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Artic Strategy

Aurora Borealis

DND photo LC2006-006-700 by Corporal Phil Cheung.


by Tony Balasevicius

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During the last decade, global warming has accelerated the melting of the polar icecap, and this has begun to affect the Arctic in a number of significant ways. In addition to exposing the region’s potential reserves of natural resources for development, there is the possibility of opening up significantly shorter shipping routes between Asia and Europe. Although these developments provide great opportunities, they also present a number of significant challenges for the fragile ecosystem. Not surprisingly, the Government of Canada (GoC) has already taken a number of important steps in an attempt to protect the region.

The first step has been to create a comprehensive plan to deal with the Arctic’s specific issues. To this end, the government has produced its Northern Strategy, which it published in 2007. The Strategy focuses upon strengthening Canada’s sovereignty while committing the government to helping the Arctic realize its true potential within a strong and sovereign Canada.1In order to achieve this outcome, government objectives seek to establish a foundation of protection within a framework of sustainable development. The foundational components of this strategy include: strengthening Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, promoting economic development, protecting the country’s social and environmental heritage, and improving northern governance.2

These principles have been encapsulated within the Defence Department’s Canada First Defence Strategy, which calls for the Canadian Forces (CF) to focus upon three primary roles: the defence of Canada, the defence of North America, and the CF’s contribution to international peace and security.3 Inherent within these general security responsibilities are a number of other important tasks that must be carried out within the context of Canadian sovereignty, and which apply to the Arctic.

The initiatives outlined within these two documents will require more investments and a more active role for government within the Arctic. By extension, this will likely mean more active participation by the CF, especially in supporting other government departments (OGDs). The question for the CF is how best can it serve the government’s strategic goals in the region, and what capabilities will it need to achieve those goals.

This article will look at the issues facing the Arctic and the likely roles that the CF will be expected to undertake within the government’s Northern Strategy. It will then look at the capabilities the CF should focus upon as it moves to align its force structure to meet Arctic requirements.

Defining Canada’s Arctic

Before an examination of the issues confronting the Arctic can be completed, it is important to define what the region actually is, and to understand its unique character and vulnerabilities. This understanding is critical because the weather and topography within the Arctic is extremely complex and fragile, and it will significantly impact the planning and conduct of all military operations. For the purposes of this analysis, the Arctic Region is defined as being north of 60 degrees latitude. This region consists of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik (northern Quebec), all of Labrador; extending from Alaska in the west to Davis Strait in the east, and from 60 degrees north to over 83 degrees north.4 It also includes the Arctic Archipelago. Combined, these areas represent approximately 40 percent of the country’s landmass, and almost two-thirds of its coastline.5

The region includes a mixture of coastal plains, plateaus, and mountains. According to Encyclopedia of World Geography, “These three landforms are represented by the three principal physiographic sub-regions of the Arctic Lands and include the Arctic Coastal Plain, the Arctic Platform, and the Innuitian Mountain Complex.”6 The Arctic Coastal Plain is a relatively flat area that slopes gently toward the Arctic Ocean and is part of the continental shelf that extends into the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Platform covers many of the region’s islands, and “… consists of flat to rolling sedimentary plateaus with elevations usually less than 200 metres (700 ft).”7 The Innuitian Mountain Complex, which lies in the northeastern part of the Arctic, encompasses Barbeau Peak (2616 m/8583 ft), which is located on Ellesmere Island.8

The region is isolated from Canada’s main population centres in the south, and there are few developed road networks of any significance. Day-to-day transportation is carried out largely by air, which provides a vital link between most of the region’s communities. During the summer months, rivers usually provide transportation service to the settlements in the western half of the Arctic, while settlements in the eastern half receive service from ships operating from Hudson Bay and North Atlantic.9

Canada’s Arctic climate is severe and very unforgiving. During the winter months, the region is in total darkness and average temperatures range from -20 to -50 degrees centigrade. Frequent storms and blizzards often create whiteout conditions that limit mobility. Needless to say, this constitutes a major factor for military operations. During the summer and fall months, the weather is generally characterized by frequent fog and icing conditions, creating hazards for shipping and aircraft. A major influence upon the weather system in the region, particularly in recent years, has been the impact of Global Warming.10

Overlay of the northern regions with Central Europe

17 Wing Publishing Office.

The enormity of Canada’s Arctic is dramatically reinforced by this overlay of the northern regions with Central Europe.

