Regular northern patrols are conducted by CP-140 Aurora long range patrol aircraft. These strategic surveillance aircraft safeguard Canada’s waters from emerging security challenges such as illegal fishing, immigration, drug trafficking, and pollution violations.
440 Transport Squadron is based full-time in the North. Operating four Canadian designed and produced CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft, this Yellowknife-based squadron conducts airlift, utility and liaison flights in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, as well as any assigned search and rescue missions.
Given the lack of roads or ports throughout much of the North, aircrafts are often the only lifeline in and out of the many isolated communities in this region. RCAF aircraft such as the CC-177 Globemaster III, CC-130 Hercules, CC-138 Twin Otter, and CH-146 Griffon helicopter provide a vital resupply service for northern operations and military installations such as CFS Alert, on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, and North Warning System radar sites.
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), in conjunction with NORAD, also maintains four Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) — located in Inuvik and Yellowknife, N.W.T., and Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut — where it can pre-deploy fighter aircraft in response to, or in anticipation of, unwelcome activity, providing all the necessary infrastructure and supplies to support the RCAF’s CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft in these remote and isolated regions.
NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENCE COMMAND
NORAD was established in 1958 to monitor and defend North American airspace, and the Canadian North is a critical region under this mandate.
The FOLs and Personnel Accommodation Barracks maintained by the RCAF allow NORAD to strategically place aircraft and support personnel in Canada’s North to ensure a ready and rapid response to any potential airspace threat. Several times during a given year, the Canadian NORAD Region conducts operations and training at various FOLs, sometimes in partnership with one or both of the Alaskan and Continental U.S. NORAD Regions.
NORAD also maintains the North Warning System, a series of 11 long-range and 36 short-range radars along the entire Arctic coast of North America.
Project Polar Epsilon is a $60 million space-based initiative using imagery and information from Canada’s radar satellite, RADARSAT‑2, to provide enhanced land and sea surveillance capabilities for the CF at home and abroad. The Polar Epsilon Project includes satellite ground stations that will process data from RADARSAT‑2 to produce imagery products in near real-time that can then be used to support CF operations and the activities of other federal departments and agencies, as well as monitor activity or changes in the Arctic.
Defence Research and Development Canada’s (DRDC) Northern Watch Technology Demonstration Project investigates technology as an option to expand Canada’s window into the Arctic by putting existing sensor technology to the test in this extreme environment. Through testing, demonstration and assessment, DRDC will provide the department with a better understanding as to how technology could be applied to identify activities taking place in Canada’s North. Given the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment, as Northern Watch progresses so too will DRDC’s knowledge in conducting defence science and deploying technology in Arctic conditions.
As part of their mandate, the CF frequently conduct exercises and operations in the Arctic, including sovereignty patrols. For example:
- Operation NUNALIVUT is conducted in March and April each year by JTFN, specifically 440 (Transport) Squadron and the Canadian Rangers. The operation employs the unique capabilities of the Rangers to support JTFN operations in the extreme environment of the High Arctic. Ranger snowmobile patrols provide presence and demonstrate a response capability in the most remote areas of the North.
- Operation NUNAKPUT is an integrated JTFN operation that takes place each summer in cooperation with the CCG and the RCMP. The aim of the operation is to exercise sovereignty and practice interoperability. It focuses on the Beaufort Sea region including Herschel Island.
- Operation NANOOK is Canada’s largest annual operation conducted primarily in the Eastern and High Arctic. It is a Canada Command-planned and ‑directed joint and integrated sovereignty operation. The operation highlights interoperability, command and control, and cooperation with interdepartmental and intergovernmental partners in the North.
With a renewed commitment to maintaining a presence in the region and enhancing our capabilities to routinely operate in this often-inhospitable expanse, the CF is contributing to the Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy. At the same time, exercising Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic can only be achieved through a whole-of-government approach. Therefore, the CF is also working closely with our federal and territorial partners, as well as with the peoples of the North, to safeguard this precious inheritance and ensure Canada remains “Our True North, Strong and Free.”
Department of National Defence, Canada