Operation-capable: ASAR ensures RCAF can deploy when called to service
By Christopher King
When major disaster strikes in Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) responds. Most recently, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) deployed in support of the wildfires in British Columbia. But before an aircraft can touch down and render aid, a special team of four determines which runways and airfields can support which aircraft.
4 Construction Engineering Squadron, which is located at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, but reports to 2 Wing Bagotville, Québec, trains members of the RCAF in this capability. Major Jason Hartwig, the squadron’s commanding officer, says Airfield Surface Assessment Reconnaissance (ASAR) is a unique capability that was used most recently during Operation Lentus.
“A great example would be Op Lentus, where they drove from airfield to airfield, did their assessments and provided recommendations to the RCAF,” Major Hartwig says. “We train four-person teams to assess the airfield and make recommendations to the RCAF as to what they can land, how many passes they can take, and what the condition of the airfield is.”
According to Major Hartwig, the ASAR training began after the CAF responded to the earthquake in Haiti in 2008: At the time, the CAF was relying on civilian experts to provide the assessments.
“We didn’t have the military capability to determine the condition of the airfield and to make the call as to whether a Hercules or something smaller could land,” he says. “They realized that was a shortfall so, as a result, they spooled up this course with subject matter experts and professionals from Winnipeg.”
Captain Daniel Cruz, a construction engineering officer from 1 Canadian Air Division, just completed the course in Cold Lake. He says he had heard the course was technically challenging, but was looking forward to the opportunity to exercise his engineering training.
“ASAR really gives us the ability to make an important call on whether or not an aircraft can land or use an airfield,” he says. “It’s a pretty important capability within the construction engineer trade. It’s a rewarding experience to look back on the last three weeks to see how far you’ve come, to be able to make such an important decision.”
The course involves surveying the runway, measuring obstacles in the vicinity and, finally, assessing the quality of the runway to determine what can land. At the end of the three-week course, the two four-person teams undertook a practical assessment.
“They learn how to assess airfields, whether it’s surveying or the bearing capacity of the runway, and the condition of the airfield,” Major Hartwig says. “We went to Lloydminster and Vermilion, in Alberta, and conducted a practical recce of the runways. We coordinated with the airport managers and issued NOTAMs [notice to airmen/airwomen], and assessed their assessments of the runways.”
Captain Cruz says they use rangefinders and measure angles, distances, and heights of objects surrounding the runway. They survey the surface to determine the quality and shape, and finally sample the surface and test the strength of the subsurface to determine the quality of the runway itself.
“I think it’s one of the more challenging courses because of the technical nature. It is heavily loaded so when you first go through it you’re not sure if you’re going to make it,” he says. “I think a lot of my course mates here would share the same thought, if you push through the first two weeks, all the pieces fall into place.
“I think it’s worth it to have the opportunity to go places you might not have gone, and it’s a unique capability.”
The course is a secondary duty that non-commissioned members and officers can take. Major Hartwig said most students are either corporals to warrant officers, or lieutenants and captains. After graduation, they return to their units and the RCAF can call upon them to form a team and do an assessment in their regions as needed.
This story was first published on October 9, 2018, in The Courier, 4 Wing’s base newspaper.
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