RCAF in the North
“Canada’s far North is a fundamental part of Canada
– it is part of our heritage, our future
and our identity as a country.”
Canada’s Northern Strategy
Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future
The need for northern sovereignty
An inukshuk, built from hardened snow by Canadian Rangers standing near Resolut Bay, Nunavut, photographed during Op Nanook 11.
CREDIT: Cpl Vicky Lefrançois
Canada’s Northern Strategy focuses on four priority areas: exercising our Arctic sovereignty, promoting social and economic development, protecting the North’s environmental heritage, and improving and devolving northern governance, so that Northerners have a greater say in their own destiny.
As explained in the Strategy, the Government is exercising Canadian sovereignty and strengthening our Arctic presence, thereby “firmly asserting our presence in the North, ensuring we have the capability and capacity to protect and patrol the land, sea and sky in our sovereign Arctic territory. We are putting more boots on the Arctic tundra, more ships
in the icy water and a better
A CC-177 Globemaster III, carrying military equipment for Op Nonook 11, arrives and is unloaded.
CREDIT: MCpl Julie Bélisle
Working in concert with other government departments, the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Forces (CF) are key enablers of Canadian northern sovereignty and government presence in the North. One of the CF’s six core missions, laid out by the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS), is to have “the capacity to conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through NORAD”.
The CFDS further notes that “the Canadian Forces must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. New opportunities are emerging across the region, bringing with them new challenges. As activity in northern lands and waters accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this resource-rich region, and in partnering with other government agencies such as the Coast Guard respond to any threats that may arise”.
The CH‑124 Sea King helicopter from the air detachment onboard HMCS St. John's, circles the ship in preparation for landing near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, during Op Nanook 11.
CREDIT: Sgt Norm McLean
Exemplifying this vital role, more than 1,000 CF personnel participated in Operation Nanook 11, the Forces’ prime annual northern sovereignty exercise held in the eastern and high Arctic in August. The exercise clearly demonstrated a visible Canadian presence in the Arctic as well as the CF’s ability to operate in the Arctic and to support the more than 15 governmental departments and agencies that also participated.
The Royal Canadian Air Force has a long history of working in the Arctic, going back to the 1920s, when Air Force aircraft helped conduct surveys of our vast northern territories, continuing through the manning and support of northern radar systems stretching across Canada’s North from Alaska to Greenland.
Given the vastness of the Arctic and its limited infrastructure, it is clear that the Royal Canadian Air Force will continue to have a significant role to play, not only in exercising sovereignty from a military perspective, but also in assisting in a pan-government approach to advance the Government of Canada's Northern Strategy. The Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force has directed that the Air Force “strive to improve current capabilities to ensure it continues to provide relevant and effective response to real and potential challenges in Canada’s Arctic regions”.
The following are the main areas of activity that the Royal Canadian Air Force currently carries out in the North.
Canadian Forces Station Alert
The original CFS Alert welcome sign located near the station’s airstrip, indicates the distance from Alert to locations around the world.
CREDIT: Cpl Shilo Adamson
Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, is the most northern permanently-inhabited location in the world, situated only 817 kilometres from the geographic North Pole. CFS Alert falls under the command of the Royal Canadian Air Force through 8 Wing Trenton, Ont.
CFS Alert maintains signals intelligence facilities in support of Canadian military operations, with signals intelligence being conducted remotely using the equipment and facilities located in Alert. CFS Alert also maintains a geo-location capability to support operations and High Frequency and Direction Finding (HFDF) facilities to support search and rescue (SAR) and other operations, and provides support to Environment Canada and Arctic researchers. In the execution of its mission, CFS Alert plays a key role in exercising Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
At any given time, there are approximately 25 military personnel stationed at CFS Alert, as well as 30 civilian support personnel and up to four Environment Canada staff. Canada Command carries out Operation Boxtop, typically twice each year, to bulk resupply the remote location using Royal Canadian Air Force and, occasionally, contracted airlift. Canada Command also annually conducts Operation Nevus to maintain and repair the microwave communication system across Ellesmere Island that link Alert to Eureka (about 400 km south of Alert) and thence to Ottawa and the rest of Canada.
A CP-140 Aurora aircraft (background) taxis past a CC-130J Hercules aircraft at Iqaluit Airport during Op Nanook 11.
