MIL-OSI USA: Media Roundtable with Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler, 11th Airborne Division commander

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Source: United States Army

Media Round Table with MG Brian Eifler

February 26, 2024 

Jason Waggoner: –on the record where we will discuss the current events of his division in the Arctic. If you have a question unrelated to this topic, I will take that from you offline. If Major General Eifler is unable to answer a question for operational security reasons or if something is outside of his lane, he will let you know that and we’ll move on to the next question. Please limit yourself to one question and a follow-up so we can get to as many of you as possible. If we run out of time and do not get to your question, just please email them to me and I will get with the 11th Airborne Division’s Public Affairs Office and we’ll get you responses as soon as possible. A quick reminder to please keep your phones muted unless you’re asking a question. And now with that, I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to Major General Eifler for his opening comments. So, go ahead, sir.

Major General Brian Eifler: Thanks, Jason. Appreciate it. And I appreciate everybody joining us today. And I’ll keep my comments short so we could get to the questions, but I’d like to start off with just a couple of points about who we are, what we’re doing and what we’ve done and where we’re going. First of all, the newest division in the Army, 11th Airborne Division, is doing exactly what it’s been designed to do, but it really needed–the forces up here had no really unity, purpose, and identity. And being aligned as a division now, as a warfighting capable force, has increased the readiness in the Indo-Pacific and for the Arctic. And the 11th Airborne’s history in the Pacific is maybe not as well known as others, but its impact was extremely strategic. And that’s why the renaming and reactivating of that division, which has brought really unity, identity, and purpose for the soldiers up here. And we see that every day. When you don’t have purpose, when you don’t have an identity, it’s really tough, no matter what line of work you’re in. And that was transformational up here. And as I indicated, this division is now a warfighting capable division. The headquarters didn’t really exist a year ago and has been since developed into a warfighting headquarters with the personnel and experience it needs. We’ve done several command post exercises, warfighter like exercises, war games, and continue to prepare for a large-scale combat operation, something that the units in Alaska has never had until now. So, we bring a real capability not only to Indo-Pacific, but also to our Arctic nations.

And get to my second point, which is what it takes to be a soldier up here. You know, all soldiers require grit, but Arctic grit is something a little bit more. So, what we have to do is really do hard, tough, realistic training in the harsh environment that we are expected to may have to operate or fight in. And so that is absolutely critical to our development of character because that’s formed in the fires of adversity, not in a normal sort of average training event. It requires toughness and even to the point of failure, so that that doesn’t happen in combat. And so, we developed this JPMRC, which is a third year running, the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center, less of a place and more of a thing, where we do warfighting, force on force, very similar to JRTC at Fort Johnson or NTC at Fort Irwin. But we’re in the region, and in an environment, it’s always in the winter and in an environment that’s the harshest, where we might have to operate, fight, and win in. And this JPMRC that we just concluded a couple of weeks training up in the Donnelly training area up north near Delta Junction in Alaska, was very joint. Had both, obviously, Army, Air Force, and Marines. Multinational, had about four countries participating, including a battalion of Canadians, some elements from Mongolia, as well as Australia, Finland, and Sweden, and then about 18 other multinational observers to include France, Japan, Chile, Nepal, Korea, to name a few. And then it was a multi-compo – both active, reserve, and National Guard. So, it’s one of the biggest JPMRCs that we’ve done that stretched the entire breadth of the state, down from Anchorage all the way up to Utqiagvik at the northern tip of the United States of America on the north slope. So quite amazing training that we’re doing, very hard, but it’s what we do to provide a credible deterrent to our adversaries. We got to show that we’re ready to fight and win, whether it’s across Indo-Pacific or with our Arctic partners in the Arctic. So, with that, I will just turn it over, Jason, to start with the questions.

JW: Okay. sir, thank you very much for that. We’ll start with Ashley Roque, then go to Patty Nieberg. So go ahead and get us started, Ashley.

Ashley Roque: Hi. Good morning–or afternoon. Thank you, general. Could you walk us through, I guess, broad level, if there was like a broad–were there concepts of operations that were new that you were testing out or new equipment and just sort of an overview of the force on force? Was it a certain type of conflict you were working through? Just sort of walk us through that.

