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New commando force leads Britain’s military in Arctic operations

The new Future Commando Force program, made up of about 4,000 personnel with the British Royal Marines, is leading the way in Arctic operations for the entire service, according to the head of the effort.

“We are the U.K.’s Arctic experts [in] regard for specialists and electronic warfare elements,” Brig. Mark Totten said at the Modern Day Marine expo on Tuesday. “And we can use ship-to-shore maneuver and maneuver at sea to support routine operations in that theater.”

For the most part, the service previously focused on the Arctic theater for “training and environmental development,” Totten said, but that’s going to shift. He added that the Future Commando Force wants to bolster its resources in the region and is ready to position other readiness forces near the Suez Canal.

The program is composed of two littoral response groups, and it aims for forces to be able to immediately deploy to complete a range of tasks, from combat operations to humanitarian missions.

These forces form a littoral strike group that works alongside a carrier strike group, designed to boost the carrier strike group’s capabilities, Totten said. “What we’re really looking at doing in this context is supporting carrier operations much more than marines previously have.”

The U.K. has recently ramped up operations in the Arctic and called on NATO allies and partners to “take a more proactive approach to the High North,” according to a strategy document from the Defence Ministry released in March.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also cautioned the region is encountering new threats — specifically increased militarization in the area from Russia and infrastructure capabilities from China.

“The UK Armed Forces will be doing more with our close Arctic allies and partners, as part of NATO, bilaterally, and through other multilateral groupings such as the Joint Expeditionary Force,” Wallace said in a March statement. “The Royal Navy, including our dedicated Littoral Response Group (North), will periodically operate in the High North alongside Allies and partners, the Army will expand its cold-weather training, and the RAF will deploy P8A maritime patrol aircraft to the region and continue participating in Icelandic air policing.”

The strategy document coincided with more than 3,000 sailors and marines participating in the exercise Cold Response in Norway to focus on cold-water training with NATO allies and partners in March and April. During the exercise, the Royal Marines participated in a small boat raid from an Astute-class hunter-killer submarine using Inflatable Raiding Craft to conduct reconnaissance missions while evading the enemy, according to a Royal Navy news release.

The British aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales operated as one of 25 ships in the exercise, functioning as the head of NATO’s maritime high-readiness force.

“As we continue to operate in and around the Arctic with our allies and partners, the sailors on HMS Prince of Wales are continuing to learn the skills, and build the experience that allow the Royal Navy to push the boundaries of UK carrier operations in the cold, harsh environment,” the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Steve Higham, said in a Royal Navy news release.

U.S. Marines from the II Marine Expeditionary Force also participated in the exercise, conducting Arctic vehicle operations, avalanche prevention and response, flight operations, and casualty evacuations drills in austere weather conditions, according to the service.

Altogether, Cold Response 2022 included roughly 30,000 troops from 27 countries. Norway hosts the exercise biannually.

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