Take a look at Arctic Edge 18 — where the US military is preparing to fight in the extreme cold

US Marines assigned to Alpha Battery, 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, fire an M240B machine gun during a live-fire range as part of exercise Arctic Edge on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 1, 2018.

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US Marines assigned to Alpha Battery, 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, fire an M240B machine gun during a live-fire range as part of exercise Arctic Edge on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 1, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira

As the US military’s attention shifts back to great-power competition, particular focus is being paid to the potential for conflict in the extreme conditions found at northern latitudes and higher elevations.

Late last year, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller cautioned Marines stationed in Norway that he saw a “big-ass fight” looming and urged them to prepare. The Army and Marines have rolled out a variety of uniform and gear changes that underscore preparations for cold-weather warfare.

In February and March, more than 1,500 US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, gathered in Alaska for Arctic Edge 18, “to train military forces to fight and win in the Arctic,” according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, head of Alaskan Command.

This year’s version of Arctic Edge was the first of its kind in more than three decades and covered more than 1.5 million acres on the ground and 65,000 miles of inland air space. It included a table-top exercise that covered 42,000 nautical square miles in the Gulf of Alaska.

Below, you can see the rigorous training and harsh conditions encountered by US servicemembers scattered across a 1,100-mile swath of frigid Alaskan wilderness:


After service-specific exercises in February and early March, Arctic Edge 18’s field training ran from March 12 to March 16, with a table-top exercise continuing through March 23. It was conducted mainly at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and Long-Range Radar System sites.

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US Marines with Alpha Battery, 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, fire an M2 .50 cal. machine gun during a live-fire range as part of exercise Arctic Edge on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 1, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira

Source: Defense Department


Arctic Edge is held biennially, and previous iterations focused on supporting civil authorities after a natural disaster. But this year’s version focused on defending the US in the extreme weather conditions found in Arctic environments.

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US Marines with Alpha Battery, 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, fire an M2 .50 cal. machine gun during a live-fire range as part of exercise Arctic Edge on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 1, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira

Source: Defense Department


“This has also given us a chance to relook at our training progression to operate up here,” said Army Lt. Col. Joshua Gaspard, joint training and readiness chief at Alaska Command, which is part of US Northern Command. “So that’s revolutionizing how we would prepare our forces to come and operate in an environment like this and what that progression would look like.”

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US Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division brace for an explosion during a breaching exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, March 1, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Tanner Seims

Source: Defense Department


Marines from Combat Logistics Regiment 25 were on hand to provide logistical support and command and control for Task Force Arctic Edge. “Marines can’t complete their mission without bullets, beans, and band-aids,” said Sgt. Derick Gary. “They can’t get their three B’s without convoys to move supplies and convoys can’t run without communication to support them.”

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US Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division clear trenches during Infantry Squad Battle Course (ISBC) range on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, March 5, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Tanner Seims

Source: Defense Department


Marine Corps food-service specialists were awake at 4 a.m. to help get Marines going in the harsh environment. “Things always move a lot slower in the cold, even the food takes longer to cook,” said Lance Cpl. Miguel Rojas.

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US Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division (2d MARDIV) reload an M240B Machine Gun during an Infantry Squad Battle Course (ISBC) range on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, March 5. 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Tanner Seims

Source: Defense Department


“There’s a lot going on in the world and it’s not just in the desert anymore, so this is a reality check in terms of every clime and place,” said CLR-25 Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Strang, the operations chief for Task Force Arctic Edge. “Marines are quick to adapt to surroundings, and training like this sets the precedents for being a force in readiness and allows us to practice what we preach.”

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US Marine Corps Humvees are staged in a motor-pool during exercise Arctic Edge on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 10, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira

Source: Defense Department


US Army soldiers, like their Marine counterparts, drove and hoofed through Alaskan snow. Their exercises included live-fire drills, as well as survival and maneuver training.

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Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, prepare for a convoy mission as part of the Joint Force Land Component Command in support of exercise Arctic Edge 18, March 12, 2018.
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US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

“Alaska provides a great opportunity to conduct this exercise over a great swath of land,” said Gaspard, of Alaska Command. “The Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex is a great venue for this exercise.”

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National Geographic photographer Louie Palu documents the landing of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, during Arctic Edge 18, March 12, 2018.
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US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

Source: Defense Department


Members of US Special Operations Command North, based in Colorado, also took part. “It’s a chance for us to get up here in these extreme conditions and conduct training to make sure the equipment is working, and we are keeping those skill sets sharp,” said the director of operations for Joint Special Operations Task Force, Alaska.

