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Saab Global

Why knowledge is essential for Arctic survival

6 min read + Video

With the strategic importance of the Arctic region rapidly increasing, it’s critical that deployed soldiers know how to survive its harsh conditions. Effective camouflage plays an important role in helping troops to stay alive and achieve mission success.

Few environments on the planet are as beautiful – or as inhospitable – as that in the Arctic Circle. Wintertime temperatures typically plunge to minus 30 degrees C and beyond, while summer maximums can go as high as 30 degrees. In winter, the lack of running water and scarcity of animals can make the landscape as lifeless as a desert. And melting snows and ice in summer create treacherous conditions for troops and vehicles.  


An increasingly important region

Long overlooked by most global powers, the Arctic region is now playing an increasingly important role on the world stage. Climate change is reducing the harshness of Arctic winters, meaning stretches of its icy seas are staying open to ships through a greater part of the year. This has the potential to increase the popularity of the Arctic shipping route between Europe and Asia – a far shorter option than via the Suez Canal. The region is also rich in oil and natural gas as well as minerals such as iron ore, copper, nickel, zinc and phosphate. These are attracting the attention of resource-hungry counties, including China. And with geopolitical tensions running high, the Arctic could become a future battleground in which NATO forces are forced to repel hostile actors.

With interest in the area running high, it’s critical that Western armed forces are prepared for deployment in Arctic conditions. So, what particular challenges does the Arctic pose to deployed troops? How can these be addressed? And what role can camouflage play in mission success?

Changeable conditions

One fundamental lesson for armed forces considering an Arctic deployment is that the environment is highly changeable. At the seasonal level, long, dark, snowy winters with extremely cold temperatures are contrasted by periods of extended daylight and relative warmth in the summer. As the ice and snow recedes, the landscape undergoes dramatically visual changes from white to mixed green and white, to green. Conditions also can be hugely changeable within a single day. A cold front moving through the landscape can bring gale force winds and enormous temperature drops within minutes, both of which pose a threat to human life.


As in any environment, concealment is crucial for mission success. At Saab, we fully understand the challenges of effectively camouflaging deployed assets in Arctic environments. The north of our home country, Sweden, lies in the Arctic Circle, and we provide a diverse range of Arctic camouflage solutions to the Swedish armed forces and those of nations including Norway, Finland and Canada.

Experience has taught us that it is critical that Arctic-deployed troops have access to camouflage solutions with a range of patterns and textures to blend in with the dramatic seasonal changes to the landscape. A shade of white, for instance, might provide good visual protection in winter, but is likely to standout in summer. Similarly, woodland shades that are appropriate for warmer months will be obvious to the enemy in a snowy landscape. And because enemy forces are likely to be using a range of sensors – including various forms of infrared and radar – it is essential that camouflage solutions provide full multispectral protection.

Barracuda nets and MCS

Our Barracuda camouflage solutions for Arctic conditions utilise a wide variety of pigments, layers and textiles to defeat enemy sensors. Barracuda camouflage nets come in a range of patterns designed to mimic the changing landscape of the Arctic across all seasons. Providing true multispectral protection, they can be used to conceal a range of assets including tents and electronic equipment. A ‘garage’ configuration allows vehicles to be wholly concealed when not in use.
Similarly, our Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System (MCS) for the Arctic is designed to allow a wide range of vehicles to operate while concealing their signatures. Thermal protection dramatically reduces the ability of the enemy to detect heat generated by the engine, with protection also provided across the wider electromagnetic spectrum. 

Extra training essential

Troops serving in Arctic conditions should undergo extensive additional training before deployment so that they understand how to fight, conceal themselves and survive. In wintertime, conservation of energy and heat is essential. Without the proper equipment, deployed soldiers can rapidly become exhausted by tracking through deep snow. The sweat from their exertion also poses a major risk as they cool down, with hyperthermia a constant possibility. Having access to changes of clothing appropriate to a range of different tasks and conditions is essential for comfort and survival.

Another factor to consider when seeking to avoid detection by the enemy is the snow conditions. In winter, the Arctic snow can be both a help and a hindrance in avoiding detection. Falling snow quickly covers the tracks of troops advancing through the landscape, meaning fewer traces are left for the enemy to detect. Walking on icy, compact snow also leaves relatively few traces. However, it is very difficult to mask the clear tracks left by skiing or walking through soft, deep snow. Troops should also know how to use the harsh conditions to their advantage. Digging into the snow and placing tents and other assets beneath a layer of snow can further enhance thermal-sensor protection.

Making snipers more effective

Snipers have often played a decisive role in northern winter conflicts. Saab’s Barracuda Soldier System provides full multispectral protection to snipers and other ground troops, enabling them to remain concealed before and after striking. The system is light-weight, and can be worn as a poncho fixed to the helmet for easy transportation. Decoys also have a role to play in misdirecting the enemy. Replica assets that realistically mimic the signatures of their real counterparts can help disguise an armed force’s true intentions, increasing the chances of mission success.

Barracuda Arctic Solider System

It's also vital that deployed troops understand the freeze and thaw cycle. The ice on frozen lakes is very often strong enough to support the weight of heavy vehicles at the height of winter, but it weakens as spring approaches. Knowing when such surfaces can safely be used – and when they should be avoided – can mean the difference between life and death.


Barracuda Arctic Camouflage Net

The arctic region can be highly unpredictable. Our Arctic Camouflage Net is specifically designed to protect against detection and identification in this inhospitable climate.