The Issues Facing Canada’s Arctic  

Global Warming is the term used to describe the rise in average global temperatures resulting from increased levels of carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere.11 It is widely accepted, within the international scientific community, that the average global temperature is escalating with the build up of greenhouse gases, and that this increase is having its greatest impact upon the Arctic.12 An Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) completed by the Arctic Council in 2004 produced the following findings regarding the impact of global warming on the Arctic:

  • “Arctic climate in now warming rapidly and much larger changes are projected;
  • Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications;
  • Arctic vegetation zones are very likely to shift, causing wide-ranging impacts;
  • Many coastal communities and facilities face increasing exposure to storms;
  • Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources; and
  • Thawing ground will disrupt transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure.”13

According to the National Ice and Snow Data Centre, it is expected that the effects of climate change will eventually result in reduced ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, the Beaufort Sea, and Baffin Bay. This will have two major impacts upon the region. First, it will likely encourage more development, and second, it will allow increased shipping into and out of the Canadian Arctic.14

Increased Shipping

The importance of increased shipping is significant, considering that an Arctic voyage through Canadian waters could cut almost 7100 kilometres off the traditional shipping route between certain ports in Europe and Asia.15 In fact, shipping companies are already taking advantage of the Arctic’s open waters. In the summer of 2009, the New York Times reported that two German ships successfully completed the transit of the North Sea Route in what is believed to be the first complete crossing of this route. The ships, leaving a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and carrying a load of construction material, started their voyage in South Korea in late July, and began the last leg of the trip in September.16

It is generally believed that this will not be an isolated incident in the not-too- distant future. The region is already experiencing an increase in tourism, which is also expected to grow. For example, in 2003, only seven cruise ships were operating in Canadian Arctic waters; yet by 2008, this number had more than doubled to fifteen.17

Access to Arctic Resources

The potential economic benefits from greater resource development will be significant. Recently, the United States Geological Survey carried out an assessment of the area north of the Arctic Circle and concluded that about 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas, and 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil may be located there. More significantly, the assessment suggested that most of the offshore resources were under less than 500 metres of water.18

Hydrocarbon reserves have also been found in the Arctic Islands, from Banks Island to the Queen Elizabeth Highlands. In fact, some estimates have suggested that about one-third of Canada’s known natural gas reserves are in the North, and amount to around 60 trillion cubic feet.19 In addition, there appears to be large deposits of minerals, gold, and diamonds in the region. According to Canadian Geographic, “Canadian diamonds make up almost 20% of new diamonds on the market and that number will only grow.”20

Environmental Concerns

With so much potential wealth at stake, it is likely that activity to exploit Arctic natural resources will continue to grow, at least, in the foreseeable future. However, development will be difficult and intrusive as it will be hampered, at least initially, by the lack of northern infrastructure, such as year round roads, accommodations, communications, and availability of basic supplies, including food and equipment.

Of particular concern is an environmental catastrophe resulting from accidents and pollution caused by an increase in both commercial development and shipping traffic.21 Moreover, most northern communities are situated on or near water, and the impact upon them and the environment from something like an oil spill would be significant. In 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Within six hours of the grounding, the ship had spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of crude oil that would eventually contaminate over 1100 miles of coastline.22The scale and length of the cleanup was massive, as the response would eventually involve more personnel and equipment over a longer period of time than had any other spill in US history to that time. Some estimates have suggested that the initial containment and eventual cleanup required more than 11,000 personnel, 1400 vessels, and 85 aircraft.23

More recently, in April 2010, an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig working in the Gulf of Mexico, led to the largest accidental oil spill in history. According to the New York Times, “Government scientists estimated that nearly five million barrels of oil flowed from BP’s well, an amount outstripping the estimated 3.3 million barrels spilled into the Bay of Campeche by the Mexican rig Ixtoc I in 1979.”24 The article then elaborates: “The long term damage caused by the spill, however, is still uncertain, in part because large amounts of oil spread underwater rather than surfacing … raising the possibility that it might pose a threat to wildlife for months or even years.”25

There are also a number of natural effects generated from climate change that will likely impact the Arctic. For example, environmental changes, particularly rising sea levels, could eventually result in the migration of wildlife and fish stocks that have sustained the population for generations. 26 What is not known are the specific effects upon different types of fish.27 Depending upon whether a change takes place in marine (salt) waters or in fresh water, “It is believed that some species of fish, such as Arctic char, could decline, while others could proliferate or migrate. For example, it is possible that southern fish populations could move into northern waters because of warmer ocean temperatures. In fact, there is also evidence to suggest that climate change may already be extending the northward range of Pacific salmon.”28 Regardless, such changes will impact the quality and way of life in the North, and, at the present time, little is actually understood about the specific impacts of such changes.

Deepwater Horizon explosion/oil spill

U.S. Navy photo 100507-N-6070S-316 by MC2 Justin Stumberg.

Oil burning in the Gulf of Mexico, 7 May 2010, following the Deepwater Horizon explosion/oil spill.

Security Threats

Despite these social, economic, and environmental challenges, growing commercial activity will likely create a number of security challenges that must be considered by Canada when developing CF capabilities for the Arctic. According to Jesper Hansen, a senior advisor to the Arctic Council Secretariat at the Norwegian Polar Institute, these challenges are varied and could include:

  • “Social destabilization resulting from changes to the environment, increases to criminal activity, such as illegal entry of people and goods, and human and drug smuggling;
  • Civil unrest could become a major issue if it is perceived that indigenous peoples are not getting a fair distribution of the wealth or concerns about development and its impact on the environment are not being addressed in an appropriate manner; and
  • The possibility of foreign military activity resulting from territorial claims or the possibility of a terrorist attack or attacks resulting from perceived grievances by disenfranchised groups.”29

