Everyone knows that the Arctic is a big land filled with oil, natural resources and, most importantly, water. It is also the ground of future warfare – the Russian and the Chinese both have their eyes fixed on the rich environment the Arctic’s resources could provide them, while Canada has been claiming most of it through the UN. The confrontation is, in my opinion, imminent, especially with the current oil and gas crisis.
But will the Arctic Warfare be fought as a mass warfare? I really don’t think so!
In fact, I think it will be fought under the famous US Army’s small unit tactics, and by SOF teams. Before going in-depth, here’s the definition of Small Units Tactics: Small unit tactics is the application of United States Army military doctrine for the combat deployment of platoons and smaller units in a particular strategic and logistic environment.
Most people I talk with think that Arctic Warfare will look like a scene from the old Red Dawn movie, when the Russian paratroopers mass drop into the US. Of course, there are nonoe building in the North, but you get the point.
As a matter of fact, the Arctic will be won by controlling key sectors, such as deep-water ports, Inuit villages and the few airports available in the land of permafrost.
Units such as the 75th Rangers and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment are trained to jump in and seize airports. We all know the Russian SOF must have the same type of capabilities. Those units could quickly seize and control airports, more like a patch of ice where a plane can land if you ask me.
I went three times up north and we landed with a CC-130J without any problems. The only big issue is that since there is only one runway, the big Hercules had to turn around to takeoff. So imagine that in a tactical situation, how many precious minutes would be lost doing so knowing the vulnerability of the transport plane.
While the deep-water ports could be guarded by the mighty US Navy, I could easily see small SOF teams inserted to sabotage or destroys docked ships, kind of like the initial UDT job. Some may argue that having a Carrier group up there could provide the necessary protection. However, I do think the objective of protecting the North is not by sending thousands of troops and equipment, but by controlling key villages and keeping the supply needs as low as possible. This is why I am focusing on Small Unit Tactics and SOF teams.
Another type of small unit operation would be to send in paratroopers to build ice runways so the CC-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster strategic lifters could bring in supplies. That being said, it is one of the main reasons why I don’t see future Arctic warfare to be large-scale – there are too many risks involved in bringing supplies, even with air superiority. Fighter aircraft need solid paved runways and a whole team behind them to be able to fly. The current Arctic state is too harsh of an environment to be able to host many aircrafts on a short notice. Canada and the US have airbases that could provide excellent position for their jets in case of a foreign incursion, but they would still need to be launched from far away.
Having said all of that, we can all agree here that we would be facing a defensive strategy. The Russians – I use them as an example, but it could be China – would have to escape the Early Warning System (EWS) in Alaska and hope to not get intercepted by both the US Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. They could also try using submarines, but this is still risky due to a great presence of US and Canadian ships on the West Coast. Having said that, can we really wipe the menace out? I really don’t think so!
What NORAD has to do is to keep a solid EWS and have some type of Arctic QRF ready to deploy quickly. I think that this is the key to small unit tactics and the future of arctic warfare.
In part 2, I will elaborate on building a proper defense system, and how NORAD could benefit from having more training up north. Many things differ when you are up there, and one of the most important is communications. Two other critical aspect are the harsh weather and isolation of those small, remote Inuit villages are.