Operation NANOOK: Towards a new North

With a harsh climate and fascinating wildlife, the North is a noteworthy region of Canada. The vast region—almost 4 million square kilometres large—is the home of many Indigenous communities. It is also a blossoming business landscape. It carries an abundance of minerals and fossil fuels and its unique environment attracts tourists and adventurers. All this paired with the fact that it spans three territories and claims one of Canada’s coasts emphasizes the importance of the North in Canada’s defence system. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) maintains a strong, permanent presence in the North through several channels. These include Canadian Forces Station Alert, Joint Task Force North (JTFN) and the Canadian Rangers. The CAF also runs northern operations.

Operation NANOOK takes place each year across Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Labrador. It features up to five deployments throughout the year.

Canada is an Arctic nation which guards its sovereignty and defends the country against threats in the region. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) plays a key role in this. Further, the CAF is adapting to environmental changes and enhancing its ability to operate in the Arctic.

A Royal Canadian Air Force CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft arrives at 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador August 14, 2017 for Operation NANOOK. Photo: Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

During Operation NANOOK, the CAF guards Canada’s sovereignty over its northernmost regions, improves the way it operates in Arctic conditions, improves coordination with Indigenous, federal and territorial governments and northern partners, and works with mission partners to best respond to safety and security issues in the North.

Deployed members from Operation NANOOK practice moving their centre of gravity while driving on steep terrain during an all-terrain vehicle driver safety course in the training area in Rankin Inlet, NU on August 15, 2017. Photo: Cpl Dominic Duchesne-BeaulieuOperation

NANOOK involves sailors, soldiers, air women and air men. The number and makeup of CAF members changes from year to year based on planned activities and exercises.

About 300 CAF members deployed on Operation NANOOK from August 8, 2018 to September 4, 2018. They participated in a maritime domain defence and security exercise in Northern Labrador, Nunavut and Greenland areas.

HMCS Charlottetown and HMCS Kingston visited a number of communities in the Arctic. This gave the sailors an opportunity to connect with and strengthen relationships with northern communities.

CAF members worked alongside governmental partners and departments as well as international partners, including the Danish Navy.

During Operation NANOOK, the CAF works and trains with a variety of partners. Focusing on working with key allies and partners makes the CAF more effective in the North.

These partners include international military partners, and other Canadian federal departments and agencies, territorial and Indigenous governments, and local organizations. Canada’s contributions to Arctic security are a key part of the Canada-United States defence relationship.

Approximately 270 CAF members participated in a major air disaster exercise in Yellowknife, NT from September 17 to 21, 2018.

Search and Rescue Technicians tend to simulated causalities during Exercise READY SOTERIA, an exercise designed to evaluate the Canadian Armed Forces response to a major air disaster, on September 17, 2018 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Photo: AB Erica Seymour, 4 Wing Imaging

While the CAF has the primary responsibility for aeronautical SAR—that is, searching for downed aircraft—a major air disaster would require a coordinated response. So, during the exercise, CAF members worked alongside other government departments, Non-Governmental Organizations, and private companies.

The exercise involved soldiers, airwomen and airmen, including medical professionals and support personnel. The following aircraft were involved:

CC-130 Hercules
CH-146 Griffon
CH-149 Cormorant
Members of 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group demonstrate how to make an emergency shelter during survival skills training near Rankin Inlet, Nunavut during Operation NANOOK 2016 on August 28, 2016. Photo: Petty Officer Second Class Belinda Groves, Task Force Imagery Technician

Members of 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group demonstrate how to make an emergency shelter during survival skills training near Rankin Inlet, Nunavut during Operation NANOOK 2016 on August 28, 2016. Photo: Petty Officer Second Class Belinda Groves, Task Force Imagery Technician

As part of the scenario, SAR technicians and health services personnel conducted a number of training activities, including initial triage, stabilization, medical treatment, and preparation for onward movement.
Indigenous communities are at the heart of Canada’s North. The CAF works to deepen its relationships with these communities, particularly through collaborative and continuous discourse throughout the year. The CAF continues to build on mutual understanding with northern community leaders.

There are a number of important international issues in the Arctic: climate change, international trade and  global security. The Arctic is becoming more accessible because of climate change and new technology. For example, there were fewer than 1,000 flights on polar routes in Canadian airspace in 2003. In 2016, there were over 14,000 flights.

A crewmember from Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship MONCTON, transports members of the Royal 22e Régiment back to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut on August 27, 2016 during Operation NANOOK. Photo: Petty Officer Second Class Belinda Groves, Task Force Imagery Technician

State and commercial actors from around the world are interested in the long-term benefits from operating in the Arctic. There are also large reserves of fossil fuels and minerals. These factors are expected to lead to increased commercial activity, research, and tourism in and around Canada’s northern region.

The increase in traffic brings new safety and security risks. Canada must be ready to respond to search and rescue cases, as well as natural or man-made disasters.

From September 21 to 28, 2018, CAF members are working with partners in and around Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀, Northwest Territories. They are practicing how military and civilian organizations would respond to emergencies and natural disasters in Canada’s north.

The training focuses on helping the Government of the Northwest Territories and a number of local municipal and Indigenous government partners exercise their emergency management plans.

Together, they will go through a series of escalating scenarios. The CAF’s focus is to exercise how it would evacuate people in the event of a forest fire.