MGBE: Sure. Absolutely. Great question. Well, it was a force on force operation, so in a near peer adversary threat type environment. So unique to JPMRC is this entire division deployed to the field. Our headquarters was involved, our warfighting headquarters, our main command post, and even our division tactical assault CP was in there, because that’s how we’re going to fight in a large-scale combat operations. Our OPFOR, or opposing forces, was actually trained to replicate a potential adversary’s capability. And so, we had two battalions from the division play opposing force. And if you know anything about the service, soldiers love to play opposing forces, and they have such a great time doing it because it’s good training, and they get to do some things and try some things that maybe they haven’t been able to do in the past. So, we had a large threat that the enemy had a ton of artillery, a ton of rockets, a ton of ammunition to do that, a ton of air defense. So, it’s very difficult to do an airborne insertion, an air assault insertion, without being attritted or having to negate a significant amount. You know, air supremacy was not there. Air support superiority was not there. So, we had to create windows to do a deep attack is one of the things that we did with our aviation, which is seldom not done. But we did 150 miles deep attack with our Apache aviation battalion while avoiding air defense emitters that we put out. And they had to weave and–duck and weave for those 150 miles low terrain over flight to get to the target to destroy it and then get back safely. Where before, the last 20 years, we didn’t have to worry about that. Well, now we have to have systems, counter electronic warfare, counter UAS, counter air defenses of all types to make something, create a window to get in there. So that’s just some of the things that we had to do with this adversary and the threat. You know, in this battlefield, it’s very hard to be camouflaged like we used to. In some spectrum, you’re observed, whether it’s electronic, whether it’s physical, informational, or whatever, across the cyber space and communications, you really can be observed. So that’s really a test that we added to this. And then really, like you had mentioned the new equipment. We did about 40 experiments and tests during this exercise. I mean, we’re always doing it, but just happened that during this exercise, we are doing a lot of testing on a lot of different pieces of equipment. And then most people don’t realize, even in our own Army, that we have to do things differently here. Flying helicopters here is much different. Starting them in subzero temperatures, you have to do some things that are just not in manuals to figure out how to fly and maintain. And then we tested a couple of things on our new vehicles. We’ve got the CATV, which is, you may have heard we’ve got about five of them of the initial tranche, the cold weather, all-terrain vehicles, a co-joined tracked vehicle, very light. It can swim, but it’s light in the snow, and it can work on the muskeg, which is like a mud quicksand. And then it goes into all the different types of snow that we have. We used that extensively as a command and control node, which was really good for the brigade as well as sustainment of troops. We did some more testing with a maneuvering with snow machines or snowmobiles to some where you can do hunter killer teams with Javelins, anti-tank weapons to get to places where are normally difficult in the snow. And then we were really challenged because in this rotation we went from -40 to +40 because of the Chinook winds that came in. And then you had about 80 knot winds. So, the weather was not consistent, the snow was not consistent, the temperature wasn’t consistent, which made it just a great testing environment to go full gamut on everything we needed to do. And then it really tested the grit of the soldiers. You’re prepared to -40 and then it goes to 40. I mean, that’s like going to Hawaii when you’re prepared to go to the Arctic. So, it really was a great exercise and unique in comparison to the previous years.

AR: Thanks. There was a lot there. Were there any observations, maybe on the CATVs or the snow machines or maybe the Apaches that you guys were walking away to potentially look at different tweaks or formations or something like that?

MGBE: Yeah, for the Apaches, we had a couple of our warrant officers came up with a white paper recommendation to the engineers and the Aviation Center of Excellence to put in manuals, because the things that they have to do to fly and operate are not in manuals for this harsh conditions and weather. And so that’s one of the big things that we’re going to try to get fixed. If we follow the manuals, we probably wouldn’t be flying up in these conditions up here. So just to overcome, to operate, they have to do those things. The CATV performed very well. It’s a pretty good vehicle. There’s a couple of little minor things that we have to tweak with it, but overall it did very good. We did some testing of some tents that really didn’t hold up well. And then we actually are working with our Alaskan native population, too. We did an out of sector–we call it an out of sector mission. We flew 500 miles north to Utqiagvik, also known as Barrow, as I mentioned earlier, to do a HIMARS insertion or a HIRAIN mission, where it’s a HIMARS infiltration of the rocket system just to show that we can do that on a C130, gets out at -20 below. And then we had a platoon of our angels up there and they had to set up a warming–like a survival tent, right, because that’s what we use to survive in those temperatures. And the equipment that we have to pound stakes in the ground into permafrost doesn’t really work. No matter how hard you are. Even if you’re John Henry and you’re slamming your hammer, it’s not going to go through that. And so, the locals said, hey, you got to use this drill, which sounds intuitive, but you got to have a nice drill to drill in your tent stakes. Otherwise, that tent is going to blow away, especially in 80 knot winds. So, a lot of things we learned up here, as we learn every time we go to the field. So, thanks for that.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you. Next, we’re going to go to Patty and then to Todd South.

Patty Nieberg: Thank you so much for doing this. Kind of following up on the whole technology thing, which is kind of the most interesting stuff. I know that you guys were also testing the new Arctic casualty evacuation sled. And also, if you can talk about some of the new skis, I’m curious how those are working and kind of if you can explain why it’s different doing casualty evacuation in that kind of environment.

MGBE: Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult because what we have to have, you know, we’re always testing new ways to do it. Much like we know up here there’s different types of snow. There’s different types of snow terrain. There’s this sugary grain snow that just pushes around. It doesn’t compact. It’s really almost like sand. And then there’s some deep fluffy stuff, and there’s the wet stuff. What we had is a little combination of all. And then as the rotation moved on in some of the areas, it was so windblown that it’ll actually blow feet of snow away from the open areas. And so, you’ll be going through four to five feet of snow in the woods and you’ll get up in a clearing and it’ll be almost looks like spring out there with sparse patches of snow. So, when you talk about casualty evacuation and you’re going over terrain that’s snow and then no snow, that presents a challenge and almost like our helicopters, where you see our helicopters are equipped with skis, but the skis only engage when the wheels are not. So, it can roll down a runway, but also land in muskeg and snow. So, we’re looking at how we do things like that. The skis that we’ve been testing in this condition–didn’t use a lot of skis in this operation because, as I said, some of the snow was very challenging, but the skis are very promising. It’s a better ski, a better binding that fits any boot, which is great for the American Army. Our Norwegian and Finn partners and allies, and Swedish, I believe, as well, all wear the same boot. So regardless of the temperature, they wear that boot to ski with. As we figured out, we have to have various levels of boots. And so, we need a binding that you can work with any boot. And so that has been very helpful. The ruggedness of it at -30 or 40 below, that’s something that all plastics have challenge with. So, some of the plastic bindings and stuff like that, we’re working on ruggedizing. Over.

