Thursday April 27, 2017

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By land and by sea … and ice

Canada’s land forces shifting focus back to Arctic after Afghanistan missions, while Navy shipbuilding moves hesitantly forward
On the way to reacquaintance

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After a decade of focusing on operations in the rocky conditions of Afghanistan, the Canadian military is turning back to Arctic basics, embarking on a programme of polar training for soldiers and building Arctic capable ships. 

This weekend, the army plans began a two-week training operation in the north-eastern territory of Nunavut official say will “reacquaint” soldiers with cold-weather warfare.

“Cold weather skill sets are necessary in order to ensure the [Canadian Armed Forces’] ability to protect Canadian sovereignty in the North,” Capt Carrie Pluck, an army spokesperson said.

SEE RELATED: All’s quiet on the Arctic front

The first soldiers arrived last week to set up camp. The remaining contingent of 350 hit the ground (and snow) Saturday for 10 days of winter warfare and cold-weather survival training.

The exercise, codenamed “Exercise Trillium Response 14”, will focus on training “soldiers’ ability to fight, move and communicate in the harsh conditions of the northern winter”, Pluck said.

The Defence Ministry will spend C$5.3 million ($4.8 million) on the exercise, which it said would involve transporting equipment “unique” to Arctic training, including 71 snowmobiles and two snow tractors.

SEE RELATED: Canadians beefing up Arctic surveillance capability

Defence officials underscored that fighting in snow and ice was a core skill for Canadian soldiers, but the exercise comes amid increasing militarisation throughout the Arctic.

Russia and Denmark, for example, have announced plans to beef up their military might in the coming years. A Canadian build-up has been in the works for a number of years, and earlier this year, the first of two planned military facilities opened in Nunavut.

The first, a training facility, will be able to accommodate 140 people and will have storage space for military equipment. Defence officials said it would also be serve as a command post for emergency operations and disaster response.

Key, but questionable
Construction of the second facility, a naval base, has yet to get underway. It was originally expected to cost C$100 million, but in 2012 local lawmakers threw the plan back to Ottawa, asking them to scale it down, out of concern that it was out of proportion with the actual military need in the region.

Canada’s ambitions to reinforce its naval capability in the Arctic has hit something of snag as well.

Earlier this month, government officials announced they were ready to move forward with the next step in a plan to build as many as eight Arctic patrol ships, including an icebreaker.

SEE RELATED: Russia building largest nuclear icebreaker

Construction of the vessels has been delayed for several years, and along the way, their design has been criticised for not being capable to operate in multi-year ice or to break ice for other vessels. A part of a job-stimulus package, construction, however, now appears to be moving forward, even though the total number of ships to be build remains undecided.

If all goes as the military plans, construction the ships, estimated to cost C$288 million, is due to begin next year. The navy has said that the final design, and cost per ship, will determine how many will get built. They guaranteed at least six, but a federal auditor has indicated that cost restrictions would affect the number and design of the vessels.

Nevertheless, Rob Nicholson, the defence minister, underscored the importance of the ships, describing them as a “key fleet”, that allowed the government “to continue strengthening Canada’s multi-role, combat-capable defence force”.

Canada’s boys are back home. Soon, they will be ready for battle.