Starting on May 3rd, the US will hold the 12-day “Northern Edge” military exercise in Alaska, to simulate Arctic warfare.
The Air Force’s team in the Pacific will lead the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
“Northern Edge allows [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s] joint force to … put all the pieces of the puzzle together, the big picture, and allow our younger generations within the armed forces to experience what future conflict could feel like, and the complexities associated with it,” Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Boyer, the lead planner for Northern Edge said.
This year’s iteration of Northern Edge comes as Russian military aircraft in 2020 flew near Alaskan airspace “more … than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War,” according to U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command boss Gen. Glen VanHerck.
It is not known exactly what scenario would be drilled, in order to “preserve a degree of realism” for the soldiers taking part.
“We are looking at what modern warfare could be in the future, and that includes scenarios like [Russian incursion into American airspace,” Boyer said. “Obviously, we see a lot of interest and value in our nation’s interest in the Arctic and we want to make sure that those are protected and preserved in an appropriate manner.”
It is not exactly know which units will take part, but it could involve up to 300 aircraft. Boyer hinted that the new KC-46 tanker plane will participate.
“In a bandwidth-limited environment, how do we communicate with folks that are spread out there in the sea space?” he said. “The folks that are in the maritime surface component, how do we communicate [with] them from a main operating base or even a spoke?”
It’s the first time the U.S.-only event will incorporate combined operations with an unnamed carrier strike group, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and an amphibious ready group.
The aim is to gather most of the branches of US military in order to exchange experience and knowledge.
“We can bring all that together and say: ‘Aha! You know what, Marine Corps? That fueling equipment you have is way better and much smaller than the one the Air Force has. Let’s see if we can get some exposure between your fuel specialists in the Marine Corps and the Air Force fuel specialists, and then take notes on each other’s equipment and figure out how we can make them interoperable, or at least maybe use the same thing,’” Boyer added.
In preparation for Arctic warfare, the US Army is looking into procuring a new all-terrain vehicle that can operate in the region.
The service awarded contracts to two vendors: a team of American firm Oshkosh Defense and the land systems division of Singapore’s ST Engineering; and a team of two BAE System units, Land and Armaments as well as BAE Hagglunds.
They will provide prototypes for a cold-weather, all-terrain vehicle, or CATV, in the second quarter of fiscal 2021.
These prototypes are to undergo extreme cold-weather testing and evaluation in Alaska at the Cold Regions Test Center from August through the end of December.
“This will help inform the downselect process for the production contract,” Goddette said. “Current plans call for the final downselect for the CATV in the third quarter of [FY22].”
The Army needs the CATV quickly to replace its Small Unit Support Vehicle, or SUSV, which is “no longer sustainable,” said Tim Goddette, the program executive officer of the service’s combat support and combat service support.
The CATV is a new-start program in FY21, and its capability development document was signed May 7, 2019. The Army plans to spend $6.6 million for research and development, testing, and evaluation in FY21, and $9.25 million to procure the new vehicles. This includes an $8.25 million congressional plus-up above the service’s budget request as well as $500,000 in foreign comparative testing funds.
The procurement objective is for 110 CATVS, with a total acquisition objective of 163.
The CATV “will provide transportation in extreme cold-weather conditions for up to nine personnel to support emergency medical evacuation, command-and-control capability, and general-cargo transportation,” Goddette said.
The program office has been working with Army Futures Command to iron out the specifics required for the vehicle, but the effort has been underway for some time “to ensure we understand the requirements/desired key capabilities for a modernized cold-weather vehicle,” Goddette noted. “This allows us to execute an accelerated acquisition program to assess, procure, produce, field and sustain such a system.”
The US appears to be giving much more attention to the Arctic now, seeing as how it needs to contest Russia and China in it, and claims that they have been busy militarizing it.
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