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News Article / April 23, 2015

By Lieutenant Olivier Gallant

The wilderness, in its untamed state, has been passing by below the aircraft for 30 minutes already. There is total silence on the radio. Then, a barely perceptible sand runway traces a line to the horizon, after which a small cluster of buildings becomes visible in a camp erected in the middle of a coniferous forest. The pilot begins landing procedures and waits until the very last minute before beginning his descent to the 5 Wing Goose Bay Practice Training Area.

One of the missions of 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, is to support Canadian Armed Forces, North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), and Allied forces training. The Practice Training Area is one of the many assets that 5 Wing allows units to use for training purposes. It is located 100 kilometres southwest of the base, and the 173‑square-kilometre airfield is completely isolated. The only way to reach it is by air; there is no road access.

What makes the Practice Training Area so special? “It is precisely because of its remote, austere environment that units use it for training,” says Major Joe Oldford, 5 Wing’s chief of operations. “Base operations has the ability to organize training throughout the year, for both land and air operations.”

The sand runway is covered by a thick blanket of snow in the winter. It regularly welcomes CC-138 Twin Otters, German Transalls and CH‑146 Griffons from 444 Combat Support Squadron based at 5 Wing. In September 2014, a CC‑130 Hercules landed on the runway for the very first time.

The personnel deployed there have access to three ranges of various sizes, and all the essentials for training forward air controllers. The geography of the airfield allows a variety of specialized combat scenarios to be played out. The airfield is also suitable for parachuting troops, if necessary.

The camp has five shelters that can accommodate about 90 people. The facilities include a kitchen, a dining room, and garages for vehicles used to maintain the runway and grounds. Solar panels and a generator provide electricity to the camp.

“Even though the camp offers only a few basic services, users appreciate the fact that they have access to these additional training resources,” Major Oldford says. “They train as if they were in combat, and the uses of the 5 Wing Practice Training Area are as varied as its users.”

A range for fighter planes

5 Wing also has a Joint/Combined Operational Training Centre that includes an air training area extending over Labrador and Quebec – an expanse as large as the United Kingdom. The Practice Training Area is located in the southern part of the air training area and can be used as a range for fighter aircraft. A number of wooden targets, including buildings and dummy aircraft and vehicles, are dispersed throughout the area for this purpose. On board CF‑188 Hornets, fighter pilots fire training precision‑guided munitions to improve their air‑ground operation skills – skills they must master perfectly.

A training area for land forces

In July and August 2014, Exercise Northern Frontier put U.S. military engineering reservists to the test. They built a bridge to train U.S. forces in operating in remote areas. The structure is now useful because it facilitates movement on the airfield.

The German Army regularly deploys military personnel to the Practice Training Area so they can acquire winter combat skills in remote areas. These exercises are particularly difficult to carry out in Germany, where large unpopulated areas are rare.

More recently, in February 2015, during Exercise Northern Sapper, units from 5th Canadian Division, the Army in Atlantic Canada, deployed combat engineers to the Practice Training Area to practise destroying explosives. In addition to dealing with the isolation, the personnel braved Labrador’s extreme cold.

Coming soon…

In June 2015, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will use 5 Wing Goose Bay’s is Joint/Combined Operational Training Centre during Exercise Phoenix Warrior. 2 Wing Bagotville—the air expeditionary wing—will conduct the exercise and 8 Wing Trenton will provide air support with a number of CC‑130 Hercules aircraft that will transport the personnel and materiel to 5 Wing’s Practice Training Area. Once they arrive, the personnel will establish a forward operating base and proceed as though they were in combat.

“This type of training puts a number of RCAF assets to the test in a simulated combat situation in an austere environment,” explains Lieutenant‑Colonel Luc Sabourin, 5 Wing’s commander. “This is a first at 5 Wing. The exercise looks very promising, and I am sure that the Labrador conditions will challenge the RCAF participants. The units that use the Practice Training Area invariably push themselves to the limit by isolating themselves this way.”


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