MARINE MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. (AP) — Hunkered down behind a wall of snow, two U.S. Marines melt slush to make drinking water after spending the night digging out a defensive position high in the Sierra Nevada. Their laminated targeting map is wedged into the ice just below the machine gun.
Nearly 8,000 feet (2,440 meters) up at a training center in the California mountains, the air is thin, the snow is chest high and the temperature is plunging. But other Marines just a few kilometers away are preparing to attack, and forces on both sides must be able to battle the enemy and the unforgiving environment.
The exercise is designed to train troops for the next war — one the U.S. believes will be against a more capable, high-tech enemy like Russia, North Korea or China. The weather conditions on the mountain mimic the kind of frigid fight that forces could face in one of those future hotspots.
“We haven’t had to deal with these things. We’ve been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, head of the Marines’ Training and Education Command. “What we really have to do is wake folks up, expose them to things that they haven’t had to think about for quite a while.”
After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. U.S. forces must be able to survive and fight while countering drones, sophisticated jamming equipment and other electronic and cyber warfare that can track them, disrupt communications and kill them — technology they didn’t routinely face over the last decade.