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Inside thestar.com

Canadian troops flex muscle in Arctic exercise

2010/08/25 18:21:00
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is given a hand when he steps off a small iceberg as he takes part in a training exercises during Operation Nanook, in Resolute, Nunavut on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is given a hand when he steps off a small iceberg as he takes part in a training exercises during Operation Nanook, in Resolute, Nunavut on Wednesday.

Bruce Campion-Smith Ottawa Bureau Chief

RESOLUTE BAY, NUNAVUT—Gen.Walt Natynczyk offers a simple comparison to highlight the challenges of turning Canada’s Arctic sovereignty boasts into reality.

It’s easier to supply troops half a world away in Afghanistan than it is to sustain a mission in the remoteness of Canada’s Arctic, he said.

As troops wrap up their annual Arctic exercise, he said they are learning the lessons of working in this harsh environment, everything from satellite communications to the utility of the massive new C-17 transport jets and even coping with the occasional wandering polar bear.

“I think we’re demonstrating our capability to exercise (the) sovereignty of our nation,” Natynczyk said after joining with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to watch several exercises on the shores of Allen Bay here.

“To operate in the north is tougher than operating in Afghanistan from a logistics standpoint because we are so far away from all the services. You have what you bring,” he added.

While the federal government has taken to using rhetoric to help safeguard Canada’s claim over its vast Arctic territory, it’s through exercises like this that soldiers and others gain the practical experience of working in this inhospitable environment.

Harper stepped off a military Hercules transport Wednesday, greeted by a cloudless sky, a barren, rocky landscape and a bustling scene of soldiers who have transformed this small hamlet into the hub of their Arctic exercise.

The prime minister watched navy divers working in frigid, ice-dotted Arctic waters, looked on as Canadian Rangers cleaned up a mock oil spill and after it all, proclaimed that such drills are vital to asserting Canadian sovereignty.

“All these efforts are towards one non-negotiable priority and that is the protection and promotion of Canada’s sovereignty over what is our north,” he said in a speech to the troops.

Those sovereignty concerns were highlighted Tuesday with news that two CF-18 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept Russian bombers that came within 55 kilometres of Canada’s Arctic territory on Tuesday.

The Canadian fighters took off from their base in Cold Lake and visually identified the Russian TU-95 Bear bombers about 222 north of Inuvik, N.W.T. The two aircraft came within 55 kilometres of Canadian soil before turning around, shadowed by the fighter jets.

“Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter Canadian sovereign airspace,” Harper said.

Russia has stepped up such flights – a carryover from the Cold War era – in recent years, prompting occasional tensions between Ottawa and Moscow.

But for Harper, the Russian bomber flight was a chance to once again paint the Conservatives as guardians of the Canada’s north.

“We live in a time of renewed foreign interest in Canada’s Arctic. With foreign aircraft probing the skies, vessels plying northern waters and the eyes of the world gazing our way, we must remain vigilant,” he said.

Part of that vigilance will soon involve new high-tech eyes on the skies.

The prime minister used Wednesday’s visit to tout Ottawa’s investment in the next generation of Radarsat advanced sensing satellites.

Once in orbit, the three satellites will be able to provide images to help with disaster management, monitor forests, wetlands and coastlines and keep vigil over maritime issues, such as ice, ship movements and pollution, including oil leaks as small as 18 litres.

“We have something here that nobody else has,” Harper said, saying the technology will be “beyond world-class.”

The satellites will be able to provide detailed, real-time coverage of the world – all of Canada, along with global hotspots where Canadian troops may be deployed.

“We will be able to see what the bad guys are up to. And wherever we ask our men in uniform to confront them, we will have the advantage of superior intelligence, better reconnaissance and advance warning, information that can save lives,” Harper said.

The project was launched in 2005 but the most recent federal budget pledged $397 million to the Canadian Space Agency over the next five years to develop the satellites. The first launches are expected in 2014 and 2015.

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