U.S. Marines are operating in an Arctic nation this month -- an effort that includes learning to "drift" 60-ton M1A1 Abrams tanks like they're part of "The Fast and The Furious" movie franchise.
The training is one of the more novel aspects of Cold Response 2016, a joint military exercise beginning this month in Norway that includes 16,000 troops from 13 countries, including Britain, Germany and Poland, as well as 3,000 U.S. service members. The first of three phases for the operation begin this week, with the exercise continuing through late March.
In a new video, the Marines demonstrated the "drifting," in which they slid around tight curves in tanks and amphibious assault vehicles. Doing so in a controlled environment will help drivers maneuver better in bad weather, an emphasis of Cold Response. The training occurred in the small Norwegian town of Rena, about 110 miles north of Oslo, the capital.
Norway, like other NATO allies, has strained relations with Russia following the Kremlin's intervention in Ukraine and Russian military exercises that probe the airspace of the alliance. Russia has also warned Norway and other Scandinavian countries against increasing their contributions to NATO, particularly by participating in a missile-defense shield.
But the exercise is the latest in an ongoing series that date back years, said Marine Col. Will Bentley. The U.S. military is "obviously paying attention to the security situation in Europe," he said, but Cold Response was scheduled before tensions with Russia escalated.
"This exercise in particular was meant to get us out of our own home plate or back yard and operating in an area where we're not very familiar," Bentley said. "We've been doing a lot of desert operations and operations in other areas. We have not operated in this extreme cold nor in Norway. . . in a quite a while."
Norway has a small military of about 20,000 troops, but in 1981 signed an agreement with the United States in which the Pentagon stores a variety of equipment and weapons in climate-controlled caves in the central part of the country. That agreement was expanded in 2014 to add to the arsenal and allow tanks and other vehicles that previously had not been allowed.
Commanders will form a combined joint task force headquarters beginning Feb. 22 as the exercise shifts from a preparatory period to the active field-training exercise Feb. 29. The USS Fort McHenry, an amphibious ship, also will be used during the operation as a landing pad for helicopters and a platform for other operations from the sea.
Bentley said operating in extreme cold weather -- the forecast calls for temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit in some training areas -- affects everything from aircraft to the tanks, but also takes a toll on the service members involved. Some of the Marines have trained in locations like the U.S. military's Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., and Camp Dawson, W.V., for cold-weather preparation before deploying to Norway.