PN: And are there any autonomous technologies that you guys have been experimenting with? And are you seeing any challenges with kind of the Arctic environment like you were kind of explaining in the beginning when it comes to using anything autonomous?

MGBE: We have not. The Army is testing that and other reasons. Absolutely. We welcome it. A lot of the challenges, as you know, that in the harsh environment that are not tested here don’t work. They need to be tested in this environment. So just like with our UASs or drones, they have to be validated in this environment. And so, a lot of the things, even like the next generation squad weapon was tested up here. They realized some of the parts retain the cold so much that you can get frostbite from touching the weapon. So, things like that, if they’re tested up here, they can get fixed. So, we’re looking forward to testing the autonomous stuff up here. Just like with any battery operation stuff, batteries go really quick in less than hours and more into seconds and minutes. So those challenges of keeping batteries warm and battery operated vehicles and stuff like that are really put to the test up here because of the environment.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you for that. We’ll go to Todd and then to Meredith Roaten.

Todd South: Good afternoon, sir. Todd South, Army Times. You mentioned this was the largest JPMRC rotation since it started about three years ago. Could you give us, like, a big picture, kind of what has changed? What are the big components that have changed since the inception of that? And what specifically was new or different about this as compared to past rotations?

MGBE: Yeah. Thanks, Todd. Well, there’s more participants, I mean, over–close to 8,000 or 9,000 soldiers that were involved in this in some form or fashion. Largest international makeup with, as I mentioned, a battalion plus of Canadians from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian light infantry, their airborne force. And so those are a couple of things. The scope and scale was much larger, like I said, going from Anchorage all the way up to Utqiagvik, covering the breadth of, I mean, sort of like going from Louisiana to Detroit. So, the scope and scale of it is much larger. And then we added three really large operations into this. One was joint force entry from the OPFOR. They did a big multi-battalion airborne insertion into Donnelly drop zone. Complete–they had to fight through the air with the Air Force and the F22 Raptors to get in to infill the OPFOR. And then, as I mentioned, the deep attack of over 100 miles. There’s not a lot of training area you can do that in the United States, but this is one of the few places you can get that done. So, training the generation of aviators to be able to do that, weave in and out of air defenses, that was–we have not done that before. And I would say that many units have not done things like that before. And then the air assault that was basically a brigade -80 miles plus air assault with about 15 ships, Chinook helicopters, Canadian Chinook helicopters, U860 helicopters, and two battalions, again, going low and fast, evading air defense emitters. That distance, that scope and scale just hasn’t been done before. And then actually, another one was, like I said, the 500 plus mile out of sector C130, HIRAIN mission into Utqiagvik. Never done that before. People of Utqiagvik were very welcoming and supportive of us going up there and training and want us to continue to do that. So those are some of the things that make it different and better than before. And as with anything, we’re running this our own. So, we get more reps. Like this is a third time. So, we get more repetition on how to support it better, how to run and train the OPFOR better, and then actually execute. This was run very smoothly in comparison to the last couple of years, and it will be a stalwart in the future for gaining and maintaining our readiness.

TS: Thanks. Short follow-up. You mentioned the Canadians. Could you give just a larger component some of the breakdown of the other foreign partners and what were the dates of the actual exercise? I didn’t catch that.

MGBE: Okay. Well, we really started at–early February, almost around the 8th of February and just concluded, really, on the 22nd. But there was really the OPFOR infilled early, and then the BLUFOR has been training and planning all the way up, but they actually started the exercise, I think it was really like the 12th through the 22nd. It was the heart of the exercise. But really they started earlier, about a week earlier, and all the prep and the prep for deployment and all that. As far as other people that were integrated, we had a Mongolian infantry platoon that was attached to the 1st Brigade. And then on our staffs we had Australia, Finland, and Sweden involved, participating–very hard for some of the countries from Scandinavia. Their armies are so small, it’s really hard to bring forces over, and we usually go over there to train with them. But them sending staff is something that just shows the partnership that we’ve developed. We’re very close, obviously, with Canada. This will be routine. Every other year they’ll send a battalion, and in the odd years, they’ll send enablers and about a company worth of troops. So that’s enduring. And then we’ll continue to be involved with our allies in Norway, Finland, and Sweden because they want to train with us because of our capabilities. So, we continue to build our ties with those. Matter of fact, later on in next month, we’ll be doing an operation in Norway, Arctic Shock, which will send paratroopers over the North Pole, rig in flight, and jump into Bardufoss, Norway, up in the Arctic Circle. And then a couple months later, we’ll be in Sweden for Swift Response. So, we try to continue to maintain and integrate our partners and allies anywhere we can, and this is a great exercise to do it. Over.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you for that. We’re going to keep moving here. We’re going to go with Meredith, and then after that will be Brandi Vincent. Go ahead, Meredith.