Although the CF must certainly be prepared to help in dealing with any or all of these issues, those regarding territorial claims, increasing military activity, and the tracking of transitory activity, such as shipping and aircraft, are of greater concern to the CF.30

From a Defence perspective, one of the most pressing issues is the possibility of a renewal of boundary disputes that have remained dormant, primarily due to the region’s inaccessibility. Canada is currently working with other Arctic nations to deal with the issue of claims through various international organizations, such as the United Nations and the Arctic Council. One such dispute is with the United States, where there are differences with respect to the boundary extension into the Beaufort Sea. Another is with Denmark regarding the ownership of Hans Island in the Lincoln Strait.31 However, of heightened importance to Canada’s sovereignty is its control of the historic Inland waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and the dispute over the actual status of the Northwest Passage.32 Although no one disputes the fact that the passage is Canadian, there is disagreement over its use as an international vice internal waterway.

With so much at stake in terms of economic development in the Arctic, it can be anticipated that territorial, passage, and resource disputes will, at the very minimum, be a source of ongoing tensions within the region. In fact, nations have already begun to flex their military and diplomat muscles in order to reinforce specific claims. According to a recently published article in the Ottawa Citizen: “The US Navy is planning a massive push into the Arctic to defend national security, potential undersea riches, and other maritime interests.”33 The article states that the Department of the Navy has already produced a document that outlines a US plan to expand American “… fleet operations into the North in anticipation that the frozen Arctic Ocean will be open water in summer by 2030.” It then elaborates: “This opening of the Arctic may lead to increased resource development, research, tourism, and could reshape the global transportation system.” The concern of the US Navy is: “… [that] these developments offer opportunities for growth, but also are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources.”34

Interestingly, the article does note: “… [that] while the plan talks diplomatically about ‘strong partnerships’ with other Arctic nations, it is clear the US is intent on seriously retooling its military presence and naval combat capabilities in a region increasingly seen as a potential flashpoint as receding polar ice allows easier access.”35 And the Americans are not the only people interested in securing the Arctic with a large military presence.

Over the past few years, Russia has also stepped up its military presence in the region.36 Various open source reports show the increasing use of Russian air and naval forces in the Arctic with over flights of the region being carried out by Russian Long Range Aviation assets departing from Russian Arctic bases. Russian aircraft were in the region of Canada’s border during the visit of the American President to Ottawa in February 2009.37 The Canadian Defence Minister stated: “Canadian CF-18 fighter jets at Cold Lake, Alta., scrambled to intercept the plane on February 16 after North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) detected the Russian Bear long-range bomber headed for Canada.”38

Since the start of 2009, “Russian bomber flights, NATO Far North exercises and Canadian pledges have raised the political temperature in the region.”39 According to journalists David Pugliese and Gerard O’Dwyer, previous talk is now being turned into action. “On 27 March 2009, Russia announced its intention to develop Arctic forces to protect its continental shelf.”40 Although the Arctic force would consist of existing capacities based on the Northern and Pacific Fleet and military districts that border the Arctic Ocean, the announcement did state that Russia will create new “border guard facilities and modernize existing infrastructure.” 41

CF-18 and a Russian TU-95 Bear

DND photo AOD2007-09-05a.

A Canadian Forces CF-18 Hornet intercepts a Russian TU-95 Bear in the High North.

The Danes, who also have a stake in the region, have indicated that increasing activity in the Arctic will change the region’s geostrategic significance and thus entail more tasks for the Danish armed forces.” The Danes acknowledged: “Denmark will set up a joint-service Arctic Command and … create an Arctic Response Force, using existing Danish military capabilities that are adapted for Arctic operations.” The Danish defence plan also speaks of using combat aircraft for “surveillance and upholding sovereignty in and around Greenland.”42

Despite claims to the contrary, such events only serve to emphasize the willingness of others to use military forces in the Arctic to enhance their diplomatic and political advantage. More specifically, regional tension often results in the deployment of military forces in order to emphasize national intentions, or claims of sovereignty. This posturing appears to be ongoing and conducted with some consistency, and the CF must be ready to respond.

Toward a Concept of Operations for the CF in the Arctic

The question is, how does the CF prepare to meet these varied security challenges while attempting to achieve the other objectives set out for it by the government under its Northern Strategy? As already articulated, the fundamental components of the government’s northern vision are encapsulated within the Canada First Defence Strategy, which calls for Defence to focus upon three primary roles that include: the defence of Canada, the defence of North America, and the CF contribution to international peace and security.43

At home, the CF is expected to provide for the defence of the nation, while also contributing to the strengthening of national security, and, when necessary, to provide assistance to OGDs focused upon security, development, and surveillance.44 Specific tasks will include such things as dealing with issues of sovereignty, environmental protection, nation building, and smuggling. These requirements are captured in the Canada First Defence Strategy’s four Defence missions relevant to the Arctic:

  • Conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through NORAD;
  • Support a major international event in Canada;
  • Respond to a major terrorist attack; and
  • Support civilian authorities during a crisis in Canada such as a natural disaster. 45

