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Spy balloons renew military interest in ‘green hangar’

Recent flip-flops by the Canadian Forces on whether they want to rent an operation-ready aviation hangar or not left Les Klapatiuk scratching his head.
A C-130 ‘Hercules’ transport aircraft gets refueled just outside the ‘green hanger’ as it is locally known. Historically used for refuelling and search and rescue missions in the North, the plane is supposed to be replace with the Airbus C-295, which has since been revealed to have operational limitations in the Canadian Arctic. Eric Bowling/NNSL photo

Recent flip-flops by the Canadian Forces on whether they want to rent an operation-ready aviation hangar or not left Les Klapatiuk scratching his head.

Since 2004, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has leased the ‘green hangar’ from International Logistical Support Inc. (ILS) to house the C-130 ‘Hercules’ transport aircraft, since the hangar sits right outside the Inuvik NORAD forward operating location. But in 2021, the forces abruptly cancelled the lease.

As maintaining an empty 21,000 square foot building in the Arctic is outrageously expensive, Klapatiuk put the hangar on the market for $19.5 million.

Then things got weird. As initially reported by the Globe and Mail, the majority of interest appeared to be coming from NATO’s chief geopolitical rivals.

“We were being watched a lot,” he said. “Twenty-five per cent of our searches where were coming out of China and we were getting a lot every day out of St. Petersburg, Russia. So a lot of it could be intelligence gathering. Some of it could be just people meandering along, which was more likely on some of the ones that we got. But the ones out of China and Russia have specific purposes.”

Also interested in the facility was NORAD itself, with NORAD Commander General Glen VanHerck himself visiting it in July of last year.

Klapatiuk said he eventually took the hangar off the market after learning selling the building to a foreign buyer would trigger a national security review. He then took his frustrations to Ottawa, testifying at the Senate standing committee on national security, defence and veterans affairs on Nov. 14, where he slammed the ‘Real Property Operations’ unit of the Canadian Forces.

“I cannot answer why Real Property Operations, during a time of nuclear crisis, refuses to support NORAD by providing the only available hangarrage in 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass,” he told the committee. “I cannot answer why Real Property Operations will not support our air-to-air refueller crews who have actually intercepted Russian bombers from Inuvik and the ILS hangar. I cannot answer why Real Property Operations is forcing RCAF and NORAD flight crews to conduct snow bank operations in Arctic conditions. In October of 2021, a lieutenant colonel in Real Property Operations ordered his staff to develop a new contract for ILS and they refused. Why? Real Property Operations gave away NORAD’s strategic fuel supply of approximately 270,000 litres on the Inuvik airport and had four 75,000-litre tanks destroyed. Fuel availability is and remains critical to all RCAF-NORAD operations.

“We have no capability for the air-to-air refueller from the Inuvik airport or the Forward Operating Location Inuvik, the busiest NORAD base in Canada, and we have no capability for search and rescue in this region at all.”

Klapatiuk told the committee that for the past 16 years, long after the Cold War had ended, the base was the most active NORAD base in Canada. Air-to-air refuelling operations using the C-130 were conducted no less than 439 times.

Without adequate infrastructure, he said, missions like those would be impossible. He added the military’s replace search-and-rescue aircraft, the Airbus C-295, can’t land on gravel or “austere” runways — which make up the vast majority of aircraft landings in the North.

Speaking to a House of Commons committee on national defence one week later, Canadian NORAD regional commander Major-General Iain Huddleston confirmed the C-130 was no longer used in search and rescue operations. He called the hangar “useful, but not essential.”

“With respect to the green hangar specifically, it is not essential to our NORAD or search and rescue operations in the north,” he said. “However, it’s certainly useful, as any infrastructure is in the north for things like storage or potentially larger footprints of deployed personnel and aircraft, but it is not essential to our current NORAD mandate or search and rescue mandate.

“That hangar used to be useful for us to forward-deploy our Hercules tactical tanker. It was used for no other reason. The forward operating location in Inuvik is fully capable of supporting the F-18s. We no longer use the Hercules tactical tanker to support that mission. Therefore, we do not need the green hangar in order to support NORAD operations.”

All that changed Feb. 4 when a Chinese spy balloon was shot down over North Carolina. Over the following weeks, several aircraft were scrambled on both sides of the North American Arctic when UFOs were sighted over Prudhoe Bay and Dawson City a week later.

Shortly after that, Klapatiuk said he was called by the department of national defence and asked if they could start using his hangar again. He said he had an expert coming to appraise the building in case the military wants to buy it, though he said he was open to renting it out again as well.

The hangar is certainly up to the job. Klapatiuk said he can fit smaller aircraft inside the hangar alongside the massive C-130 Hercules, which has a wingspan of 40 metres and is 12 metres high. If Canada follows through with its joint pledge with the United States to purchase F-35 fighter jets, Klapatiuk estimated the green hangar could house four comfortably, since he has already housed four DHC-6 twin-otters . While the hangar is normally not heated due to the exorbitant cost, it has several furnaces and can be heated to operational temperatures very quickly to keep aircraft warm and scramble-ready.

Rent or sale, he said he just wishes Canada could get its logistics straight.

”It turns out that this C-295 is not operational yet and it’ll probably never fly in the Arctic,” he said. “It doesn’t have the range or anything.

“So now Canada is in a bad spot.”

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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