Meredith Roaten: Hi General. Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask about the Javelin snowmobile team that you mentioned earlier. Can you talk a little bit about how that works and also how you tweaked those operations once the temperature changed during the exercise?

MGBE: Yeah. Thanks. Meredith, you’re like a glutton for punishment. You keep coming back. Thanks for coming and joining us out there. I’m glad you got to see that experience. So, yeah, the Javelin teams, you know, having the mobility through the snow and staying off the road–one of our standing orders is that we try to stay off the roads when you’re fighting in these harsh weathers, because the roads and trails are like the enemy’s engagement areas. We always say if you’re traveling and it’s easy, you’re running into a danger area, and if it’s very hard and difficult to move, you’re winning. And what the snow machines allow us to do, and the snow machines can work on all sorts of snow, which is tough to find the perfect snow machine, I think we were discussing before. But the ability to work and get to places quickly on a battlefield that has snow, little snow, lots of snow, full spectrum snow out there, the snow machine is allowed to do that. And having to get in those quick spaces, not using roads and trails, allows us to channelize the enemy. If they’re using the roads, they’re going up against a mechanized and armored force. And being able to go through the woods, over the hills, through the valleys, and get in a position to fire the Javelin and take out the armor was absolutely validated. And we’ve learned this with our allies and partners as well, and we were just able to do that. Both the enemy and the friendlies were able to do that very well. And then adjusting to the temperatures, as we say, it’s very easy to train a winter soldier to go to summer. It’s very hard to go the other way. And so that’s why we pride ourselves in training in the toughest, coldest temperatures, because once you do that, as it warms up, it gets easier. And we saw that throughout the rotation, even though it’s a little bit difficult and not everything was as cold as what we wanted, soldiers were able to adapt. We drank a lot more water, as you probably heard out there, and keeping the soldiers hydrated and moving in this environment, where if you stop, you freeze and you get hypothermia, but at the same time, you’re sweating and you need more water. So that really challenged our sustainment on how to–we carry ice blocks, big ice blocks, so you can melt it into water as another form of sustainment, and then, as we like to say, if you can heat up snow and purify it into water, it also helps with the sustainment and support because we were drinking a lot of water out there. Over.

MR: Do you also have a rough idea of how many successful targets were hit with this Javelin teaming?

MGBE: I do not, but it’s multiple teams, multiple targets, multiple opportunities that were observed by our JPMRC observers. It’s just another tactic and technique and procedure at TTP that we experimented with and will use in the future. It also helps with, okay, how many snow machines should an Arctic force have? One that has to force project. So, we are going to increase our need for snow machines not just for that mission, but also for sustainment of what that does for casualty evacuations and mobility on the battlefield. We only had a few CATVs, so as we get more of those and more snow machines, we’ll be much mobile–much more mobile while maintaining our light capability to force project.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you for that.

MR: Thank you.

MGBE: Thanks, Meredith.

JW: Next we’ll go to Brandi, then to Cal Biesecker. Go ahead, Brandi.

Brandi Vincent: Thank you so much. And thank you, General, for hosting us. You briefly mentioned command and control, but I’d love if you could just go a little bit deeper on that. To what extent are you all deploying CJADC2 aligned capabilities in the Arctic? And how are you approaching that? What are you learning about that in this rotation?

MGBE: Yeah, we didn’t use CJADC2. We used what we have. So, really, you train with what you have to the best of your ability. And so, what we’re able to do is take the communications, beg, borrow, and steal for this headquarters because it doesn’t have all the requisite communications that it needs to communicate. And one of the great things about it is, CJADC2 is going to be great. But what we find in some of these environments is how do you negate some of the adversary’s counter capabilities to interdict C2 and to prevent good command and control, whether it’s GPS jamming, FM jamming, electronic warfare in general, we found that we’ve gone full spectrum in this last exercise. The enemy had the capability to do jamming. And so, at one point we’re using our JPSPs, which is sort of a digital wavelength type of capability to communicate digitally, and that was being jammed. And so, at one point, the brigade that was fighting had to use runners to get their operations orders and their orders out to their units. And they literally sent people out on either snow machine or CATV to go to their lower battalions to get information out. And it’s not unlike what we’re seeing in Ukraine, where you got information warfare, but you almost got all the way to the other end of the spectrum of industrial warfare still happening. You got full spectrum. So, you’ve got to have that capability to not only have your digital systems working and all the additional new stuff, but you also have to go manual, as we say, or mechanical, because in this environment a lot of things are challenged, whether it’s the touch screens or the digitation keyboards and stuff, that if they’re not kept at a good temperature, they will fail. And so, what we learned in this exercise is you got to be ready for full spectrum. And I think that’s what the greatest gains we got out of this was to be able to fight regardless with our great top of the line equipment. But if that gets degraded, we can still fight.