CREDIT: Cpl Rick Ayer
MCpl Ken Pike, from 405 (LRP) Sqn, 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., monitors a radar system onboard a CP-140 Aurora during a sovereignty patrol. The patrol, one of eight conducted by 405 (LRP) Sqn during Op Nanook 11, supported other government departments.
CREDIT: Lt Jenn Jackson
In blizzard-like conditions, Cpl Andrew Tobin guides a CP-140 into place after the aircraft’s historic first-ever landing at CFS Alert on March 23, 2011.
CREDIT: Cpl Jennifer Kusche
Canada’s North is a geographically vast and diverse area, from dense boreal forests through the tundra plains to rocky coastlines. Relative to more southern areas of the nation, the North is also a sparsely populated region. Distance is also a factor, as most of the CF’s main operating bases are located far away in southern Canada.
Due to these realities, the CF requires an aerial reconnaissance presence to monitor Canadian territory. To meet this need, the Royal Canadian Air Force deploys CP-140 Aurora long range patrol aircraft on regular northern patrols. In March 2011, an Aurora landed at CFS Alert for the very first time, providing Canada with an even greater capability to maintain Canada’s territorial sovereignty above and below the Arctic Ocean’s surface.
With patrols averaging 10 hours’ duration and distances of 5,000 kilometres, these strategic surveillance aircraft safeguard Canada’s waters from emerging security challenges such as illegal fishing, clandestine immigration, drug trafficking, and pollution violations. Most of these reconnaissance activities are in support of various Government of Canada departments.
The Auroras also conduct environmental surveillance, with wildlife spotting and description being a secondary task on all missions (for instance, reporting whale sightings during standard coastal patrols).
They also participate in search and rescue missions as secondary resources; in addition to providing surveillance they carry sea and arctic Survival Kits Air Droppable (SKADs) containing basic survival materials. The SKADs can be dropped to victims to help them stay alive until more help can reach them.
Support to sovereignty operations
Each year, the Royal Canadian Air Force engages in major sovereignty operations in Canada’s North in support of Joint Task Force (North), the Canada Command formation tasked with overseeing operations in the North. Three major operations are conducted annually: Operations Nanook, Nunakput and Nunalivut. As each operation is different, the air support needed for each is varied, but the Royal Canadian Air Force typically provides a rapid projection capability, through means such as aircraft and expertise for airlift, reconnaissance and other related capacities.
Aerospace defence and security
Since 1958, Canada and the United States have been signatories on the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) agreement, a bi-national arrangement that mandates NORAD to provide aerospace warning and control for both nations.
Canadian and American militaries maintain fighter aircraft on NORAD alert in Canada, the continental United States and Alaska to protect Canadians and Americans from aerospace threats.
A CF-18 flies from 3 Wing Bagotville, Que., flies over HMCS Summerside during Op Nanook 11.
CREDIT: Cpl Rick Ayer
The Forward Operating Location in Inuvik, N.W.T., is one of four FOLs used by the Canadian NORAD Region.
CREDIT: Cpl Jean-Francois Lauzé
Canadian Rangers, Sg Guy Anctil (left), Sgt Dinos Tikivik and Cpl Joe Nowdlaic (right), members of the Canadian Rangers, at the North Warning System site at Cape Dyer, Nunavut.
CREDIT: Cpl Rick Ayer
In Canada, the Canadian NORAD Region, headquartered in Winnipeg, relies upon CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft for aerospace defence. Canada’s fighter forces are based primarily at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta. and 3 Wing Bagotville, Que. Fighter aircraft are controlled from the Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS) located on 22 Wing North Bay, Ont.
In September 2010, for the first time ever, two CF-18 Hornets overflew CFS Alert, supported by a CC-150T Polaris strategic air-to-air refuelling tanker, thereby clearly demonstrating the Royal Canadian Air Force’s capability to defend Canadian sovereignty at the top of the world.
Forward Operating Locations
In support of the NORAD mission, the Royal Canadian Air Force maintains four forward operating locations (FOLs) where it can deploy fighter aircraft to respond more rapidly to, or act in anticipation of, increased air activity. The FOLs are located in Inuvik, N.W.T.; Yellowknife, N.W.T.; Rankin Inlet, Nunavut; and Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Some of the forward operating locations are manned by a small number of personnel, however, fighter aircraft and all the necessary aircrew, ground crew and support personnel can deploy to any of these airfields in short order and remain as long as necessary to respond to any aerospace threats.
