Operation NANOOK: Towards a new 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-Beaulieu

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By Dawnieca Palma, CJOC Public Affairs

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.

Lieutenant-Colonel Luc Frederic Gilbert, a Plans Officer at the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), explains some of the difficulties of northern operations. “Deploying in the Arctic is extremely complex. The sustainment of Arctic activities, maintaining equipment and delivering an effect on the ground or at sea are extremely challenging tasks.”

Thus, to adapt to the changing needs of the North, the CAF is restructuring Operation NANOOK, one of its northern operations. Previously, Operation NANOOK took place each year over a two-week period in August. Now, it will occur year-round, with periodic exercises. Said otherwise, Operation NANOOK will be an umbrella operation, housing sub-operations or exercises that will take place throughout the year.

“When we look at only one activity, we can think ‘This is an exercise,’ but when we understand the strategic effect of deploying and sustaining a multitude of activities during all the seasons, on the ground, in the air and at sea in the harshest environment known to man, in an operating zone the size of Europe, we are actually conducting a real operation,” clarifies Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert.

Reshaping Operation NANOOK from an annual two-week deployment to a continuous, year-round operation allows more collaboration with partners. In fact, the prospect of enhancing partnerships greatly motivated the reform.

“The main goal is to get more organizations and agencies on board, both at the federal and territorial level,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert explains. “Trying to have Public Safety, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Public Health Agency of Canada and the territorial government all available at the same time to conduct an operation was often leading to limiting the amount of participation from our partners. Now, we are not limited to a strict window in August.”

The first of these sub-operations or exercises will be held in the late summer. The Royal Canadian Navy, the Danish Navy, the US Navy, the CCG and the Canadian Army will participate in two activities in August and September.

With this restructure, partnerships can also thrive beyond borders. For instance, the CAF is planning for an exercise in Alaska with American partners in February 2020. “Arctic expertise doesn’t stop with our borders. The CAF needs to be able to reinforce its allies in their homeland as well,” adds Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert.

Increased collaboration and efforts in Northern defence are fitting with the significance the North holds for Canada. “We want to increase our presence in the Arctic and work cooperatively with our partners,” concludes Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert. “The Arctic is part of our country. It is actually part of our identity and history. The population density in the Arctic may be low, but it is a very dynamic area.”

The restructure of Operation NANOOK is a critical step in adapting the nature of Northern defence to a changing image of the Canada’s North.

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