Marines are pulling even more tanks out of caves in Norway for war games on Russia's doorstep

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For the second year in a row, U.S. Marines joined the U.S. Army and partner forces in Finland last month for the Arrow military exercise.

During the two-week Arrow 19 exercise, the Marines again pulled tanks and other equipment from the cave complex in Norway that has been used to store gear since the Cold War.

The exercise allows Marines "to evaluate our ability to offload personnel and equipment, generate combat power across the Atlantic, and then redeploy assets through a known logistically complicated area of operation," 1st Lt. Robert Locker, a Marine communications officer, said in a release.


US Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tanks and Light Armored Vehicles from the caves of Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway at the Port of Pori, Finland, May 2, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Devin J. Andrews)

Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and U.S. Army Europe cavalry soldiers took part in the exercise alongside British army armored intelligence unit the Royal Lancers, an Estonian armored intelligence unit, and their Finnish hosts.

The Marines' gear came from six caves in central Norway, the exact location of which is not known. Three caves have everything from rolling stock to towed artillery; the other three hold ammunition, officials told Military.com in 2017.

That equipment is drawn from the caves "on a regular basis to support bilateral and multilateral exercises throughout Europe," Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, told Business Insider. The caves and gear there provide "a unique capability that is flexible and scalable to the operational requirements of the Marine Corps and U.S. European Command."

The Arrow exercise — conducted on arid grassland in southwest Finland at a time of year when the sun is out 21 hours a day — is meant to put platoon- to battalion-size mechanized infantry, artillery, and tank units to the test, including in live-fire exercises.

Below, you can see how this year's version went down.

During deployment for the exercise, Marines from 2nd Marine Logistics Group flew to Norway from Camp Lejeune to take the vehicles and equipment out of the caves, Rankine-Galloway said.

U.S. Marines receive fuel from Finnish soldiers with 2nd Logistics Regiment, Logistics Command, during Arrow 2019 at Niinisalo Garrison, Finland, May 4, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

This year, a wider variety of Marine Corps wheeled and tracked vehicles were included to facilitate faster-paced and more complex drills, according to a Marine release.

(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

While there was just one Marine M1A1 Abrams tank platoon last year, "this year's exercise involved an M1A1 Abrams tank platoon, a Light Armored Vehicle platoon, High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (Humvees), [and] Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement 7-ton trucks," Rankine-Galloway said.

Finnish army Sgt. Nora Lagerholm, left, and US Marine Cpl. Jose Rodriguez offload a Humvee during Arrow 2019 at Niinisalo Garrison, Finland, May 3, 2019.(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

More than 100 Marines from 2nd Marine Division and 2nd Marine Logistics Group also joined the exercise, led by a Finnish armored brigade, Rankine-Galloway said.

U.S. Marines and British soldiers at a welcome brief during exercise Arrow 2019 at Niinisalo Garrison, Finland, May 3, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

Alongside the Marines were about 200 U.S. soldiers from the Outlaw Troop of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, as well as Finnish, British, and Estonian troops.

U.S. soldiers from Outlaw Troop, 4th Squadron, 2d Cavalry Regiment during the troop live-fire exercise during Arrow 19, May 15, 2019(U.S. Army/Sgt. LaShic Patterson)

The exercise consisted "of a force-on-force portion where Outlaw Troop was attached to a Finnish Battalion as they conducted [situational training exercise] maneuvers against another Finnish battalion," Capt. Jimmyn Lee, Outlaw Troop commander, said in a release.

Finnish soldiers firing a mortar during Arrow 19.(Facebook/Finnish Army)

The situational training and live-fire exercises allowed U.S. soldiers to observe their Finnish counterparts using their BMP-2 armored vehicles and to train with their own weapons, including the 30mm cannons on the Stryker Dragoon armored infantry carrier and the AT-4, an 84 mm anti-tank weapon.

Finnish soldiers start their vehicles during Arrow 19, May 15, 2019.(U.S. Army/Sgt. LaShic Patterson)

The cavalry soldiers focused on dismounted operations, but working with mechanized units that can move quickly and in force added complexity, Lee said. "That's required us to step our game up when it comes to our mounted assets and bring our 30 mm Dragoons into the fight."

U.S. soldiers drive their Stryker Dragoon vehicles back after the Finnish battalion battle group live-fire exercise, May 17, 2019(U.S. Army/Sgt. LaShic Patterson)

The weeklong force-on-force training incorporated the multiple integrated laser engagement system, or MILES, which uses a laser-sensor system with blank ammunition to simulate combat situations. Soldiers present also wore Deployable Instrumentation System, Europe vests, and halos with transmitters on their rifles and vehicles.

