The Corps’ armored vehicles are making a big showing in Norway as two simultaneous exercises kick off: NATO’s Trident Juncture and a bilateral exercise with Norwegian forces known as Exercise Northern Screen.
Embarked with the II Marine Expeditionary Force for Trident Juncture is a new modernized version of the anti-tank Light Armored Vehicle, or LAV-AT. Its participation in the NATO exercise will be the vehicle’s first European debut since the Corps kicked off a modernization effort for the aging LAV, according to Marine spokeswoman Capt. Karoline Foote.
The new tank-wrecking LAV-AT is equipped with an automated turret system that fires TOW missiles.
The Corps just recently moved some of its M1A1 Abrams tanks from a series of caves that are part of the Corps’ Prepositioning Program–Norway.
Those tanks were recently offloaded into Bogen, Norway, from the USNS 1st LT Baldomero Lopez, a container ship with Military Sea Lift Command that prepositions gear for a Marine Air-Ground Taskforce, or MAGTF. The container ship Lopez is part of Maritime Prepositioning Squadron Two based out of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The Abrams tanks will be participating in a bilateral exercise with Marine Rotational Force-Europe and Norwegian forces known as Exercise Northern Screen, which will be carried out near Setermoen, Norway, from Oct. 24 to Nov. 7.
Other Marine armored vehicles currently in Norway for the two exercises are amphibious assault vehicles and LAVs.
Some AAVs made a recent amphibious landing on the beach near Bogen for the Northern Screen exercise. And it is expected the Corps will kick off an amphibious landing for Trident Juncture.
Marines embarked with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima just wrapped up cold-weather training in Iceland and are steaming toward Norway for Trident Juncture.
It’s a big showing for the Corps and its armored vehicles in the frigid climate of the Scandinavian country and provides the Corps a chance to test its future Marine Force 2025 concept.
That future force concept was modeled under the assumption the Corps wasn’t prepared to fight a near-peer adversary like Russia or China after spending years embroiled in low intensity counterinsurgency style conflicts.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps has pushed an aggressive modernization effort to overhaul its force to prepare for the modern battlefield.
Those efforts have included organization changes to the Marine rifle squad, new shoulder fired anti-tank systems like the Carl Gustaf, automatic weapons, new night vision, anti-aircraft system and a return to the basics of combined arms operations.
Marines are once again training skills once lost at the end of the Cold War, such as radio discipline, reducing signatures to mitigate detection by the enemy, camouflaging vehicles and anti-aircraft tactics.
The Corps also has pushed efforts to replace its aging fleet of armored vehicles like the new amphibious combat vehicle, set to replace the legacy AAV, and the joint light tactical vehicle, or JLTV, which is being pushed to replace the Humvee.
But these vehicles are not making a showing in Norway. The first ACVs won’t be delivered to the Corps until 2019 and Marine officials told Marine Corps Times that the JLTV is not participating in Trident Juncture.
But, now in the Arctic country of Norway are thousands of U.S. Marines, armored vehicles, howitzers and anti-aircraft systems like Stinger missiles for the Corps to showcase and train its force against a potential peer or near-peer competitor, honing skills meant to match a sophisticated state actor like Russia.
It’s also a chance for the Corps to test its suite of weapons, aircraft and vehicles in the frigid climate of the European high-north as a total unified MAGTF.
Already being put to the test is the Corps’ Norway cave prepositioning program and the Navy’s container ships. The cave complexes in Norway, which houses gear for a Marine MAGTF, has already been moving equipment and vehicles from its cave complexes to support Northern Screen.
The Corps at times moves equipment from its Norway cave complexes to support security cooperation exercises across Europe.
In May, the Corps moved some of its Abrams from Norway to Finland to participate in a large-scale Finnish armor exercise dubbed Arrow 18. It was the first time the Corps’ tanks participated in an exercise in Finland.
Nearly 40,000 troops, over 30 countries, and thousands of military vehicles will take part in NATO’s largest exercise in more than a decade.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.