However, in addition to these tasks, the CF must also maintain a capacity to meet other national priorities, including collective defence agreements such as NATO and NORAD, and be abl to deal with a request for international assistance by the United Nations (UN) or other agencies accepted by the government under the heading of contributions to international peace and security. 46

With so much expected of it, the CF must prioritize everything it undertakes. Moreover, it must be as versatile as possible, and therefore focused upon creating multi-purpose capabilities suited to being reconfigured for a variety of missions. This means that under the current fiscal circumstances, building and maintaining a significant capability specifically for Arctic operations is not a feasible option.47 It also means that the CF must produce an operating concept that provides a sufficient capacity to carry out mandated routine operations while maintaining a robust, rapid response capability that can meet specific contingencies and emergencies as they may arise throughout the region.48

Current Limitations

Currently, there are some obstacles to making this concept work. For example, the CF has not made the Arctic a priority for some time. This is due largely to the fact that the focus during the last two decades has been upon overseas operations contributing to international peace and security in places such as Bosnia and Afghanistan. As a result, the CF currently lacks important capacity in terms of equipment, infrastructure, networks, and training to effectively operate in the High Arctic for extended periods.

The ability to operate anywhere in the Arctic is a major limitation. The difficulties that the CF could face if it had to respond to an emergency in the Arctic, such as a major air disaster (MAJAID), were highlighted when a C-130 Hercules transport on a resupply mission to CFS Alert crashed about 30 kilometres short of the runway on 30 October 1991, killing five of the 18 passengers and crew. Subsequent rescue efforts by personnel from CFS Alert, USAF personnel from Thule, Greenland, and CF personnel from bases in southern Canada, were hampered by a blizzard, local terrain distances, and the isolated nature of the crash site.49

Unfortunately, in terms of actual capability, little has changed in the last 18 years. For example, Canada still has no primary search and rescue (SAR) assets stationed in the region, and only limited infrastructure ‘north of sixty’ to deal with any type of  MAJAID or environmental emergency, such as an oil spill.50 Currently, any attempt to mount even a small scale operation would be difficult, since the region is lacking even the most basic infrastructure in terms of road networks, airfields, staging/supply bases, and medical facilities.

Lack of infrastructure and physical presence will also have a detrimental effect upon future operations by the CF and this weakness was exposed recently with the rescue of a 17-year-old Inuit hunter from an ice floe in November 2009. The press release sent out by DND after the event … acknowledged that the “search [had] included assistance from an aircraft operated by Kenn Borek Air. ”51 In fact, according to the Canadian/American Strategic Review, the hunter was initially spotted on the ice floe by a Kenn Borek Twin Otter, which dropped supplies. The article suggested that the reason “… Kenn Borek’s Twin Otter was first on the scene is simple. This airline flies scheduled services out of Iqaluit – 725 km east of Coral Harbour, the home of the young Inuit hunter. In contrast, the 435 Squadron C-130 aircraft was dispatched from Winnipeg, about 1,800 km to the south.”52 The article concluded by asking a seemingly obvious question: “So why does DND insist on basing [SAR] at bases skirting the US border?”53

Capability Enhancements

In order to optimize its force structure for rapid response operations anywhere in the Arctic, the CF will need to have the ability to identify and analyze a developing situation quickly, project and employ the necessary forces when asked to do so, and support those forces while they are deployed. For the CF to deliver an Arctic capability that can meet government requirements, it must focus upon developing or enhancing five critical capabilities. These include: situational awareness, rapid deployment, sustainment, the generation of appropriate forces, and development of the ability to work with other government departments (OGDs). Combined, these five critical capabilities will not only give the CF the appropriate responsiveness to meet government requirements for the Arctic, they can also be used to meet the full range of other tasks that might be asked of the CF. We will now examine each of these capability requirements in somewhat more detail.

Canadian Rangers with a 440 Squadron CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft

DND photo IS2008-3133 by Master Corporal Kevin Paul.

Canadian Rangers with a 440 Squadron CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft, near Eureka, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, during Operation Nunalivut 08, 11 April 2008.

Situational Awareness

From a military perspective, situational awareness includes the ability to perceive the physical (maritime, land, air, and space) and non-physical (cyber) environmental domains. It also encompasses the fusion, evaluation, and dissemination of information being acquired and developed for the Common Operating Picture (COP). The COP is defined as, “the integrated capability to receive, correlate and display heterogeneous sources of information in order to provide a consistent view of the battlespace.”54

When fully developed, the CF’s COP will be an application-based tool, used to display order of battle information on top of digital standard maps. Over the long term, it will develop to comprise high-resolution, real-time, three-dimensional visualizations of any collectable information in any force as an aid to better situational awareness.55 Moreover, it is expected that the CF COP will grow into a key component for the command and control of joint, combined, and comprehensive forces engaged in both domestic and international operations.

