Monday, December 26, 2011

Royal Canadian Air Force considering Arctic base expansion: documents

The Royal Canadian Air Force has looked at a major expansion at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, as it considers transforming it into a key base for Arctic operations, according to documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

The construction of a 3,000-metre paved runway, hangars, fuel installations and other infrastructure has been proposed for the future as part of an effort to support government and military operations in the North.

Resolute Bay in Nunavut would be able to provide a logistics site for search-and-rescue operations as well as a base for strategic refuelling aircraft, according to the briefing from the Arctic Management Office at 1 Canadian Air Division, the air force’s Winnipeg-based command and control division. The briefing was presented in June 2010 and recently released by the Defence Department under the Access to Information law.

The long paved runway would allow fighter aircraft to operate from the site, with the suggestion in the presentation that could include Norad (North American Aerospace Defence Command) jets.

Resolute Bay currently has a 1,981-metre gravel runway, according to information provided for pilots by the federal government.

Resolute Bay should be considered for expansion to become a main operating base because it is “the geostrategic center to the Arctic and (Northwest) Passage” and is an “existing regional supply hub with a permanent population/sea access,” according to the briefing.

It would be seen as a “key Arctic regional development and sovereignty centerpiece,” the records add.

The presentation followed a February 2010 Arctic planning directive issued by the Chief of the Air Staff Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps, who called on the air force to become “a more relevant, responsive, and effective Arctic capable aerospace power.”

In an email to the Citizen, the RCAF stated “it does not have infrastructure or short term infrastructure projects at Resolute Bay.”

The email did not touch on the RCAF’s long-term plans for Resolute Bay or discuss the briefing from the Arctic Management Office.

The Conservative government has received kudos from some for paying more attention to the Arctic but critics have raised concerns that much of that is based on a military presence while the government continues to cut back on science and research in the North.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has emphasized that Canada will increase its military presence in the region, announcing a series of initiatives, ranging from the construction of Arctic and offshore patrol ships for the navy, an Arctic training centre for troops, and the expansion of the Canadian Rangers.

The Conservatives have also highlighted their decision to spend more than $14 billion on the F-35 stealth fighter as an initiative to protect the country’s Arctic airspace.

Many of the initiatives, however, are still years away from becoming reality.

The RCAF briefing also examined establishing a forward operating base on central Ellesmere Island by expanding the current facilities at Eureka, Nunavut. That initiative proposed adding new facilities and turning the location into a regional asset for government departments. Also included in the “FOB Eureka” concept is the proposal that the existing airfield be expanded.

Creating a Forward Operating Base Eureka could allow the military to downsize or rebuild the existing Canadian Forces Station Alert, according to the presentation.

CFS Alert is on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island and is used for the interception of communications.

The presentation noted that Eureka would be easier to sustain as it could be resupplied by sea while Alert has to be resupplied by air. Making Eureka the main Canadian Forces “very high” Arctic station would also allow the military to separate the missions of sovereignty enforcement and the role of communications intercepts, it added.

The presentation also suggested the possibility of a rebuilt CFS Alert, including an artists’ concept of the site.

The email from the RCAF stated that “no major construction projects involving the runway at Eureka are planned.”

The email did not discuss the proposals to build new facilities at Eureka or rebuild CFS Alert.

The RCAF email, however, did note “the Government of Canada has made Canada’s North a cornerstone of its agenda through an integrated strategy that promotes sovereignty, economic and social development, environmental protection, and improved governance in the region.”

The U.S., however, has a different view, dismissing many of the Arctic announcements by the Conservative government as having little to do with enforcing sovereignty in the North and instead designed to attract votes.

“Conservatives make concern for ‘The North’ part of their political brand and it works,” according to a diplomatic cable produced last year by the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa. The cable was made public by WikiLeaks.

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