As Russia continues to boost its military presence in the Arctic, the Canadian Forces is planning to expand its Arctic training centre, turning the remote installation into a hub that can support operations, both defence- and science-oriented, year-round if needed.
Canada opened the centre in 2013, with the military sharing the Resolute Bay facility with Natural Resources Canada (NRC), which uses the site for polar research. The centre was originally a NRC facility that was expanded to house and support 120 soldiers. Training exercises, such as the recently finished Arctic Ram, are held in the winter months.
But now the Forces wants to provide more space for equipment and to allow for operations year-round. “We need to build (on) what we’ve got right now in terms of capacity,” said Lt.- Col. Luc St-Denis, who co-ordinates training at the centre.
“January to April is a small season. There is potential for more than that, especially in the springtime and summertime.” Other countries are also expanding their presence in the Far North. Russia’s defence ministry recently completed a military base on an island in its territory in the Arctic Ocean.
That installation, the second one in the Arctic to be built by the Russians, is designed to operate year-round and house around 150 soldiers. Russia also plans to eventually build 13 airstrips and six smaller bases in its Arctic territories as it looks to exploit minerals, gas and other natural resources in the region. St- Denis said the Canadian military also wants to develop additional training locations, such as small-arms ranges, in the Resolute Bay area, with the agreement of the local community and the government of Nunavut. entre would see “more storage, more capacity to get more equipment in, pre- positioning more equipment so we don’t spend a fortune on airlift or chartered aircraft,” St-Denis explained. “It is very expensive to bring stuff here.”
The centre is currently equipped with trucks and tracked vehicles for over-snow travel. St-Denis said incinerators could also be built to dispose of waste and keep the environmental impact on the area to a minimum. “We support scientific research,” he explained. “We want to do more with that. It is a logistics capability. We’ve got the warehouse and the kit.” But any expansion could take years because of the short construction season in the region.
It’s also unclear how the new Liberal government will proceed with defence policy in the Arctic.
Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, the Conservative government put much emphasis on expanding the military’s presence in the Far North. It announced a number of projects, although not all have proceeded smoothly. The construction of a new icebreaker hasn’t yet begun, falling behind schedule. So has the construction of a fleet of Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships. A proposed naval facility at Nanisivik, Nunavut, has been downgraded in scope because of a lack of money. And the purchase of new aircraft to replace the RCAF’s 40-year-old Twin Otter planes used in the Arctic has also been delayed.
But a number of Conservative government initiatives for the Arctic, including the expansion of the Canadian Rangers and the creation of Arctic Response Companies, have proceeded. In addition, it was the Conservatives who developed the Arctic training centre, which opened in August 2013.