska.

“The Arctic is an opportunity to rapidly employ the speed, range and convergence of cutting-edge technologies being developed for Multi-Domain Operations to strengthen our deterrence capabilities in the region,” Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said.

The Army strategy lays out how the Army will generate, train, organize, and equip US forces to partner with Arctic allies and secure US national interests.

Alaska, Army, Russia, China
A US Air Force HMMWV, assigned to Detachment 1, 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, sits under the aurora borealis during Arctic Anvil, Oct. 9, 2018, in the Donnelly Training Area, Alaska. Air Force, Army, and allied forces worked together during Arctic Anvil to provide the most realistic training environment for simulated contingency operations. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Isaac Johnson, courtesy of DVIDS.

To implement the strategy, the Army will establish a multi-domain headquarters in Alaska with specially trained and equipped combat brigades. Additionally, the Army will improve the readiness of Arctic-capable units and improve the cold-weather training of forces operating in the far north, as well as in mountainous and high-altitude environments.

“I view the Arctic as the front line in the defense of the United States and Canada,” Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, then commander of the United States Northern Command, said in April 2019. 

As America’s strategic focus shifts from operations in the Middle East to a return to great power competition, Alaska is taking center stage. In spring 2020, the Pentagon began shifting considerable assets to the state. Fifty F-22 Raptors are now stationed in the state, and 48 F-35A Lightning II fighters are scheduled to be in Alaska this year.

A US F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian bomber near Alaska. Photo courtesy of NORAD.

The Army released its Arctic strategy in time with this week’s contentious meeting between top US and Chinese officials in Alaska. Beijing has characterized itself as a “near-Arctic state” in its January 2018 “Polar Silk Road” strategy.

In addition, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent last week in Asia, outlining US interests in the region. While in Japan, Blinken objected to Beijing’s “coercion and destabilizing behavior toward others in the region,” as well as “China’s unlawful maritime claims.”

China has the second-largest defense budget in the world. According to the Office of Naval Intelligence, China will soon have 360 combatant ships in its navy, and more than 400 by 2025 — significantly increasing Beijing’s ability to project power.

“China’s global economic footprint is setting conditions for the PLA to establish a presence far from its immediate periphery,” said Chad Sbragia, then deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, during a February 2020 hearing before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Beijing and Moscow have recently been conducting joint military drills around the globe — including in the Arctic. Going forward, the two countries agreed to connect the Northern Sea Route, claimed by Russia, with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

Read Next: Lessons in Winter Warfare From the Ukrainian War Zone — A Case Study for America’s Arctic Pivot

James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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