To most people, cutting a massive hole in the Arctic sea ice and diving in would be complete madness.
For the Canadian Forces, it was Tuesday.
Operating every year since 2007, Operation Nanook-Nunalivut is a Joint-Task Force operation held in Canada’s North. It is one of four annual training operations under the Nanook umbrella. Not only does the operation help assert Canada’s sovereignty over its northern territories, it also demonstrates Canada’s northern combat and emergency readiness. This year, the training runs from Feb. 14 to 28.
“We have land patrols that will be going across from Aklavik, as well as from Tuktoyaktuk,” said. Brig.-Gen. Pascal Godbout. “We have under the ice operations going on, with the combination of a French diving unit as well as our fleet diving unit.
“All the operations are supported by the Royal Canadian Air Force including 440 squad, based in Yellowknife. We rely heavily on the RCAF expertise in flying in the Arctic for the success of the operation.”
Covering the area of Inuvik, Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk, the operation involves Canadian, American, and French Forces to complete a variety of northern-oriented training exercises, including Ranger Patrols from Tuktoyaktuk to Paulatuk and Inuvik to Aklavik, diving deep down into the cold, dark Arctic ocean and supporting the operation through flight manoeuvres. Over 200 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are involved in the operation, with 18 Canadian Rangers. In total, the training mission is split almost halfway between regular and reserve forces — in fact, it’s being commanded by a reserve officer.
Support for the training operation from the Canadian Rangers includes navigation services, survival training and predator control.
“We have a lot of reservists that are taking their vacation time to come here, or in the case of university or college students they’re spending their March break to come on this operation — which shows tremendous dedication,” said Godbout. “The Canadian Rangers provide us with expertise, leadership and lead to engaging with community leadership. They are a great addition to safety as well, to ensure they provide our patrols with advice of the safest courses to patrol when they go into very austere and distance areas.”
Taking snowmobiles over the Arctic ocean, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic, alongside allied divers, practiced diving up to a hundred feet below the four-foot thick sea ice.
Godbout said the training would help improve responses to disasters such as airplane crashes or shipwrecks, or other operations requiring deep water salvage.
“Our clearance divers are superbly trained, but doing under-the-ice diving is quite challenging,” he said. “So as part of Op Nanook-Nunalivut is to confirm they can operate and conduct any sort of salvage or retrieval operations under the water.
“This could be any sort of situation where there needs to be teams going under the ice.”
Another thing being explored is a new type of ration, to determine if the calorie count of the food is sufficient to keep soldiers fed while they work the front lines.
Expanding training operations in the Arctic is be a vital part of the national strategy, noted the brigadier-general, because as the Earth’s climate continues to warm the Arctic will become more accessible to global players who could eye the plentiful mineral and energy resources buried deep beneath the ice.
It also helps prepare Canadian, American and other allied forces for potential disaster response, search and rescue operations and other important efforts.
“Part of Joint Task Force North’s mandate is to ensure we are making a persistent presence in the North, as well as maintain all domain situational awareness,” said Godbout. “And to be prepared to respond to all government operations to maintain Arctic security.
“Op Nanook, for us, is our keystone operation for Arctic operations, where we demonstrate Canada’s ability to operate in the Arctic during any conditions. Op Nanook-Nunalivut is particularly important because we have troops operating in harsh and austere environments during some of the coldest weather possible in February or March every year.”