You may not hear them, you definitely won’t see them, but from Aug. 17-21 military planes from both Canada and the United States have been conducting joint exercises high above the Beaufort Sea under the supervision of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD.)
With aircraft including Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets, CP-14o long range patrol aircraft, and a CC-150T air refueler, the Canadian Forces will be joined by United States Air Force F-15 fighters, a KC-10 refueler and C-17 Transport. The aircraft will be flying out of both 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta., and Yellowknife.
NORAD public affairs officer Capt. Cameron Hillier said the exercises were simply the extension of an expanded presence in the Arctic.
“We’ve have a number of exercises going on,” he said. “So this is just a continued effort.”
Hillier confirmed Inuvik would not be used as a forward operating base in the exercise. He also noted the public was unlikely to see the aircraft or exercises, as they will be flying over sparsely populated areas and at high altitudes.
While an. Aug. 14 press release notes that all personnel coming up from the United States will be required to have two Covid-19 tests with negative results before entering Canada and all soldiers would be isolated at the base as a further precaution, it also stresses the military exercise is in no way related to Canada or the United States’ response to the pandemic.
“They’re flying out to the Beaufort Sea, but as far as flight activity goes beyond the planes taking off and landing, I don’t think there’s going to be much impact on the public,” said Hillier.
Hillier did not specify a specific rationale for the increased NORAD presence in the Arctic. However, the exercises come at the same time a Russian newspaper called Izvestia reported that the Russian Navy is researching a potential “Icebreaker” rocket which would allow nuclear submarines to penetrate Arctic sea ice from below and then fire a ballistic missile through the opening.
According to Izvestia, the Russian have been experimenting with the idea since 2014, though historically the former Soviet Union also experimented with torpedoes to penetrate the ice surface with little success.
NORAD’s heightened presence also comes at a time as reduced summer sea ice is opening up potential new shipping routes, which are being eyed as possible economic opportunities by an increasing number of governments.