BV: Great. Thank you for that. And then following up on something you said earlier with this notion that all eyes are on the Arctic, it’s a lot harder to not to go unseen, et cetera. Can you talk a little bit about if Russia or any non-US allies interfered with or tried to impact any of the activities with 24.02 and just sort of what are the trends you’re seeing in that space?

MGBE: Yeah. Not aware of anything that they tried to interdict or anything. And actually, we’re just doing things in plain sight, quite honestly, because, as General Flynn likes to say, we don’t want war. We do not want war. And so, to do that, we’ve got to show a credible capability and deterrent. The advent of the 11th Airborne Division in the Indo-Pacific and in the Arctic is another message to our potential adversaries that we’re taking this seriously. And I think, you know, as these potential adversaries like to do things that they normally do, we see the Russians that are always flying around and near Alaska that are interdicted by our air forces and stuff they’re doing in the ocean and with their navies and stuff, it seems to be a little bit routine, but what we do is control. We control. We know we have to be good at this stuff. So, we’re out there doing it. We’re not talking about it. We’re not messaging so much about it. We’re actually doing it. And if they see that, good, because if we can’t do what we say and say what we do, we’re hollow. So, we’ll continue to push ourselves up here and increase the scale and scope of these exercises because we got to be better. We got to be challenged, and we’ve got to help the Army resource us and structure us properly so we can meet those threats of tomorrow.

JW: All right, sir. Thank you for that. We are just a little bit overtime, sir, and if your schedule allows it, would you have time just for a few more questions before we take on Cal?

MGBE: Sure.

JW: Terrific.

MGBE: Absolutely.

JW: Okay. So, we’ll take Cal, and then we’ll go to Nickolai Sukharev. So, go ahead, Cal.

Calvin Biesecker: Yeah. Hi. Thanks for doing this. So, you said, I guess it’s kind of hard to hide up there. So, how easy was it and what did you use to have domain awareness on the adversary? And you hear a lot about communications challenges in the Arctic region. Did you have those? And if not, you know, why not? And if you did, what were those challenges? So, domain awareness and the assets involved, and then [inaudible]

MGBE: Thanks, Cal. I mean, well, first of, and not just the Arctic, but anywhere in the modern battlefield, it’s going to be hard to just traditionally just camouflage because of the other signatures that you have to mitigate, whether it’s communications, as you indicated, or any type of electronic signature across the full spectrum. It’s sort of like the predator movies. If the predator can’t see in thermals, he switches to an IR. He can’t see in IR, he switches to another. So, it’s like that in the modern battlefields. Like, okay, what spectrum are you being seen in? In some of them, in one way or another, you’re being seen. It’s like stealth technology. Maybe you look like a bird instead of an aircraft, but you are being seen a little bit. So, that’s sort of the things that we have to figure out and we continue to figure out. I will tell you, winter camouflage almost didn’t exist a couple of years ago up here. And you wouldn’t know that by going out there and seeing the forces with all the camouflage that we are using out there, especially, there’s not one good camouflage. You got to do with the environment. You got sparsely, you know, all white uniforms don’t necessarily work. You’ll see a lot of times where we’re just wearing white pants because of the snow on the ground and the trees are still green. And it actually is pretty good. So, we’ve been experimenting with different types of camouflage on our equipment and our people. But as you mentioned, the communications are challenging. Satellite communications–most of the satellites are equatorial rotation. So, if you think about it, we’re up in the Arctic, and you’re pointing your–instead of you pointing your radar dishes or not your radar dish, your satellite dishes to the sky, you’re actually pointing them along the ground because of where the satellites are. And that’s problematic because there’s all sorts of stuff in the ground that are going to get away with that. We do use some Starshield, which is the military version of the Starlink, which has more of a low Earth orbit and a polar orbit that increases the communications. We used that extensively in this operation. And we did some GPS jamming as well to prevent some of the things that use the satellites and then just the overall terrain, the ups and downs, the mountains. We use ghost RETRANS, which was basically invented up here last year, which is a RETRANS site that doesn’t need people. But even all that, communications are challenging in this environment, cold weather, as I said about batteries, the antennas, we got a couple of times where we got 80 knot winds, things are blowing away, and it’s hurricane strength in the Arctic. And so, we were definitely challenged with communications. But as I said earlier, you got to have multiple forms, primary, alternate, emergency, contingency types of communications. And if you haven’t thought that through, you’ll definitely pay the price up here because not one of them is always working. You got to pick the best one for the environment you’re in.

CB: And just lastly, just real quick, you mentioned you didn’t really use autonomous systems, but what about small UAS, even at the squad or small unit operations? Were these kinds of things used just the way they are being used in Ukraine or is the environment is too challenging for that?