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Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter after a simulated raid on Indian Mountain radar system as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Sgt. Brianna Gaudi

Source: Defense Department


Special operators conducted long-range movements in severe weather and on treacherous terrain with limited visibility. They also carried out long-range ground- and air-infiltration drills, which included equipment air-drops, reconnaissance, and direct-action operations.

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Marines with Task Force Arctic Edge play football at Fort Greely, Alaska, during Exercise Arctic Edge 18, March 12, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Sgt. Brianna Gaudi

Source: Defense Department


“Alaska is really the only access to above the Arctic Circle and that kind of extreme-environment training,” SOCOM North’s director of operations said. “It’s just an absolutely great opportunity for us to get up here and work our mission sets.”

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US soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment sprint across a flight line toward their objective in Deadhorse, Alaska, March 13, 2018
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US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson

Source: Defense Department


“We’re used to doing that around the globe, but it’s an interesting challenge to do it up here in an arctic environment, in March, in Alaska,” SOCOM North’s operations chief added. “Obviously, the extreme weather, extreme temperature and visibility conditions make a lot of those operations a lot more difficult than they’d normally be, but we’re working out some additional processes that make sure that we’re doing these operations safely and effectively so we don’t have to worry about integrating in other parts of the world.”

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Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment conduct battle drills in a Stryker armored vehicle during an arctic deployment as part of the US Army Alaska-led exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Deadhorse, Alaska, March 13, 2018.
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Sgt. 1st Class Joel Gibson

Source: Defense Department


A Navy captain from Special Operations Command, who could not be identified for security reasons, told the media that the Colorado-based special-operations units also tested communications and survival gear in the Arctic climate, which was the first time such tests had been done.

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US soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment guide a Stryker armored vehicle onto the rear cargo door of a C-17 Globemaster at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, March 13, 2018.
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US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson

Source: Marine Corps Times


Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen from both active and reserve components took part, as did civilian employees and contractors from the Defense Department.

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US soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment provide overwatch during an arctic deployment of Stryker armored vehicles as part of the US Army Alaska-led Joint Force Land Component Command in support of Alaskan Command’s exercise Arctic Edge 18, March 13, 2018.
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US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson

Source: Defense Department


Naval and Coast Guard representatives toured Coast Guard facilities and cutters and are did a table-top exercise focused on homeland-security threats — and to the risk of mines in US waters in particular.

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US soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment in a Stryker armored vehicle during an arctic deployment at Deadhorse, Alaska, March 13, 2018.
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US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson

Source: Juneau Empire


Marvin Heinze, deputy director of the Operations and Plans Mine Warfare Task Force, said a goal was to get familiar with other departments and gear. “For the Navy it’s a relatively low-cost way of gaining a lot of knowledge, and hopefully the Coast Guard also,” he said.

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US Marines with Alpha Battery, 2nd LAAD Battalion fire a Stinger training launch simulator as part of exercise Arctic Edge at Fort Greely, Alaska, on March 14, 2018.
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US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira

Source: Juneau Empire


“It’s actually exceptionally challenging with the topography and the water conditions to actually do things in the water with the tidal exchange and the currents and even above water the weather conditions in February, March, April timeframe,” said Compact Fleet Maritime Homeland Defense Department Detachment Alaska Officer-in-Charge James Thompson, an Alaska native.

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US Marines with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, conduct a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise, the culminating event of Arctic Edge 2018, at Fort Greely, Alaska, on March 15, 2018.
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Chief Petty Officer Brandon Raile

Source: Juneau Empire


The stated goal of the exercise was to train for homeland defense. But senior US officials have highlight the growing threat posed by Russia, which has intensified its military activity in the Arctic in recent years.

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US soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment participate in a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise during an arctic deployment of Stryker armored vehicles in support of Arctic Edge 18 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, March 15, 2018.
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US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

Russia’s Arctic buildup could put it in position to control northern sea transit lanes “in some time, perhaps two to three years … if they chose to do so,” US Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of US European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Command, told US lawmakers in early March. “We are not keeping pace,” he said.

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US soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment participate in a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise during an arctic deployment of Stryker armored vehicles as part of Arctic Edge 18 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, March 15, 2018.
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US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez

Source: Defense One


Scaparrotti downplayed concerns that Russian forces could overwhelm NATO forces in Eastern Europe, but he stressed the need to adequately fund modernization efforts to keep pace with Moscow. “If we were not to do that,” he warned, “I think that their pace would put us certainly challenged in a military domain in almost every perspective by, say, 2025.”

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A soldier from 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment fires a M777 155mm Howitzer during a live-fire training exercise at Fort Greely, Alaska, during Arctic Edge 18, March 15, 2018.
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US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Kiona Miller

Source: Defense One