Arctic terrain includes those areas that experience extended periods of below freezing temperatures. In these areas, the ground is generally covered with ice or snow during the winter season. Although frozen ground and ice can improve trafficability, a deep accumulation of snow can reduce it. Vehicles and personnel require special equipment and care under these adverse conditions.
a. Operations. Both the terrain and the type and size of unit operations vary greatly in arctic areas. In open terrain, armored and mechanized forces will be effective although they will have to plan and train for the special conditions. In broken terrain, forests, and mountains, light forces will predominate as usual. However, foot movement can take up to five times as long as it might under warmer conditions.
b. Interpretation and Analysis. Both the terrain and cultural features you may confront in winter may vary to any extreme, as can the weather. The common factor is an extended period of below-freezing temperatures. The terrain may be plains, plateaus, hills, or mountains. The climate will be cold, but the weather will vary greatly from place to place. Most arctic terrain experiences snow, but some claim impressive accumulations each season, such as the lake-effected snow belts off Lake Ontario near Fort Drum, New York. Other areas have many cold days with sunshine and clear nights, and little snow accumulation.
(1) In areas with distinct local relief and scattered trees or forests, the absence of foliage makes movement by terrain association easier; observation and fields of fire are greatly enhanced except during snowstorms. But in relatively flat, open areas covered with snow (especially in bright sunlight), the resulting lack of contrast may interfere with your being able to read the land. With foliage gone, concealment (both from the ground and from the air) is greatly reduced. As in desert areas, you must make better use of the terrain to conceal your movements.
(2) Frozen streams and swamps may no longer be obstacles, and thus identification of avenues of approach may be difficult in winter. However, the concept as to what is key terrain is not likely to be affected.
c. Navigation. Special skills may be required in arctic terrain, such as the proper use of winter clothing, skis, and snowshoes; but this does not affect your navigation strategies. There are no special techniques for navigating in arctic terrain. Just be aware of the advantages and disadvantages that may present themselves and make the most of your opportunities while applying the four steps and two techniques for land navigation.
(1) Remember, the highest caliber of leadership is required to ensure that all necessary tasks are performed, that security is maintained, and that soldiers and their equipment are protected from the physical effects of very low temperatures. There is a great temptation to do less than a thorough job at whatever the task may be when you are very cold.
(2) Night navigation may be particularly enhanced when operating in arctic terrain. Moonlight and starlight on a clear night reflect off the snow, thus enabling you to employ daytime terrain association techniques with little difficulty. Even cloudy winter nights are often brighter than clear moonlit summer nights when the ground is dark and covered with foliage. Movements with complete light discipline (no black-out drives) can often be executed. On the other hand, areas with severe winter climates experience lengthy periods of darkness each day, which may be accompanied by driving snow and limited visibility.