Army Chief Hints at New Training Center in Alaska While Unveiling New Arctic Strategy

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Paratroopers at Exercise Arctic Warrior in Alaska
Paratroopers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment capture an opposing force soldier at the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility in the Donnelly Training Area in Alaska, Feb. 11, 2021, as part of Exercise Arctic Warrior. (U.S. Army/John Pennell)

The U.S. Army's chief of staff said Tuesday that the service is looking at creating a combat training center in Alaska as part of its new Arctic strategy, "Regaining Arctic Dominance."

As part of the strategy, the Army will establish an operational two star-level headquarters to lead combat brigades that are specially trained and equipped to operate more effectively in the region.

The Arctic has the potential to become a contested space where America's adversaries, such as Russia and China, seek to use military and economic power to gain and maintain access to the region at the expense of U.S. interests, according to the strategy.

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"We are seeing that many of our competitors are focused on the Arctic, and also many of our allies and partners are concerned about the competition," Gen. James McConville told an audience at the Association of the United States Army's Global Force Next symposium.

"We do have interests there and, like everything else, we need to protect our interests," he added.

The new strategy puts an emphasis on ensuring that units operating in the Arctic are at a high state of combat readiness and prepared to rapidly deploy since the region is a key strategic power-projection point.

"These formations could be employed in other subarctic, extreme cold weather (ECW) and mountainous environments anywhere in the world," according to the strategy.

Soldiers based in the Arctic need to be "masters in the ability to operate in that environment," McConville said, adding that the Army may consider creating a combat training center in the region instead of sending Alaska-based units to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

"As we take a look at it, do we do the training up there rather than taking them to Fort Polk for a combat training center rotation?" he said. "Would it be better to have a combat training center where they train in the harshest conditions that you could have -- would that be better for them?"

Currently, the Northern Warfare Training Center, or NWTC, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, is the Army's main location for cold region training, according to the strategy. There is also the NWTC training site in Black Rapids, Alaska, which conducts training courses such as the Cold Weather Leaders Course and the Cold Weather Orientation Course.

The Army is also considering basing a multi-domain task force, or MDTF, in Alaska. The Army stood up the first MDTF earlier this year at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The unit is manned with intelligence, information, cyber, electronic warfare and space specialists to defeat an enemy's anti-access/area denial capabilities.

"We can envision a multi-domain task force, maybe there or operating in that area, to give us the capability if we need to provide an anti-access area denial capability," McConville said.

This enhanced Arctic capability will increase the Army's ability to operate in extreme cold weather, mountainous and high-latitude environments and supports the Defense Department's Arctic Strategy, which was issued in June 2019, according to an Army news release.

The strategy will also improve the quality of life for soldiers, civilians and families who live and work in installations in the Arctic region, according to the release.

In 2019, Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger to explore a plan to build up a Marine presence in Alaska by building a base in Port MacKenzie, outside Anchorage; a mountain-warfare training center in Palmer, along the Matanuska River; and an amphibious training base in Adak, Alaska's southernmost town on the Aleutian Islands.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Is the US Losing the Fight for Arctic Dominance?

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