January 29, 2023

Lace up your intense cold-weather boots: The Marine Corps is considering training its troops in Alaska under the service’s new training and education schedule.

In the planning document, the service notes that options need to be explored to expand “unit and service level training into Alaska” and whether the service requires a more permanent presence there.

The Training and Education 2030 document, released Tuesday, is the latest report in a series of policy plans aimed at charting a new direction for the service. The report provides guidance on how to analyze whether Alaska’s cold, remote environment could present Marines with a new type of terrain that they could not train with on a regular basis.

Currently, the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California is one of the few facilities offering Marines training in cold-weather, mountainous environments.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Iiams, commanding general of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, said during a roundtable discussion with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, “Our cold-weather training area in … Bridgeport, while large, is not nearly as large as the training areas in Alaska. “

“They can field and train much larger forces than we can at our small training facility … in Bridgeport,” he said.

Marines have also conducted cold-weather training for deployments in Norway.

“The current T&E system does not prepare the Marine Corps for the future operating environment,” the report said, noting that Marines need to be better equipped to handle all types of domains.

With a renewed Marine Corps focus on the Indo-Pacific and constant threats from countries like Russia, North Korea and China, the service is striving to solve this dilemma.

“In any climate, in any place,” said Col. Mark Smith, director of the Training and Education Command’s Range Training Programs Division, at the roundtable.

By April, the Marine Corps says it will “identify additional areas, training areas and federations [virtual simulator] Venues” to provide all types of training for troops, the T&E 2030 document states.

Service leaders are particularly interested in using high-tech simulators as a modern means of training troops and want to operationalize what they call Project Tripoli to link Marine Corps, joint and partnership national units around the world.

According to Iiams, in various installations, Marines can jump into a virtual space and interact with one another to practice simulated missions, meaning a lance corporal wearing ocular lenses somewhere along a route can look up and see a passing plane, and a pilot who used a different simulator.

“We’ll also have…real-time feedback,” Iiams said at the roundtable, offering better ratings to troops as they go through an exercise.

The T&E 2030 document states that the Corps will have a cost estimate for the project by March and that it will be fully engaged by September 2024.

The report also notes the need to assess the service’s airspace needs in support of expanded training at its facilities.

In other training news from the roundtable, Col. Eric Quehl, TECOM’s director of policies and standards, said a “rigorous” advanced rifle qualification course is being piloted after entry-level training and is “progressing toward full operational capability.”

The T&E 2030 report is the third document to come out of the Commander’s 2019 planning guidance, following the Force Design 2030 released in March 2020 and the Talent Management 2030 released in November 2021.

Another timeline for evaluating Alaska’s use for Marine Corps training has yet to be announced, although Iiams said at the roundtable that an annual update of the T&E 2030 report, similar to the other planning documents, is likely.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for the Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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