Where are we? (4)

I’ve been worrying, for a couple of years now, about Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic and Canada’s lack of a meaningful, military, Arctic presence. As I mentioned, over two years ago, “This is not about NORAD or NATO, nor about peacekeeping or burden sharing, it is about the Defence of Canada and the territory, maritime approaches and airspace we claim as our own. No one else will do that for us.

Now I see, in a report from CBC News, that “Liberal John McKay, the Canadian co-chair of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence with the U.S., says he fears Canada isn’t ready to defend its territory as the threat from Russia slowly expands.” The only one of John McKay’s words that I question is “slowly.”  Most of the Russian build up has taken place over only five years … that’s almost breakneck speed and, as he, himself,  “said Friday in an interview with Chris Hall airing today on CBC Radio’s The House … “There is a very dramatic buildup of Russian military capability right across the top end of Russia, starting with Norway, working right across, right through to Alaska.”

Next, I said, back in 2017, that “We need to look North, again. We need towns and icebreakers; airfields and satellites; armed constabulary ships and patrol aircraft; radars and ground troops on patrol; and we need Canadian officials licensing new mines and oilfields and inspecting to ensure that environmental regulations are followed and that First Nations get a fair share of the jobs and benefits. We can “contain” both the Russians and the Americans, while still being good NORAD partners, and any others who might want to contest our sovereignty … we can if we are willing to spend what is needed and if we have good, solid, mature, visionary leadership.” Of course, regular readers will know that I believe that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the antithesis of a “good, solid, mature, visionary” leader.

Finally, I discussed this again, in February, and I made some specific recommendations:

  • Canada needs, I said, three, rather small military bases ~ I suggested “one at or near Tuktoyaktuk in the Western Arctic, one at or near Nanisivik in the Centre and one at or near Iqaluit in the East … each needs to be a bit bigger and better than just a refuelling station for ships. Each should have a modern, jet fighter and C-130 capable airfield and storage facilities and austere accommodation for about 1,000 soldiers to use while they prepare to deploy onto the land;”
  • Canada’s new Harry DeWolf class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, which are, in fact, not warships at all, but are, rather, as described by the Royal Canadian Navy, only armed “to support [a] domestic constabulary role,” should be transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Marine Division. They should aim to spend about half of each year patrolling the North West Passage;”
  • Canada should have a “defence of Canada” force ~ likely a smallish airborne/air transportable force, somewhere between a large battlegroup (say 1,500 soldiers) and a small brigade (say, 3,000 soldiers) which is properly equipped to conduct independent operations in the far North at any time of the year. This will require special training and equipment and dedicated combat air and air transport support and naval support on an ‘on call’ basis;” and
  • Canada needs a surveillance and warning system that provides near real time coverage of ALL of our territory and of the air and sea approaches to it … that probably means that at least part of it is satellite based.

This graphic, which John McKay supplied to the CBC, shows the scale of Russian vs Canada/USA military bases in the Arctic:

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 06.53.16.png

Canada has four Forward Operating Locations, at Inuvik, Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, and  Yellowknife, for NORAD assigned CF-18 fighters ~ they are designed to be available after 24 hours notice ~ and a small, seasonal naval refueling facility at Nanisivik. That’s not enough … not if, as Mr. McKay suggests, climate change is going to open the sea-lanes of both the North-East (through Russian waters) and North-West (through Canadian waters) passages, making the Arctic Ocean navigable for most of the year and, as thing stand, making it a ‘Russian lake.’


Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

3 thoughts on “Where are we? (4)

  1. “Canada should have a “defence of Canada” force ~ likely a smallish airborne/air transportable force, somewhere between a large battlegroup (say 1,500 soldiers) and a small brigade (say, 3,000 soldiers) which is properly equipped to conduct independent operations in the far North at any time of the year. This will require special training and equipment and dedicated combat air and air transport support and naval support on an ‘on call’ basis;”

    I still like the idea of “three lights and a heavy”. As you say the “lights” can manage the domestic threats. With three then one is always available and the other two can be in training or on overseas deployment, at the government’s discretion. The “heavy” is a backstop that can be used to maintain skills, reinforce the lights, be available if the need demands and, or, be the basis for expanding the force in conjunction with the reserves.

  2. I would venture a guess that the majority of Canadians know very little about the Arctic and just what is involved for Canada to assert sovereignty. Although we claim the Arctic as part of Canada, there is minimal political will or public support at this point in time. With a large portion of the Canadian population living within a few hundred kilometres of the United States border it is difficult to generate interest in an area a few thousand kilometres distant. It is remote, sparsely populated, and you have to experience it first hand to truly appreciate the rugged beauty.

    Our past / present Prime Ministers have shown varying levels of interest or leadership on the issue. Pierre Elliot Trudeau travelled extensively through parts of the Canadian North, but sovereignty was a non issue at that point in time. Brian Mulroney, under pressure from Ronald Regan, had a plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear submarines to patrol the Arctic. When the true cost became apparent the plan was soon scuttled. Jean Chrétien never had much interest in anything that required supporting the Canadian Military. I recall him making a statement to the effect that, the Arctic belongs to Canada everyone knows that it is ours. When even our closest ally does not recognize our sovereignty in the Arctic, no statement could be further from the truth. Stephen Harper accomplished more for Arctic sovereignty than any other Prime Minister. He made a point of travelling to the Arctic every year to observe Canadian Military exercises. Although in the end some of his plans to assert Arctic sovereignty we never completed. Our current Prime Minister has shown little interest on the issue. A serious approach to Arctic Sovereignty would require substantial expenditures on the military. Other than completing military procurements started under Harper there has been minimal new money for the military. Only a piece of glossy paper outlining what they promise to spend on the military in the future if re-elected.

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