Alaska commander says Army's Arctic capabilities have 'atrophied'

By Ethan Sterenfeld / December 14, 2020 at 11:39 AM

The Army's capability and equipment for fighting in the Arctic has degraded over the past several decades, the service's top officer in Alaska said Dec. 11.

“If I were to describe the Army’s ability to operate in the environment, it’s atrophied,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, during an event hosted by the Wilson Center.

About 50 of the Army’s cold-weather light tactical vehicles, the Small Unit Support Vehicle, remain in service in Alaska, down from 700 at the fleet’s peak, he said. The Army has sought to replace the vehicle, which has been in service since the early 1980s.

The Army is making progress in rebuilding its training in Alaska’s brutal winters, and Army Futures Command and the rest of the Army’s leadership has supported modernization efforts, Andrysiak said. He said trainings have been too focused on individual skills.

“We’re not training at duration, we’re not training at echelon, we’re not training at scale,” Andrysiak said. The Army in Alaska has worked to expand and revamp the annual Arctic Warrior Games. It is also developing new strategies and expanding the space available for training in the state.

Col. J. P. Clark, who is involved in writing the Army’s new Arctic strategy, agreed that training in the region needs to be updated.

“We simply have to rebuild domain expertise through training,” Clark said. “We have to train units to succeed at echelon, not just individually to survive.”

The emergence of hypersonic missiles and other mid-range capabilities could provide new opportunities for the Army in Alaska, Clark said.

The Army’s updated Arctic strategy should be available in February, Clark said.