Within the context of CF operations, situational awareness is described as Sense capabilities, and it encapsulates the components of Surveillance and Reconnaissance.56 Situational awareness is measured in terms of recognizing possible threats, and having the ability to analyze a given situation in order to carry out appropriate action. With a lack of physical presence in the Arctic, the CF needs exceptional situational awareness capabilities as well as the ability to process the information it receives quickly and effectively.57 Central to the CF’s future surveillance capability in the Arctic will be the capacity to provide wide area coverage. This could be provided by both fixed wing aircraft and space-based sensors. However, in order to make up for ‘boots on the ground,’ sensors will have to be networked and capable of cueing other such assets at the operational and tactical level, in order to provide a more detailed picture of an actual situation on the ground, in the air, or at sea. Such assets could include air defence interceptors, long-range manned or unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, and ships during the summer navigation season, as well as the Northern Ranger forces, along with other Land force elements that routinely operate in the area. Developing a highly integrated networked surveillance capability for the Arctic would also provide the CF with an increased ability to produce a Government Common Operating Picture (GCOP) that could be integrated with and used by OGDs to reduce duplication of effort.

Expeditionary Capability

Expeditionary capability is defined as the rapid deployment of CF forces on short notice in order to meet a contingency or emergency situation, either at home or abroad. By their very nature, such deployments are likely to be carried out in austere operational and logistical environments, and could cover the full spectrum of operations, from providing support to an oil spill, to actual combat.58

Because the CF has a number of different tasks and limited resources, its ability to maintain a large presence in the Arctic is limited. Thus, an essential element of the CF’s future capability will be its ability to carry out rapid response operations into remote and distant areas of Canada’s High Arctic. As a result, the CF will require an Arctic capability that is expeditionary in nature. As air and sea transportation provide the most practical methods of operational deployment into the region quickly, CF capability development must be based upon one or both of these two deployment methods. This means that the requisite northern airfields, ports, and supporting infrastructure must not only be identified, they must also be developed and maintained as deemed appropriate. At the tactical level, distances between communities are such that heavy lift and long range helicopters will be the only practical method of moving troops, equipment, and supplies around an operational area quickly. Therefore, force structure for initial deployments should be based upon helicopter or ship-borne forces.

Sustainment of Defence in the Arctic

The sustainment of forces is defined as “… the provisioning of all support services required to maintain routine and contingency operations – domestic, continental, and expeditionary – including prolonged deployed operations.”59 In order to meet the need for rapid response and contingency operations, based upon the government’s Northern Strategy, the CF will need to develop the ability to project and sustain forces further into the region than it is currently capable of doing (i.e., north of 66.5 degrees latitude). To accomplish this, the CF will need access to better infrastructure positioned in key locations, and a combination of strategic air and sealift to maintain forces capable of deploying into the region and remaining there for a period of time. This will require the development and prepositioning of robust forward supply installations that are properly equipped to support specific capabilities in advance of operations.60

This forward-basing capability is critical for extended support of CF forces moving in from the south, especially for prolonged periods. Any forward-basing capability must encompass the infrastructure, materiel, personnel, and information needs to keep a designated force self-sustained for a specific period of time. Moreover, because threats evolve and new threats arise, the CF’s sustainment capabilities in the Arctic must also be designed to be quickly reconfigured, reorganized, and reprioritized to meet the changing demands that are likely to emerge in different regions of the Arctic during different seasons.61

More importantly, this solution should consider taking advantage of existing organizations, systems, and processes by deliberately building partnerships with organizations possessing key sustainment capabilities. This means finding the right balance between leveraging, prepositioning, and bringing supplies along when deployment occurs, as long as it allows the CF to work as efficiently and as seamlessly as possible.

HMCS Toronto in Frobisher Bay

DND photo RE2009-0018-005 by Corporal Dany Veillette.

HMCS Toronto in Frobisher Bay off the coast of Baffin Island during Operation Nanook 09, 8 August 2009.

Force Generation

Force Generation is the method by which the CF recruits, trains, and develops personnel, procures equipment, develops infrastructure and services, and ensures all these elements are made ready in order to meet the various defence missions that are directed by the government.62 As the austere environment will test the toughness of the Canadian Force’s people and their equipment, capabilities must become extremely robust, and this can be accomplished by placing emphasis upon training and operating in the region, while developing and preparing specific vehicles and equipments to operate in this harsh environment.63As the CF cannot afford to create large capabilities designated specifically for Arctic operations, training and equipment preparation will have to be conducted CF-wide. This means that at the individual level, Arctic training will need to be introduced into basic and advanced training, and at the collective level, specific forces will have to be designated for possible Arctic deployment on a rotating basis.

Working with Other Government Departments

As the primary mission of the CF in the Arctic is to support OGDs, it must prepare soldiers, leaders, and organizations to work effectively with other organizations and stakeholders.

This task can be made easier by developing a more integrated approach toward operations with OGDs, and arranging training deployments of CF personnel to various OGDs (i.e., naval officers embarked in Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers). In fact, these types of exercises usually increase the credibility of the CF, often resulting in CF expertise being sought for a greater breadth of situations. Regardless, the complex situations possible in the Arctic will require a team-based approach to finding practical solutions for complex problems, and the CF must develop this capability if it is to become part of the government’s solution to issues arising in the region.


DND photo IS2004-2147a by Sergeant Frank Hudec.

