Cold Weather-Turning Hardship into a Tactical Edge

Posted by Ryan Tibben on



     In 1939, with temperatures routinely at -30 degrees (Fahrenheit), the Finnish Army took on the Soviet Union in what is now known as the "Winter War".  One of many important takeaways from the conflict is the Finns' ability to not only fight, but thrive in such unforgiving conditions.  In William Trotter's book, "A Frozen Hell," he writes that

"One of the main factors that enabled the Finns to destroy forces much larger than their own was surely rooted in the differing psychologies of the men engaged on either side.  To the Finnish soldier, the cold, the snow, the forest, the long hours of darkness were all factors that could be turned to his advantage.  To say that the Finns were on intimate terms with winter is to voice an understatement." 

I doubt anyone questions the common sense in the above passage.  That's not what is important.  What matters is whether we KNOW we can turn the same things to our advantage, or whether we spend our time IMAGINING what we might be able to accomplish. We don't learn by staying inside...EXPERIENTIAL KNOWLEDGE WILL ALWAYS EDGE OUT PURE ACADEMIC THEORY.  

     So what are some of the problems we have to overcome in cold environments, and how do we incorporate working through solutions into our training?  More importantly, how do the lessons we learn from these experiences change or, more accurately, align our Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) for cold weather operations?

     The problem most easily identified is thermoregulation.  An all too common perspective is verbalized as, "Dress Warm".  Not only is this an oversimplification but also an actual misinterpretation of what it means to maintain our bodies' core temperatures.  We should be asking ourselves questions relating to the following.

     What type of materials are best suited for cold (i.e. wool, synthetics)?

     What functions should "layering" clothing achieve (i.e. wicking, insulating, wind and/or water barriers)?

     Can I efficienty layer down (during movement) and layer up (when static)?

     How does my layer system affect my range of motion?

     How does my layer system affect my manual of arms (i.e. gloves, gear adjustments)?

     How do I prevent heat loss to ground cold (i.e. sit pads, debris insulation)?

     How can I intake hot liquids periodically to maintain internal temperature (i.e. low signature stove)?

     What type of foods increase my body's ability to maintain it's core temperature and capacity to do work?

     Another category of potential hardship is the effect of cold weather on our weapons and equipment.  Many people feel that the weapons and equipment they train with are reliable/maintainable.  However, if that opinion is derived from only training in warm weather, then the perspective from which reliability/maintenance is judged suffers from seasonal limitations.  The following questions merit consideration.  

     Do I know what parts of my weapons are prone to breaking in extreme cold?  Do I take replacement parts with us?

     Is it cold enough where weapon lubricant will begin to gel, and do I have proper cold weather lubricant?

     How do I safeguard my weapons from sudden temperature changes (indoors/outdoors) to prevent condensation from freezing in the action (malfunctions)?

     How do I overcome my breath "fogging" my optics lenses during shooting?  Do I have iron back up sights?

     How quickly does the cold degrade batteries  in my kit (i.e. optics, lights, radios, GPS)?  Do I have a warm storage area for extra batteries to ensure longer life?  Do I implement a battery consumption plan?

     How do I prevent my water sources from freezing (i.e. upside down canteens/nalgene in pouches, insulated locations in pack, camelbak tube insulation)?

     Lastly, it is important to think about the operational considerations pertinent to cold weather.  While the Principles of Patrolling remain unchanged, the application of the principles must work with (not against) nature.  A few important questions follow.

     How do uncomfortable physical conditions effect both my morale and the morale of whoever is with me?  How do they effect my enemies?

     How does consistent and intermittent snow cover impact my personal camouflage?  Do I have overwhites, and do I know how/when to wear them?  How will my enemies mitigate camo issues?

     How do I mitigate leaving sign during movement when snow is present (i.e. movement formation selection, deiberate deception)?  How will my enemies do the same?

     How does cold weather exacerbate  both the risk of cold weather injuries and traumatic shock?  How do I counter this (i.e. identification/treatment and insulating casualties during movement)?

     How do snow and ice limit the terrain in which I and those with me can conduct movement (mobility corridors)?  How will my enemies anticipate and exploit this?

     Simply put, the individuals who identify these problems and train in the weather while experiementing with solutions to mitigate them will most likely be the individuals who will prevail over those who do not.  PREPARATION IS AMORAL.  Either you or your enemies will be more prepared and thus have higher morale, situational awareness, and tactical capability during cold weather.  THE CHOICE IS YOURS. 






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