U.S. Marines receive ammunition before a live-fire range during Arrow 2019 at Niinisalo Garrison, Finland, May 12, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

DISE provides video-game-like playback, with fast-forwarding and rewinding. "With MILES, you get the adjudication of kills and just the basic level of force-on-force support," Lee said. "However, with DISE, the [after-action review] capability was the biggest gain."

U.S. soldiers await their next command during the troop live-fire exercise during Arrow 19, May 15, 2019(U.S. Army/Sgt. LaShic Patterson)

With DISE, U.S. personnel could also simulate injuries, allowing for scenarios in which soldiers could perform combat lifesaver measures to reset the vests and to add more time to soldiers' virtual lives

During the situational exercise training, U.S. cavalry soldiers worked with Marines under the direction of the Finnish battalion battle group commander, carrying out attack and defensive maneuvers.

A U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicle and a M1A1 Abrams tank at the firing line during a live-fire range as part of Arrow 2019, May 15, 2019.(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

"Operating under a Finnish battalion command has been the biggest learning point for us," because Finnish forces operate with different tactics and techniques and different standard operating procedures, Lee said.

Finnish tanks during Arrow 19, May 14, 2019.(Facebook/Finnish Army)

Thee disparity in tactics and procedures requires U.S. troops to get in contact with Finnish leadership, Lee said, "to ensure that they understand how we fight [and] how they best could employ us if we are attached to them."

U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicles prepare to depart a training area during Arrow 2019, May 15, 2019.(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

Staff Sgt. Zachary Brunnemer, a senior cavalry scout with Outlaw Troop, pointed to reconnaissance assets and how they're used as one big point of difference between U.S. and Finnish forces.

Finnish tanks on the move during Arrow 19.(Facebook/Finnish Army)

"The biggest thing is understanding the capabilities of your other counterparts and allies, seeing the strengths that they have," Brunnemer said. "Understanding how they can complement ourselves [is necessary] so that [we] are able to accomplish the mission."

U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Jake Gesling, a platoon commander, with a Finnish army platoon commander during a force-on-force battle as part of Arrow 2019, May 10, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

U.S. soldiers and Marines were on the same side for the initial phase of force-on-force training. Later, the Marines partnered with the opposing Finnish force, providing more grist for their inter-service rivalry.

U.S. Marine Corps Light Armored Vehicles on a tank range during Arrow 2019, May 15, 2019.(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

"They've been a very interesting enemy to fight for us because they're in their [Light Armored Vehicles], kind of an analogous to our [Dragoon Infantry Carrier Vehicle], and they had a platoon of Abrams," Lee said of the Marines. "They proved to be a challenging enemy to have to plan against and maneuver against, but I'd say our guys did very well against them."

U.S. soldiers inside a Stryker Dragoon vehicle during the troop live-fire exercise during Arrow 19, May 15, 2019.(U.S. Army/Sgt. LaShic Patterson)

"It's a lot of fun," Brunnemer said. "I get into little jabs here and there whenever we get a kill on one of their vehicles, or they get us."

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David J. Furness, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, addresses Marines on the second day of the Arrow 19 live-fire exercise in Niinisalo, Finland, May 13, 2019(Facebook/Finnish Army)

There were some extra steps on the return trip for the Marine Corps' gear, Rankine-Galloway said. "For redeployment, the Marines coordinated with the Finns and Norwegians to move exercise equipment back to the caves via a Norwegian ferry as well as Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian rail."

U.S. Marines fire a Light Armored Vehicle during a live-fire range as part of Arrow 2019, May 13, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

While Norway is a member of NATO, Sweden and Finland aren't, though both countries have worked more closely with the alliance in recent years, in large part due to concerns about their neighbor to the east.

U.S. service members observe a Finnish army Leopard 2L Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge during exercise Arrow 2019 at Pohjankangas Training Area near Niinisalo, Finland, May 7, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

Returning by rail "involved transferring vehicles from Finnish-gauge rail cars to Swedish- and Norwegian-gauge rail cars at the Finland-Sweden border," Rankine-Galloway said.

U.S. Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tanks move into position during a live-fire range as part of Arrow 2019, May 14, 2019.(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

"This allowed us to ensure that we can transport equipment throughout Scandinavia over multiple platforms, and to exercise our ability to quickly deploy our equipment using the logistical and transportation networks in the region," Rankine-Galloway added.

U.S. Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tanks with 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, fire during a live-fire range as part of exercise Arrow 2019 at the Pohjankangas Training Area near Niinisalo, Finland, May 13, 2019(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Scott Jenkins)

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