U.S. special forces forces traveled to Alaska in February to train for Arctic warfare.
Their journey reflects the growing interest of the US military in the Arctic, which is becoming more and more accessible.
The United States is not the only country with an interest in Arctic security, and US operators are not alone there.
With near-equal warfare back on the agenda, U.S. specialty operators are focusing their training on environments where they are most likely to find themselves engaged.
The icy Arctic is such an environment, and Navy SEAL and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen, Green Barets and elite Army Airmen and Air Commandos recently spent almost a month training there.
Special operators go to the Arctic
From late February to mid-March, conventional and special operations units assembled for Arctic Edge 22, the U.S. Army’s flagship exercise for Arctic warfare.
Operators from across the U.S. special operations community have joined conventional forces and local, state, and federal law enforcement in Alaska.
Green berets from the 10th Special Forces Group and the 19th Special Forces Group conducted long-distance patrols using snowshoes and skis along the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Strait.
The green berets completed exfiltration training with the elite “Night Stalkers” from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Special Forces operators also worked on local and federal law enforcement in a simulated homeland defense scenario.
On the navy side, SEALs honed their Arctic survival capabilities and performed special reconnaissance training. Navy SWCC operators also worked with Coast Guard commands and trained to defend critical infrastructure.
One of the most interesting parts of SEAL training was a free-fall jump into an ice stream in the Arctic Ocean and a connection with the USS Pasadena, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine that participated in the two-year exercise on the ice.
Finally, Air Force Air Command provided rotating wing support for conventional units and special operations elements that participated in the exercises.
The special operations aspects of the exercise were overseen by the US Special Operations Command North, led by Brig. General Shawn Satterfield.
“Special Operations Forces have tested equipment and explored innovative ways to not only survive in the Arctic, but to thrive in the Arctic,” Satterfield said in a statement.
Satterfield pointed out that special operators not only trained for specific mission sets, but also developed relationships with local communities, including Alaska natives, to gain “knowledge of their techniques, practices, and procedures on how to perform in cold weather.”
Competition in the Arctic
As the Arctic becomes more accessible, it’s gaining renewed importance for US national security.
As a result, U.S. special operations have trained in and outside the region to familiarize themselves with the conditions they will encounter there.
One of their training methods has been the Winter Special Operations Mountain Operator Course, which is held twice a year in Colorado.
The course is open to all special operations units but is primarily taken by Green Berets from the 10th Special Forces Group, which has Europe as its area of responsibility.
True to its name, SOWMOC focuses on mountain and winter warfare. Participants learn winter survival skills, such as navigating snow-covered conditions and small unit tactics for an Arctic environment, as well as how to infiltrate and exfiltrate winter-war environments using skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles.
The United States is not the only country with security interests in the Arctic, and US special operators are not the only ones making efforts there.
Special Operations Command North continues to expand and strengthen relations with foreign special operations units, including Canadian and Danish commandos.
“Our partners and allies are absolutely crucial and fundamental to our mission at SOCNORTH. We train and coordinate regularly with Canadian SOF and Danish Special Ops observed Arctic Edge this year,” said Satterfield.
The rich resources and more direct shipping routes in the Arctic Circle and the melting ice that make them more accessible first transform Arctic geopolitical real estate.
The United States shares the region with six allied and close partners – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland – and one of its biggest enemies, Russia. China has also shown interest in the region, describing itself as a “near-Arctic” state and sending observers to meetings of the Arctic Council, which consists of the eight countries with Arctic territory.
In the midst of increasing competition with Russia and China, the US military’s interest in the Arctic – and its preparations to fight there – will only increase.
“We want to work with allies who have an interest in protecting our countries and our approaches to the Arctic. Partnerships are the key to building awareness of all areas of US Northern Command’s area of responsibility,” Satterfield said.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (National Service with 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.
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