Thursday, March 22, 2018

Canadian Focus on the Arctic

"I've been asked if I'm worried about one of those Russian Arctic battalions marching in here. I am worried -- but its because if they did that we would have to launch the biggest search-and-rescue mission we've ever done."
"If that was my sovereign territory [where about 12 million Russian citizens live near or in its Arctic region] I'd do the same."
"It's not about 'fixed bayonets' in the North."
"Operation NUNALIVUT 2018 is more than winter warfare training. It is a unique opportunity for deployed members to conduct sovereignty patrols, ice diving activities and support the scientific community. Regular and Reserve members of the Canadian Armed Forces will come together with other government departments and agencies to cooperatively work on multiple objectives during the coldest period of the year in the Arctic."
Brig.-Gen. Mike Nixon, commander, Joint Task Force North, Operation Nunalivut

"We're learning a lot from the Rangers."
"It's wild here. It's a big eye-opener to see the High Arctic."
Major Jason Hudson, Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry
Canadian Forces Capt. Phillip Jones surveys the military camp established at Intrepid Bay during Operation Nunalivut. The camp was home for members of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the Arctic Response Company Group from 38 Canadian Brigade Group and the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. David Pugliese/Postmedia

"The Arctic is unforgiving" says Captain Shawn Claire of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, a unit among others taking part in this year's Operation Nunalivut, a month-long annual exercise in Canada's Arctic. "She will claim lives and she will claim limbs", he stated. The Arctic Response Company Group from 38 Canadian Brigade Group and the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group along with the PPCLI, some 350 members of the Canadian military in all, are at Resolute Bay conducting Arctic survival training, sovereignty patrols and scientific research.

All are also testing their ability to survive in the Arctic.

Temperatures at Resolute Bay during the months of January and February drop to around -65C to -70C at night, a temperature where it takes all of two minutes for exposed skin to succumb to frostbite. Wearing goggles and face masks the troops are equipped to withstand the extreme temperatures. At the time of their deployment from the end of February to March 22, the temperature hovered around -40C. Trucks must be kept running full time to ensure they can be operative; it is too problematic to start them in the frigid extremes.
Master Corp. Matthew Manik teaches soldiers how to build a snow wall to block the wind from their tent. David Pugliese/Postmedia
The month was spent conducting Arctic survival techniques among other concerns, and gave navy personnel the opportunity to test their ability to dive under ice. International interest in the far North has accelerated in the last few years. China released an official Arctic strategy, with plans to spend up to $1-trillion, in the development of polar regions in their eagerness to develop new trade routes as well as ports in the Arctic. It has no territorial claims, however, on the oil, gas or mineral resources known to be present in the area.

Russia does have such claims. And it is busy expanding military bases in their own northern territory to the extent of creating new battalions to operate in the Arctic. Brig.Gen. Nixon is convinced the Russian investments geared toward renewed infrastructure and bases as broad as it seems, is in reality a fraction of what it spent during the Cold War. An unsettled dispute around Russian claims to the Continental shelf just happens to coincide with Canada's claims to much of that same area.
Researchers surveyed and mapped Canada's northern continental shelf aboard CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent.
Researchers surveyed and mapped Canada's northern continental shelf aboard CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent. (Natural Resources Canada)
Logistics represent another giant challenge to operating in the Arctic, beyond survival, but inextricably linked to survival. Giant C-17 and Boeing 737s along with C-130 Hercules aircraft are utilized in the transport of equipment and food. The Arctic Training Centre in Resolute Bay would be incapable of operating without its needs being filled where each summer ships carry in 60,000 litres of fuel to operate military snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

Opened in 2013, the training centre represents a major hub for northern military operations. Hugely and solely dependent on large diesel-powered generators to provide electricity needed not only for the military bases but for the 24 residential communities in Nunavut. And those generators, needless to say, require hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel. The deployment of the annual military mission takes eight months in the planning stages.

Canada's northern population is a little over 200,000, most located in a few population centres like Yellowknife and Whitehorse, the remainder in small communities. Cambridge Bay has a population base of around 1,700 while Resolute Bay's population is roughly 200 people. North of Resolute at Intrepid Bay, soldiers have established a small camp where they conduct patrols out of and test the resupply system. Patrols are carried out on snowmobiles to prevent an energetic buildup of perspiration that can result in frostbite.

Military mechanics must deal with constant mechanical breakdowns of machinery in this extreme climate. Reliance by regular troops on the Canadian Rangers cannot be overstated. The Rangers are comprised largely of Indigenous people, along with 4,000 reservists operating across the Canadian North. The Rangers teach soldiers, among other skills of northern survival techniques, how to build  wind blocks from snow, and best practices in maintaining snowmobiles running in extreme cold.

Also deployed are scientists from Defence Research and Development Canada and from Natural Resources Canada, who are examining whether batteries that can be recharged from a snowmobile could help make life less complicated for troops for the provision of light, heat and cooking. In a ten-person military tent at present, a Coleman gas stove and lantern are kept on all night so that while it is -55C outside the tent, heat from stove and lantern raise interior temperature in the tent to around freezing.

The Canadian Rangers -- like Master Corporal Matthew Manik, 36, an Inuit whose long traditions and lifestyle skills are so valuable to understanding how to survive in the North -- are regarded as the critical eyes and ears for the Canadian Forces.
Canadian troops operating in the far North rely on Canadian Rangers, such as Master Corp. Matthew Manik, who taught soldiers how to survive in the Arctic. David Pugliese/Postmedia

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