The Marines are preparing for a potential ‘big-ass fight,’ and they may soon be spending more time in Alaska

US Marines brace for an explosion during a breaching exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 1, 2018. US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Tanner Seims The Pentagon has been reorienting its forces for what it sees as emerging great-power competition with Russia and China.

For the Marine Corps, that likely means shifting away from the Middle East and refocusing on Europe and the Pacific.

To keep preparing for conditions in those places, Marines may soon find themselves spending more time in Alaska.

The US military has been shifting its focus to preparing for a potential great-power conflict, changing how it uses its weapons and where it operates. For the Marine Corps, that increasingly means getting ready to fight at the top of the world.

"The Marines are looking at spending a lot more time in Alaska," Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, told reporters on August 8 during a trip to the state with Army Secretary Mark Esper.

The Navy and Marine presence in Alaska is currently small. Some sailors are stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, on Alaska’s southern coast. There are also some Marines there, assigned to a reserve unit. US Marines 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. US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira Marines took part in the Arctic Edge exercise in March this year, joining roughly 1,500 soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Alaska "to train military forces to fight and win in the Arctic," Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, head of Alaskan Command, said at the time.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said prior to the exercise that the Corps was looking for ways to spend more time in Alaska as it seeks more training opportunities in extreme conditions.

A few weeks after the exercise, he told Sullivan during a Senate hearing that Marines "have gotten back into the cold-weather business."

"We can’t assume that we’re going to fight in a desert. It’s not going to be a temperate climate. It could be in an Arctic climate," Neller added. "We’re moving in the right direction and doing our best to get more deployments for training to Alaska to take advantage of the terrain and the climate." Marines disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018. US Marine Corps/Sgt. Brianna Gaudi The Marine Corps has also sought out cold-weather environments elsewhere.

A rotational force has been stationed in Norway since the beginning of 2017 — the first foreign force stationed on Norwegian soil since World War II. They have carried out training and exercises with Norwegian and partner forces. Norway has requested that the Marines’ rotation be extended and that they be based closer to the country’s border with Russia.

While visiting the rotational force in Norway at the end of 2017, Neller outlined the change in focus he saw coming, underlining why places like Alaska and […]

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