MGBE: Yeah. No, we were using them. We were testing a few of them. And even on the OPFOR, they were using swarms, smaller swarms, about of a dozen or less that would flood the battlefield. It’s great because we got–it provides an after-action review, too, because it can actually show you, like, here’s what it did, here’s what it saw. Here’s how we found your command and control node. We flew over here, or here’s what you look like from the north, and even had munition armed drones that would drop simulated munitions like a Nerf football or like a tennis ball or something to show like, hey, you just got some ordinance on you and you didn’t even know it. So, we use that extensively out there. And then we use some of our UAS counter drone measures out there as well. So that’s common on the battlefield. It’s going to be out there. And we as an Army are getting better at developing those capabilities. And especially in the Arctic, some of the stuff previous things like the Shadow didn’t like to work when it got freezing because of the ground control station. It needed a good runway and all that stuff. But up here, you got to have a vertical takeoff capability and something that can withstand the extreme temperatures.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you. Thank you for that, sir. We’re going to go ahead and press on to Nickolai, and then we’ll go to Gary Warner. Thank you. Go ahead, Nick.

Nickolai Sukharev: Thank you, General, for your time this afternoon. Before I get into my main question, I just want to clarify the temperature units you’re speaking in, are you referring to Celsius or Fahrenheit?

MGBE: I’m sorry, Nick. Thanks. Fahrenheit -40 to +40 Fahrenheit.

NS: Okay. Thank you. General, my question to you is the Army released an Arctic strategy in January of 2021. Can you talk about how these exercises are going to or have changed this strategy and what updates might come out of it?

MGBE: Yeah. Thanks, Nick. As I like to say, control what you control. A lot of those in the Arctic strategy are going to happen at the strategic level, and really at the Army level, they have to make some changes on resourcing and structure. What we did was take what we could do at our level and started changing it. And without a doubt, we’ve made that progress. Three years ago, where we really weren’t focused on Arctic training and extreme cold weather training, we are much farther along, 100%, than we were three years ago. The development of JPMRC is the manifestation, and really, the 11th Airborne Division combined with JPMRC is the manifestation of the Arctic strategy. There’s no other forces in the Army that are doing this. It’s just us up here in this extreme environment. And I got to give a shout out to the 10th Mountain because they’re doing alpine and cold weather stuff, but the extreme temperatures, the way we operate and live up here are a little bit different. And so being able to do most of our intense training through the winter has been absolutely vital. JPMRC being here, not in the swamps of Louisiana or the arid deserts of Fort Irwin, California, doing it here allows us to build those calluses of Arctic training in extreme temperatures. So having JPMRC in the region from what we may have to fight and win is absolutely key. Gaining experience, developing TTPs, testing things, we just haven’t done that in decades here. And so, really, that’s what we’ve been doing. A few years ago, we didn’t have any snow machines. We didn’t have new skis. We weren’t testing a whole lot of new things. All that’s increased 100%, and that’s where I think we’re doing our part for the Arctic strategy. And then the Army designs, and if they decide to make some structure changes to address the Arctic, we’ll welcome those. But they can’t just have one division with a one-trick pony. It can’t just be Arctic. And so, what we’ve developed is we’re assigned to INDOPACOM, Nick, and we’ve got to do all the things that INDOPACOM needs. We’re the only airborne capability that the INDOPACOM commander has. So, we have to remain relevant and capable in that field. But as the Army or our nation needs an Arctic force, we’ve shown that we’ve got the capability to go whether it’s in the Himalayas in the Indo-Pacific, Mongolia, Nepal, Korea, and the Northern Army and us in Japan work really close. Or if we have to go with our Arctic neighbors, with Canada or Norway, Finland, Sweden, to assist with them for something in the Arctic, we’ve got that capability, so we always have that worldwide capability. The focus on INDOPACOM, the capability to go to the Arctic, allows us to address that strategy and beyond. Over.

NB: And, sir, as a follow up, regarding the exercises you’ve mentioned and the forthcoming exercises that you mentioned will be enduring, how is all of this going to be impacted by this continuing resolution?

MGBE: Wow. Okay. Great question. It’s hard to do things new, right, and it’s hard to have new startups. It’s hard to gain new equipment when you’re operating on the same budget. And so that’s something that we always need for our Army, regardless of where you’re at in it, is to have a budget that supports the things that our nation requires us to do. And some of that, it’s tough. Some things, you saw the recent cancellation of the FARA. We got to make some hard choices on the future because money isn’t endless and we want to be good stewards of the money that we’re given, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’ve been given some money in the past to upgrade our capabilities, and we’ve done that. It just depends on–we have civilian oversight over us. They control the budget. They control those decisions, and it would be great to have a consistent budget other than a CR, and that’s detriment to readiness, I believe.

JW: Okay. Thank you for that, sir.

NB: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

JW: Yeah, thank you for that, sir. And, sir, I know we are over time, we do have a few more reporters we can turn to, but if you’re pressed for time—-

MGBE: No, go ahead.

JW: Okay. Then in that case, we’ve got Gary Warner next, and then we’ll go to Gina Cavallaro. So go ahead, Gary.

Gary Warner: Hi, General. Thank you for taking some time today. This is Gary Warner with Stars and Stripes. You basically had two combat brigades up there involved in the operation. The opposing forces, were they of the same size, a parity there? And following up on that, is there a need to perhaps increase the number of ground forces that we have in that region given some of the trends that are going on worldwide?