North Warning System
CADS also provides surveillance, identification, control and warning for the aerospace defence of Canada and the United States. To help its operators see air movements in the North, CADS operates 47 radar sites located along the Arctic Ocean from the Yukon/Alaska border to Baffin Island, as well as down the Labrador coast. This chain of automated radars, known as the North Warning System, help the Canadian NORAD Region maintain continuous air surveillance of the northern approaches to North America as part of Canada’s NORAD commitment and contribute to Canada’s air sovereignty, warning and assessment of threats.
Search and rescue
MCpl James Cooke, SAR tech, packs his parachute after parajumping from 10,000 feet during the closing ceremonies of Op Nunalivut 10 at CFS Alert.
CREDIT: Cpl Shilo Adamson
The CF and the Canadian Coast Guard, working within the coordinated national aeronautical and maritime search and rescue (SAR) structure, are committed to providing an effective SAR response using all available assets.
Canada’s aeronautical and maritime SAR system responds to more than 8,000 cases annually; of those, about 80 to 100 missions involving the CF are conducted north of 60 degrees latitude (that is, within our three territories and a portion of northern Quebec). Of those, 20 to 25 cases fall within the primary national aeronautical or maritime SAR mandates, with the remainder falling under requests for assistance to territorial SAR authorities for cases within their jurisdiction
Under the auspices of Canada Command, the formation responsible for domestic operations in Canada, the Royal Canadian Air Force supports SAR in three regions, each named for the location of their respective Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCCs): Victoria, Trenton and Halifax.
Each of these SAR regions encompasses portions of Canada’s North. As directed by their respective coordination centres, and working with various government and volunteer SAR partners, the Royal Canadian Air Force provides aircraft and aircrews for SAR operations from its primary SAR squadrons:
- 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, 9 Wing Gander, N.L., equipped with the CH‑149 Cormorant helicopter.
- 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., equipped with the CC‑130 Hercules aircraft and the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter.
- 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., equipped with the CC‑130 Hercules aircraft and the CH‑146 Griffon helicopter.
- 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 17 Wing Winnipeg, Man., equipped with the CC-130 Hercules aircraft.
- 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 19 Wing Comox, B.C., equipped with the CC‑115 Buffalo aircraft and the CH‑149 Cormorant helicopter.
CF medical personnel carry a stretcher bearing one of the three survivors from the First Air plane crash at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Aug. 20, 2011. Medical personnel, with two Griffon helicopters and a Sea King helicopter, were first on the scene, which occurred only a few kilometres from Op Nanook 11’s location, helping to extinguish fires and search for and provide aid to passengers and crew. The survivors were later transported to Iqaluit by a CF Globemaster.
CREDIT: Sgt Norm McLean
Within these squadrons are the aircrew who fly these aircraft and the ground crew who keep the aircraft serviceable. In addition, the crews include SAR technicians – highly trained specialists in survival and paramedic response in a variety of environments – who respond to distress calls in order to treat and extract the ill and injured. Together, these personnel form teams that save many lives every year, including in Canada’s North.
Related to its SAR responsibilities, the Royal Canadian Air Force is engaged in contingency planning with Canada Command to ensure preparedness to respond to a major air disaster in the North, such as a crash of an airliner. The planning process focuses on getting life-sustaining supplies to the disaster site, supporting and evacuating survivors and casualties, providing airlift support for the response operation, and establishing a forward operating base from which the response
can be best coordinated.
International search and rescue agreement
Canadian Ranger Nena Jawarenko of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, prepares bannock at Resolute Bay during Op Nanook 11.
CREDIT: MCpl Randy Burnside
In May 2011, Arctic Council member nations signed a multilateral search and rescue (SAR) agreement.
The agreement will strengthen cooperation between the Arctic states and improve the way Arctic countries respond to emergency calls in the region.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States – and their indigenous peoples.
The agreement, which will not require a change to Air Force SAR operations or allocated resources, requires ratification by each of the Council’s members before it comes into force.
Key provisions in the draft agreement include designation by all Arctic states of their respective responsible search and rescue authorities, agencies and coordination centres; principles for conducting, cooperating and coordinating search and rescue operations; and developing best practices including conducting joint search and rescue training exercises as appropriate.
Canada will assume the chair of the Arctic Council in 2013.
