Story by Mark Schauer on 07/08/2019It is vital that all military equipment work wherever in the world American Soldiers need it, and even a cursory examination of our nation's history shows that extreme cold is a weather condition American troops have had to contend with more than once.
From Korea to Afghanistan, the lives of American Soldiers depend on functioning equipment in inhospitably frigid environments, and nowhere else in the world can provide extreme cold weather testing like the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Test Center (CRTC), in Delta Junction, Alaska.
CRTC commander Lt. Col. Loren Todd was aware of the importance of this mission and the Army's only place to conduct it long before he assumed command in May 2018.
"I had my eye on CRTC for a while, and when I saw it amongst the commands that were available I had to jump at the chance to get there," he said.
Earlier in his career, Todd was responsible for managing a weapon system program that he and his team tested in CRTC's brutal cold.
"I was a CRTC customer back in 2013. We found some things during testing at CRTC that were pretty useful to us, and because of that data, we were able to fix the system afterward."
His first encounter with the test center dated back two years earlier.
"I was in the Operational Test Command as my first Army acquisition job and did a site survey for the Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar at CRTC, so I spent a few days up there in 2011."
In command for more than a year, Todd contends that cold weather testing is even more vital than ever, and in his time here has taken this message to high level visitors that include now-acting Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper, who came to CRTC last August.
"It is a great mission and something the Army and DOD needs," Todd said of CRTC. "The National Defense Strategy says we need to be concerned about four areas in the world when it comes to near-peer competition, and three of those areas get extremely cold in the winter time. It's been a long time since the military fought in a cold place against a major power competitor, and CRTC's mission is a key component in preparing for that threat."
Recent testing has reflected this: the Marine Corps' Amphibious Combat Vehicle underwent intense testing last winter. Todd is keenly aware of grim historical precedents such as that experienced by Soldiers and Marines during the Korean War at the Chosin Reservoir in November 1950. Badly outnumbered and entirely surrounded, American Forces fought Chinese invaders through brutal cold for 17 days. The troops' equipment and uniforms were wholly inadequate for the frigid conditionsweapons malfunction and frostbite were rampant throughout the ordeal.
"So not only is it the roughest fight you've ever been in, it's the roughest fight you've ever been in when you're battling an injury you've never had before. What could be worse than facing down a well-equipped, well-trained, and determined adversary and your rifle doesn't work? CRTC exists to ensure that we don't have to learn those lessons again."
Tasked with testing military equipment in one of the world's coldest places, CRTC's employees spend countless winter hours outside in the natural environment, in temperatures where nostrils freeze and breathing hurts. Todd lauds the technical expertise and grit of the CRTC workforce.
"The competence of the workforce is unparalleled. A lot of these folks have been here a long time and are experts in their field of testing and in operating in an extremely rugged, cold environment. CRTC is the only place the Army can go to find both of those skill sets in the same people."
Among other capabilities, CRTC boasts a three and a quarter mile long automotive test track. Both military and commercial customers have access to a desirable facility that boasts a 1,000 foot by 800 foot lateral acceleration pad, a 200 foot by 1,200 foot skid pad, and grades ranging in steepness from 20% to 60%. Last winter was the track's busiest season ever, hosting testing from the first freeze to the final thaw. Though military customers take priority, private industry customers utilized the facility from wire to wire.
"It's not our primary mission, but if we have availability it's mutually beneficial to work those customers in."
He has less than a year in command left, but as the test center gears up for another winter test season Todd intends to continue putting forth the message about CRTC's necessity.
"I hope there is renewed emphasis on ensuring that all of the combat systems we need to defend against near-peer adversaries get a good shakeout at CRTC. It matters not only for combat, but for training. Being prepared for cold weather is a readiness issue as much as it is a modernization issue."