MGBE: Hey, thanks, Gary. Yeah, the OPFOR–so, really the training unit is first 11th. The 1st Brigade from up at Fairbanks at Fort Wainwright, they were the training audience per se, and then they also had, as I said, the Mongolians and the Canadians. So, they had a pretty good force. The 2nd Brigade really provided back– or 211th, they provided the backside support. So, they ran the exercise, they sustained the exercise, but they also had two battalions of them that were totally dedicated to the opposing forces. Plus, they had some of their artillery units as well as a company of Canadians to help. So, the OPFOR was pretty large. But what they had that what you could not see was the amount of rocket and artillery that they had was five times the amount of what the 1st Brigade had. So, its capabilities–I mean, this whole exercise is fought virtual, constructive, and live all at the same time. So, we’re able to replicate that to give them this overwhelming firepower that we did not have, if that helps.

GW: And what was the result of that? Were you able to withstand those attacks and counter, or you’re learning something that maybe you need more forces?

MGBE: Yeah, I mean, there are some things that you definitely need. We obviously, as the Army is working on more organic air defense, long range fires that we need. And that was really relevant. I mean, those fires were really keeping the BLUFOR or first 11th on the move. They really had to wrestle with their survivability, because after they fired, the counter fire would come. And so, they did a great job of avoiding that and countering the enemy’s fire by surviving and not wasting their fire missions. And they really depended heavily on the division and higher support. And so, I believe having more rocket artillery below the core level is a necessity, especially when you go across the Pacific and the breadth of the battlefield, that looks like you got to have something that’s well within our range and capable. So that’s a couple of things that we learned.

GW: One quick thing on this, you’re learning a lot of things up there. These soldiers are learning things. How do you retain that knowledge when you’re rotating new people in and out, getting people, maybe the senior non-coms and officers, to stay up there and be a core knowledge that can pass these lessons along rather than having to reinvent the wheel every rotation?

MGBE: Yeah, I think we used to do that, like two steps forward, two steps back. I think we’re taking three steps–three or four steps forward every year and one step back now, quite honestly. Because we’re doing this so frequently and we’re doing it so often, some of the harder training that 1st Brigade did was before they did this exercise in the train up, one of the great things that Sean Lucas did as the commander up there was they trained like they were going to fight. And so, when it came time to fight, they had actually done it in actually colder temperatures, closer to -40, so I think having that mentality and have that mindset that winters here, like summer is short and winter’s coming tomorrow and having that attitude has really changed a culture up here. And we’re actually retaining people that have that expertise. And after they serve up here, they get a skill identifier, an Arctic skill identifier that shows that. So, we’re absolutely able to see that a lot more and then a lot more soldiers are wanting to stay here, do a foreign service extension of their tour, and continue to serve here as well as people enlisting in the Army, new recruits is one of the high demands is coming to Alaska. So having people that want to serve here, want to have that challenge, want to be a better leader, better soldier, because that’s what this place does because of the environment. It has an ability to overcome some of the normal turnovers that happen across the Army. But as you indicate, not everybody has this experience, so we’re doing our best to maintain it, but we always have a little bit of turnover, and that’s going to happen. But as long as we continue to grow and take a few more steps forward than back, we’re continuing to get–and we saw that just like in the last three years, we see a develop, and not just for me, from my biased opinion, outside observers see the culture shift, see the expertise, whether it’s JPMRC or people from TRADOC that come in and see it or foreign observers that have come in and seen what we’ve done over the few years, it’s definitely stark, so we’re making progress.

BW: Thank you very much.

JW: Thank you, sir. Next is Gina. Then we’ll go to Kazuyuki Sakamoto.

Gina Cavallaro: Hey, General Eifler, thank you for this really complete briefing you’ve given us. My question is kind of related to the last one. I’m going to have a very short question after. The OPFOR, are they permanent up there with you? Do they have to come from another part of the JPMRC to acclimate before they can work there? How does that work?

MGBE: Gina, that’s a great question. And we have a professional OPFOR. And the great thing is that OPFOR is the same as the BLUFOR. They’re part of us. They’re just designated. They came from the brigade and the 2nd Brigade here that was not doing the primary training, and we just pulled–so every year we rotate that. So, next year, when 211, 2nd Brigade is out in the field, we’ll have two battalions from 111 that will do OPFOR. So, they–like l was saying we’re training so much more than just a brigade. And then we always have our aviators, our Arctic aviators. So, we have two battalions that are always involved. So, it’s really good. Now, OPFOR, like I said, they get professionally trained. They go through, like, a little bit of an OPFOR certification. But there are some people that run this OPFOR training and says, these guys have been the best that they’ve seen. The great thing about them is they’re ours, and they get that experience, and they turn around and get to use it, and it makes them a better soldier because not only are they here, but they get to put that experience when they switch sides the next year.

GC: Okay. And then. I’m sorry for this question. It’s something a little kid would ask, but it has to do with field sanitation in, like, -40 Fahrenheit, how do you keep your skin safe when you have to go?

