This week, soldiers from Canada, France and the United States are in the Beaufort Delta preparing themselves for missions in the Arctic.
Ranging from under-ice diving to land patrols from Tukyotaktuk to Paulituk, the annual exercise has been a regular military operation since 2007, providing much-needed practice in doing some of the hardest jobs in the world in one of the harshest environments the Earth has to offer.
While it’s been happening annually, it moves around the North, enabling the forces to train in multiple nNorthern theatres.
Of course, the military’s willingness to broadcast what it’s up to in the Arctic in this day and age is understandable.
Considering the current geopolitical environment, with Russian President Vladimir Putin sending troops and missiles into Ukraine, and China declaring itself a “sub-Arctic nation” to suggest the middle kingdom has a claim on the North, it’s not especially surprising the forces want Canadians to know they’re preparing for the worst-case scenario.
With greater scientific and tourist activity happening in the North and more coming, being prepared for disasters in the North is also of vital importance, especially in the era of climate change causing thinner ice, shorter winters and greater erosion.
Having over two decades of Sid Meier’s Civilization under my belt, I’m definitely a firm believer in not being too careful with foreign rivals. Regardless, since coming North I have been repeatedly blown away by the extent of development Russia has been pursuing in the Arctic Circle. From floating small modular nuclear reactors to major roadway projects and mining efforts, it’s clear the Kremlin sees the Arctic Circle as their back yard and Canada needs to be there to draw a line in the tundra.
But even outside the military theatre, the benefits of such intense training cannot be overstated. Say a ship gets stuck in ice, which happened along Russian shipping lanes earlier this winter. Not only does that require an evacuation of the ship’s personnel, but there’s also the added complication of securing the ship after the crew is safe.
Say being stuck in the ice damages the hull enough to breach a fuel line, or the ship goes adrift if the ice thaws. Any number of scenarios could happen in the North and often do.
Warming temperatures are often seen as a blessing, but on the land they could lead to dramatic shifts in field conditions, with heavy winds or intense blizzards, or both, limiting the ability of vehicles to transport people, supplies or other necessities.
In the 24 hours I was with them, the Canadian Forces treated us exceedingly well and made us feel very welcome. They also showed a tremendous ability to adapt to the changes the North threw at us.
As climate change continues, Canada’s armed forces will need to be increasingly present in the North to mitigate and respond to the challenges the next decades will bring us. With training operations such as Operation Nanook-Nunalivet, I think we can sleep well at night.