Army plans new ‘Arctic brigade’ as sea levels and competition rise

Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade traverse frigid terrain at Exercise Cold Response in Norway in 2016. The Army wants to set up a new Arctic brigade, Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said this week.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 21, 2021

STUTTGART, Germany — The Army wants a new Arctic-focused brigade and other operational forces to bolster its position in the High North, the service’s top general said this week, signaling a push into an area where Russia has ramped up military operations.

Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said the Army recently completed a new Arctic strategy, which was needed to better “deter conflict,” as melting sea ice raises the prospect of increased competition over natural resources and new commercial shipping routes.

“It starts with recognizing where our national interests are and we certainly have national interests in the Arctic,” McConville said Tuesday during a meeting at the Association of the U.S. Army. “As the situation changes up there and there is more freedom of movement, we certainly want to make sure that we protect our interests.”

Plans include developing a brigade, transforming an existing two-star command into an operational headquarters and building a “multi-domain task force” for the region, McConville said.

Multi-domain units are relatively new to the Army. They bring together a wide range of capabilities, including long-range missile systems, to counter more advanced potential adversaries such as Russia and China.

The Army’s new Arctic strategy, expected to be formally released in upcoming weeks, comes after the Navy unveiled its updated Arctic strategy earlier this month.

“In the face of increasing aggressive activity in the High North from both Russia, which is an Arctic nation, and China, which claims to be a near Arctic nation, we in the United States must maintain a favorable balance of power in this region for ourselves and for our allies,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite told reporters following the Jan. 5 strategy launch.

The Navy plan calls for more port calls in the High North and more training on operating in icy conditions. The Navy also is looking at ways to share bases and infrastructure with European allies in the Arctic.

The U.S. military has already deployed larger rotations of Marines to Norway and sent warships into Arctic waterways.

In March, four U.S. Navy warships were sent into the Barents Sea, marking the first time naval surface ships maneuvered in that waterway — positioned north of Finland and Russia — since the Cold War.

For the Army, its Arctic strategy also will be about showcasing “our capabilities through combined exercises and power projection,” McConville said.

Twitter: @john_vandiver


Paratroopers from the 25th Infantry Division exit a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in 2015. The Army wants to set up a new Arctic-focused brigade, Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said this week.