MGBE: Well, that’s a delicate experience. And you have to limit your exposure times. And sometimes we create a little, like a windshield from the colds, but you limit your exposure. I’ll tell you that much, Gina. One of the things that we don’t do in those temperatures is shave. Very bad–pull that layer of skin off, and then go. And all the oils that pull off your skin, the fact that you have to boil water and shave and do things like that. So, what you probably would have seen out there, I know Meredith did when she was out there, a lot of our guys had a long, unclean, shaven face. So, it’s just one of those things you got to do in the environment to limit your exposure to cold weather injuries.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you. We’re going to press on with Kazuyuki, and then we’ll go to Mike Glenn. Mr. Sakamoto, are you there? Okay. He may have dropped off. So, we’ll go ahead and go to Mike and then to Sean Carberry. Okay. Looks like Mike is not here. Sean Carberry, then Lauren Williams.

Sean Carberry: Hi. This is Sean. You mentioned allies and partners and some of their kits that you’ve looked at. Can you talk a little bit more about sort of the internal tension between sort of the Army’s drive to have its own bespoke kits versus looking at what allies and partners who have more experience in this environment have developed and where you might be able to adapt without having to go through a development process internally?

MGBE: Yeah. Hey, great question. I think it’s all on the table. I mean, the CATV is made by Hagglund, you know, and that’s largely a Swedish company. And a lot of the folks over there in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany use that vehicle. So that’s one of the things. And then we’re looking at tents. We have the Ahkio tent system, which is a sled. It’s got a big stove and a tent and weighs about 150 pounds, and it’s not conducive to be force projecting. Can’t jump that out of a helicopter very easy or out of an airplane paratrooper wise. So, we got to have something that will fit in a rucksack both for emergency, that could keep a soldier and his buddies, his or her buddies warm at -40,  50 degrees, but then not overburden us with fuel and heavy equipment. So, we’ve been looking at the Norway and Finland tent system for the frontline troops and how they do that with a lighter tent and a lighter stove system that is smaller and doesn’t weigh anything and can fit into a ruck sack. So, we’re working with DEVCOM. I like to use it like the Apollo 13 challenge. Here’s the stuff. Here’s what’s got to fit in. Go make it. And that’s what we sort of given DEVCOM to sort of help us figure it out. So they are, they’re working on things like that because if we’re going to force project, we need to be lighter, but we also need to have the capability to be warm in an emergency. So that’s some of the things that we’ve been doing and definitely working with what our partners do.

SC: And just quickly, were there any virtual or constructive elements to this operation and how are you using that technology?

MGBE: Oh, absolutely. We definitely use that. You know, just like we do at the CTC, the NTC, or JRTC. We have that capability here. We’ve got JPMRC is expeditionary. So, they do it in Hawaii, they do it in Alaska, and they can do it with our foreign partners across the Indo-Pacific. And so, they set up these towers out there, the instrumental towers that help bring the virtual and the constructive and the live together. So, we get all of that. Like I said, we had to replicate a larger force that was not there on the ground, actually, but we can actually put that on the ground. I was fighting at division. I had these brigades out there virtually that were out there and constructively they were linked into the feed so you could see them on the battlefield. They just didn’t exist. So, I was able, as division, my division staff and everybody was able to maneuver multiple brigades across the battlefield as well as the enemy had the same thing. The enemy had multiple brigades moving up into sectors. So, it’s great exercise that we had multi echelon training right down from the squad all the way up to the division level.

JW: Okay. Sir, thank you. Next we’ll go to Lauren Williams and then we’ll close out with Joseph Lacton. Go ahead, Lauren.

Lauren Williams: Thanks for doing this. Kind of related to Sean’s question, I’m interested if there were any new or novel ways you tested sharing information. I know First Corps is working with INDOPACOM on a mission partner environment. So, I’m curious if 11th Airborne is also working with this new environment.

MGBE: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got to figure it out. I mean, we had some challenges that we had to work through with our Canadian partners. And some of it is like we have some of our outdated equipment. We’re still going to get fielded the next communication system, this brigade, is outdated in regards to that. And so actually next month they’re going to get the newer–we call it ITN, the whole gamut of communications, tactical communications that go to the next level for these guys. And that’ll help increase the compatibility and the interoperability between our partners and allies. But I think that’s always been a challenge in the last couple of decades, is how do we have systems that can communicate whatever level of security it is? And I applaud our Corps’ effort at INDOPACOM specifically trying to do that because we’re going to fight as allies and partners. We’re not going to fight independently. And so, we have to continue to work at how we do that. And so, absolutely we are using that and continuing to develop it. All the exercise, you know, Lauren, we’re doing 18 international exercises this year, more than anybody out there in the Army. And they’re all with partners and they’re all with allies and they’re all with nations that we’re going to have to train and fight with. And so, each time we do these exercises, we are figuring things like that out because not everybody has the same systems and equipment. So, it’s always something we have to take in account for here. Over.

LW: Thanks so much. That’s it for me.

JW: Thank you, Lauren. And we’ll close out with Joseph. Last question to you.

Joseph Lacton: I don’t have a question but thank you for the opportunity.

JW: Okay. Thank you for that. Okay. Everybody, that’s going to wrap it up. Thank you, sir, for double overtime on this one. And if you have any follow-up questions, send them my way, and we’ll get with 11th Airborne Public Affairs to get responses to you. So, enjoy the rest of your afternoon. Thank you.

MGBE: Thanks, Jason. Thanks everybody.

JW: Thanks, sir.

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