FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - The annual week-long U.S. Army Extreme Cold Weather/High Altitude Symposium began here on Feb. 13 and focused the efforts and experience of subject matter experts from across the U.S. military, research and development and industry to assess cold weather operations technologies, challenges and solutions.

This year's symposium featured briefers from the Army in Alaska including U.S. Army Alaska, the Cold Regions Test Center and the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. Also featured were presenters from across the U.S. military including the Combined Arms Support Command in Fort Lee, Virginia, the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, Program Executive Office - Aviation in Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California, and others.

Delivering the symposium's opening remarks, USARAK Deputy Commander for Sustainment Col. Shawn Reed welcomed the attendees and described some of the more serious technological shortfalls affecting the modern Soldier's ability to train and operate in extreme cold and high altitude conditions.

"As the complexity of tactical digitization increases across the Army, we see a holistic degradation in how effectively Soldiers can take care of their equipment, and maintain their regional and global mission essential task list skill sets...and maintain the Arctic expertise necessary to be effective in extreme cold and high altitude environments," Reed said. "That's why it is so important that we are all working together to develop new technologies and capabilities that give our Soldiers decisive advantage, but not so complex or delicate that it comes at the expense of time and effort required to hone their battle focused skills or specialized skills required to fight in extreme environments."

The intent of the symposium was to focus relevant military and industry efforts towards identifying and developing equipment solutions for weapons and observation optics, munitions, mobility, communications, power storage and generation, airframes, vehicles, and individual Soldier equipment modified or designed to operate effectively in the extreme cold.

"It is staggering the number and types of batteries that Soldiers must carry and keep warm during cold weather operations," said USARAK Force Management Division Chief Dusty Finley. "Most batteries last minutes instead of hours when exposed to extremely cold temperatures. This can quickly become a significant challenge for us as a technologically advanced military."

"Very little of the equipment the Army issues to Soldiers is specifically designed to be used in the extreme cold, I'm talking 20 below and lower," said Finley. "If our Soldiers require equipment to safely operate and fight in the cold which which isn't available or can't be adapted from what is already in the Army supply system then USARAK must fund these items out of our own funds."

An example Finley gave for USARAK-funded mission critical items not available through the Army supply system are the skis installed on all USARAK helicopters. The skis are designed and bought from Airglas, Inc., an Anchorage company which specializes in aircraft ski fabrication.

"Airglas has also created a prototype AH-64 helicopter storage pod which we'd like to mount on the Apache to hold all of the extreme cold weather survival gear that is standard kit for all of our UH-60 and CH-47 pilots," said Finley. "There simply isn't room in the Apache to hold the requisite gear. We are working with multiple Army agencies to gain approval to mount the pods and thus significantly increase the extreme cold weather survivability and reduce risk for our Apache crews if they become grounded in the vastness of Alaska."

Leading commercial industry representatives with products specifically designed for use in ECW/HA environments also attended the symposium to demonstrate their companies' latest innovations in cold weather technology. Symposium attendees were able to explore the industry representative displays for possible existing solutions to common equipment shortfalls.

The final goal for the symposium was for all the represented organizations to share a common understanding of the latest research, issues and an agreed upon way ahead so each pertinent agency speaks with a unified voice when justifying the need for ECW/HA-capable equipment.