An ‘Inukshuk’ (likeness of person) stone figure at Inuktitut.


As we have seen, the effects of global warming have begun to have a major impact upon the Arctic, with the two most important aspects being the increasing accessibility to the region’s vast reserves of natural resources, and to the shorter shipping routes between Asia and Europe. Although these issues will create a number of new opportunities for Canada, they also present challenges, specifically with respect to sovereignty, protecting the environment, and promoting the safety and prosperity of our Arctic peoples.

In order to optimize its force structure to deal with these challenges, the CF will need to be focused upon providing a permanent capability to carry out routine activities, while having the capacity to quickly deploy additional assets in order to conduct rapid response operations to situations as they arise.64 However, in order for such a concept to work, the CF will need to focus upon enhancing several specific capabilities.

First, it will have to develop a more robust capacity to carry out rapid response operations into the region, based upon the two capability pillars of air and sea. Second, it must develop the requisite situational awareness, using a layered surveillance capability focused upon cued reconnaissance, interagency information collection, and the sharing and analysis of data from multiple sources. Third, it must prepare soldiers, leaders, and organizations to work effectively with other organizations and stakeholders. Finally, Defence must develop a greater capacity to operate in the Arctic for extended periods. This can be done by acquiring the necessary infrastructure in key locations that can be used as either a hub or as temporary forward operating bases. Such a capability would allow the CF to better deal with rapid response operations, including such matters as Search and Rescue. Moreover, it would allow the government to have better situational awareness, and to project key national elements anywhere within the Arctic region on very short notice.

A CC-177 Globemaster III lands at CFS Alert

DND photo IS2010-3008-2 by Corporal Shilo Adamson.

A CC-177 Globemaster III lands at CFS Alert, 19 April 2010.

CMJ Logo

Major Tony Balasevicius is a highly experienced infantry officer currently serving at the Directorate of Future Security Analysis within Chief of Force Development at NDHQ Ottawa. He was a member of the team that worked on the Arctic Integrating Concept, and is currently Team Lead for the Canadian Forces Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enabling Concept.


  1. Government of Canada. The Northern Strategy, (Ottawa: NDHQ, March 2008). <http://www.northernstrategy.ca/index-eng.asp>. Accessed 14 October 2009.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Government of Canada. Canada First Defence Strategy. (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 2008), pp. 6-9.
  4. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The Northern Dimension of Canada's Foreign Policy, (Communications Bureau, 2008). See also <http://www.international.gc.ca/polar-polaire/ndfp-vnpe2.aspx>. Accessed 21 September 2009.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Peter Haggett, Encyclopedia of World Geography (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1998), p. 326.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.Also see Thor S. Larsen,The Uniqueness of the Arctic. <http://www.grida.no/publications/et/at/page/2537.aspx>. Accessed 21 November 2009. Larsen states: “The Arctic land consists of three main sub-systems, the high polar desert, the tundra and the forest-tundra. Under most of this land is a layer of permafrost, which is defined as ground that remains frozen for at least two summers in a row. This layer can reach depths of 1500 meters. When the upper level melts in the spring, the melt-water cannot sink below the remaining permafrost and flows rapidly over the frozen surface into streams and rivers. The permafrost melts more easily with warmer temperatures and exacerbates an already widespread and increasing amount of erosion. In recent years approximately 70 million ha of tundra has been degraded through destruction of soil and vegetative cover resulting from prospecting, mineral development, cars, construction, and, at certain locations, overgrazing by reindeer.”
  9. Government of Canada. Submission to the  Canada Transportation Act Review Panel, (Department of Community Government & Transportation, Government of Nunavut 30 January 2001).http://www.reviewcta-examenltc.gc.ca/Submissions-Soumissions/Txt/
    . Accessed 24 November 2009.
  10. Ibid. Some interesting facts about the region: “More communities in Nunavut are above the Arctic Circle than below it. Iqaluit, the territorial capital, is the largest community in Nunavut. Its more than 4900 residents live approximately 2000 kilometers north of Ottawa. The mean temperature in February is –27.2 C, and, in July, is 8C. Iqaluit experiences as much as 19 hours of daylight per day in June, and as little as 5 hours per day in December. Grise Fiord is the northernmost community in Nunavut. It has a population of 148 people. The average forecast high in January is –27.2C, and, in July, is 10C. Grise Fiord experiences 24 hours of daylight for four months of the year, and ‘round-the-clock’ darkness for four months of the year.” Government of Canada. The Coast Guard in Canada’s Arctic: Interim Report (The Canadian Senate: Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Fourth Report, June 2008), p. 6.
  11. Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Summary for policy makers, IPCC. 2001-02-16.), p. 16, http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_tar/?src=/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/index.htm. Accessed 15 November 2009. “The report came up with the following recommendations: • Natural systems in polar regions are highly vulnerable to climate change and current ecosystems have low adaptive capacity; technologically developed communities are likely to adapt readily to climate change, but some indigenous communities, in which traditional lifestyles are followed, have little capacity and few options for adaptation. • Climate change in Polar Regions is expected to be among the largest and most rapid of any region on the Earth, and will cause major physical, ecological, sociological, and economic impacts, especially in the Arctic, Antarctic Peninsula, and Southern Ocean (high confidence6). • Changes in climate that have already taken place are manifested in the decrease in extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice, permafrost thawing, coastal erosion, changes in ice sheets and ice shelves, and altered distribution and abundance of species in polar regions (high confidence6). • Some polar ecosystems may adapt through eventual replacement by migration of species and changing species composition, and possibly by eventual increases in overall productivity; ice edge systems that provide habitat for some species would be threatened (medium confidence6). • Polar regions contain important drivers of climate change. Once triggered, they may continue for centuries, long after greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized, and cause irreversible impacts on ice sheets, global ocean circulation, and sea-level rise (medium confidence6).”