Airlift capability in Canada’s North
Bdr Christopher Conwaw (front) and MBdr Eric McNeely, both from 5 Field Regiment, Victoria, B.C., assist the Danish military’s dog sledge patrol by loading their dogs into a CF Twin Otter during Op Nunalivut 10.
CREDIT: Cpl Shilo Adamson
The CC-138 Twin Otter, flown by 440 Transport Squadron, is one of the aircraft that is sometimes called upon to support SAR. Reporting to 17 Wing in Winnipeg, the squadron is stationed in Yellowknife, N.W.T., and is the only formed Royal Canadian Air Force flying unit permanently stationed in Canada’s North.
The Canadian-designed and produced CC-138 Twin Otters carry out a wide range of tasks. Flying these rugged aircraft in some of the harshest weather conditions on the planet, the squadron is capable of conducing "off-airport" operations on skis in the winter and on tundra tires in the summer, as well as conventional airport operations.
The ability to transport people and equipment across vast distances is key to operating in the North. Consequently, the Royal Canadian Air Force is uniquely positioned to operate in the North and support other CF elements or other government departments and agencies in doing so, due to its airlift capabilities.
A CC-177 Globemaster lands at CFS Alert during Op Nunalivut 10 in April 2010.
CREDIT: Cpl Shilo Adamson
The airlift responsibility falls primarily to the CC‑177 Globemaster III strategic airlifter and CC‑130 Hercules tactical airlifter. Although these aircraft are based in southern Canada, their range allows them to reach the farthest reaches of Canada’s North. Other aircraft, such as the Twin Otter, also carry out airlift missions in the North as required.
Canada’s new Globemaster has already started to make its presence felt in the North. In July 2010, the Globemaster made its first-ever landing in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, to bring special Canadian Coast Guard environmental clean-up equipment to the community in advance of Operation Nanook.
Another milestone came during resupply to CFS Alert in August 2010 when the Globemaster was used for the first time on Operation Boxtop. The Globemaster’s capability to operate at CFS Alert had been proven in May 2010, when it safely landed and took off from this remote, northern airfield, another “first” for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
While the Globemaster is increasing its capacity for northern operations, for many years the CC-130 Hercules has been – and continues to be – the Royal Canadian Air Force’s airlift workhouse in the North, playing a key role in supporting operations. Although technically a tactical airlift platform, the distances typically covered by CC-130s when doing northern operations would constitute strategic airlift anywhere else in the world.
Moreover, the newly-acquired CC-130J “Super Hercules” is adding more range, speed and capacity to CF airlift operations in the North. The aircraft and its crew from 436 Transport Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., made its first landing at CFS Alert on Sept. 20, 2010 as part of a regular re-supply mission.
A CC-130J Hercules and its crew from 436 Transport Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., departs CFS Alert after the first-ever landing of a “super Hercules” at the world’s most northerly, permanently inhabited location.
CREDIT: Maj Brent Hoddinott
The Royal Canadian Air Force will begin taking delivery of 15 new CH-147 F-model Chinook helicopters in 2013. Based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., this powerful workhorse is well suited to operating in the harsh and sparse conditions of the North. Long-range fuel tanks will provide the “legs” for the Chinook to travel to remote locations, delivering material and assistance whenever and wherever needed, with no runway required.
Canadian Ranger Ookookoo Quaraq prepares to board a CH-146 Griffon helicopter to travel to a remote location where he will act as a guide for overnight Arctic survival training during Op Nanook 10.
CREDIT: Sgt Ron Flynn
The Royal Canadian Air Force is also able to operate its Griffon fleet in the North in support of domestic operations, as was seen during Operations Nanook 2010 and Nanook 11. These aircraft have proven very capable and will continue to be used in support of CF operations in the Arctic.
Thanks to its airlift fleets and their very capable crews, the Royal Canadian Air Force has the ability to bring large numbers of people and equipment to even austere locations in Canada’s North.
The Royal Canadian Air Force has been operating in Canada’s North from its earliest days. Today, as the element of the CF that oversees much of the military’s permanent presence in the North, and supports virtually all other military operations in the region, the Royal Canadian Air Force will continue to advance its capabilities to operate in our Arctic region in support of the people of Canada.
Aircrew unload supplies from CC-138 Twin Otter during a resupply flight on Ellesmere Island during Op Nunalivut 09.
CREDIT: Sgt Errol Morel