  12. The Arctic Council. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. www.Arctic-council.org . Accessed 14 August 2009. See also http://www.acia.uaf.edu/PDFs/ACIA_Science_Chapters_Final/ACIA_Ch18_Final.pdf. Final Report, pp. 990-1020.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis, Arctic shortcuts open up; decline pace steady (Posted 25 August  2008).  http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2008/082508.html. Accessed 1 December 2009. The site states: “Sea ice extent averaged over October 2009 was 7.50 million square kilometers (2.90 million square miles). This was 1.79 million square kilometers (691,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 mean for October, but 730,000 square kilometers (282,000 square miles) above the record low for the month, which occurred in October 2007.”
  15. Andrew Kramer, Andrew Revkina. German ship, following a Russian icebreaker, is about to complete a shipment from Asia to Europe via Arctic waters (New York Times: Environment, Published: 10 September 2009). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/11/science/earth/11passage.html. Accessed 15 November 2009.
  16. Ibid.
  17. The Coast Guard in Canada’s Arctic: Interim Report, p. 6. “According to the five climate change models used in the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), the waters of northern Canada will be last to have summer ice coverage. As a result, it is probable that the Northern Sea Route off the Russian coast and the Transpolar route will be preferred to the Northwest Passage for transpolar shipping if or when commercial interests, including regulatory bodies and insurance companies, become convinced of the safety and economy of these routes. Therefore, AMSA assesses the probability of the Northwest Passage becoming viable transpolar shipping route as low. That said, AMSA does note that there will likely be a substantive increase in the amount of destinational shipping in Canada’s Arctic based around resource development, seasonal re-supply activity and an increase in tourism.” Also see Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (Arctic Council Working Group), Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment2009 Report, April 2009), p. 12. [Quote taken from Arctic Paper v4-u, unpublished]
  18. Donald L. Gautier, Kenneth J. Bird, Ronald R. Charpentier, Arthur Grantz, David W. Houseknecht, Timothy R. Klett, Thomas E. Moore, Janet K. Pitman, Christopher J. Schenk, John H. Schuenemeyer, Kai Sørensen, Marilyn E. Tennyson, Zenon C. Valin, and Craig J. Wandrey. “Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic”, Science, Vol. 324, No. 5931, 29 May 2009, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/324/5931/1175. Accessed 15 November 2009.
  19. Ibid. Lars Kullerud, Nils Ræstad. Oil and Gas resources in the Barents Sea (Arctic Times: #1, August 2002). http://www.grida.no/publications/et/at/page/2543.aspx. Accessed 4 December 2009.
  20. Canadian Geographic. Arctic diamond fever.,http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/tv/videos/video_description.asp?showNumber=23037. This area also includes from Ringes Island to Otto Fiord in the north, and Somerset sland in the south, in the Mackenzie Valley, and in the Mackenzie Delta / Beaufort Sea.
  21. Professor Olav Orheim. Protecting the environment of the Arctic ecosystem, (United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea,Fourth Meeting, 2-6 June 2003), p. 5.
  22. “Thinning and volume loss of the Artic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003-2008,” in the Journal of Geophysical Research Oceans, 7 July 2009. http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009JC005312.shtml.
  23. The Exxon Valdez Incident. http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/spring01/Hogue/exxon.html. Accessed 23 September 2009.
  24. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/o/oil_spills/
    . Accessed 29 November 2010.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Marine mammals (i.e., ringed seal, walrus, beluga and narwhal) are likely to be vulnerable to the effects of reduced sea ice. Other marine mammals (i.e., harbour seals and grey seals) may migrate northward. See Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, “From Impacts to Adaptation.,” http://www.aincinac.gc.ca/enr/clc/ adp/ia/nnv-eng.asp. Accessed August 2009
  27. In October 2007, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced six additional positions dedicated to Arctic fisheries stock assessment for fish and marine mammals. Michelle Wheatley, DFO, Regional Director, Science, Central and Arctic Region, Committee Proceedings, 1 May 2008.
  28. Duane Smith, Committee Proceedings, 1 April 2008.
  29. Jesper Hansen. Crime in the Arctic: As the climate gets warmer the crime in the Arctic will increase.
    14 August 2009. http://arctic-council.org/article/2009/8/crime_in_the_arctic. Accessed 20 August 2009.
  30. The tracking of transitory activity is for the purposes of S&R.
  31. Jesper Hansen, Crime in the Arctic….
  32. Canada is working with the United Nations to delineate these boundaries under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, but in the meantime it believes it must be able to monitor, sense, and act to any situation within the passage.
  33. Ian MacLeod. “US navy plots Arctic push: 'Roadmap' details plans to enlarge fleet in northern waters.” in The Ottawa Citizen, 28 November 2009. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/navy+plots+Arctic+push/2279384/story.html. Accessed 28 November 2009.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid. MacLeod also chronicles: "The Arctic is transforming and everyone else gets it and they're not going to go away," Rob Huebert, Associate Director at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, said Friday. But behind a public façade that promotes international Arctic co-operation, Huebert says, "if you read the document carefully you'll see a dual language, one where they're saying, 'We've got to start working together' ... and (then)they start saying, 'We have to get new instrumentation for our combat officers.’
  36. Jesper Hansen, Russian Naval Ships to the Arctic Sea. http://arcticcouncil.org/article/2008/7/
    . Accessed 17 August 2009.
  37. For instance, Russia announced on 14 July 2008 that it was sending naval ships to patrol Arctic waters for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  38. CBC News. Russia denies plane approached Canadian airspace, (27 February 2009 | 2:11 PM ET)http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/02/27/arctic-russia.html. “Russia is denying that one of its aircraft approached Canadian airspace three days before US President Barack Obama visited Ottawa on February 19...”
  39. David Pugliese and Gerard O' Dwyer. Canada, Russia Build Arctic Forces: as Ice Recedes, Nations Manoeuvre for Control (defensenews.com. Published: 6 April 2009) http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4025065. Accessed 29 November 2009.
  40. The statement also indicated the region “would become the nation's ‘leading resource base’ by 2020.”
  41. David Pugliese and Gerard O' Dwyer. Canada, Russia Build Arctic Forces: as Ice Recedes…
  42. British Broadcasting Corporation, Denmark plans forces for Arctic (Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009/ 16:40 UK) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8154181.stm. Accessed 4 December 2009.
  43. CFDS, (Ottawa: NDHQ, March 2008), pp. 1-3. Also see Department Of National Defence. Baseline Scenario of DND/CF Domestic and continental Activities, (Ottawa, NDHQ, Dated 30 January 2009), p. 1.
  44. Department Of National Defence. Baseline Scenario of DND/CF Domestic and continental Activities, (Ottawa: NDHQ, Dated 30 January 2009), p. 1.
  45. Ibid, p. 3.
  46. CFDS, (Ottawa: NDHQ, March 2008), pp. 1-3.
  47. That is not to say that capabilities cannot be created specifically to operate in the Arctic. It only means that such capabilities must be closely examined in relation to other missions and the limitation of available resources.
  48. Ibid. The classification of activity into routine, rapid response and contingency is based upon Canadian military doctrinal (CFJP 01) definitions of operations.
  49. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant rise in the number of commercial flights passing over Canada’s north as both maritime and air traffic have gradually shifted traditional travel routes from east-west in favour of the shorter north-south transits. To put this increase into perspective, it has been estimated that around 125,000 international flights now go over the Arctic every year. Moreover, this trend of increasing air traffic over the Arctic will likely continue into the future, and will pose greater risks of a major air or sea disaster in the region. Such a situation could present a number of difficulties for Canada, specifically, the difficulties associated with mounting rescue operations in such conditions.
  50. Government of Canada, The Commons Standing Committee on National Defence meets to discuss Arctic Sovereignty and Committee Business, (Ottawa: 29 April 2009).
  51. Canadian/American Strategic Review.Arctic Rescue –SAR Techs Shine in Ice Floe Rescue but Questions also Raised, (Aerial Search and Rescue, FWSAR, November 2009). http://www.casr.ca/doc-dnd-ice-floe-rescue.htm. Accessed 26 November 2009.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Denis Gouin and Alexandre Bergeron-Guyard. Novel Concepts for the COP of the Future (Defence R&D Canada – Valcartier, RTO-MP-IST-043),2-3. “This definition focuses on the integration capability versus the end product. Moreover, the end product is not simply a picture but an understanding or a common view.”
  55. Presently the COP is based on the Global Command and Control System - Maritime (GCCS-M)
  56. Government of Canada. Integrated Capstone Concept (ICC) [draft], (DFSA, 20 October 2009 [version]) p. 42.
  57. Department of National Defence, Science and Technology for a Secure Canada, DRDC: Defence S & T Strategy, December 2006), p. 29.
  58. Major Christopher H. Robertson, Support of U.S. Army Special Forces in Expeditionary Warfare (US Army School of Advanced Military Studies United States Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, KA: 2008), p. 4.
    . Accessed 3 December 2009.
  59. ICC [draft], p. 42.
  60. Ibid, p. 29.
  61. Department of National Defence. Objective Force 2028, (Ottawa: Chief of Force Development, July 2008), p. 2.
  62. ICC [draft], p. 42.
  63. Ibid, p. 128.
  64. The classification of activity into routine, rapid response and contingency is based upon Canadian military doctrinal (CFJP 01) definitions of operations.

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