Operation NANOOK

Operation NANOOK takes place annually in several locations across Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.  It is the largest sovereignty operation in Canada's North.

The objectives of Operation NANOOK are:

  • To assert Canada’s sovereignty over its northernmost regions;
  • To enhance the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to operate in Arctic conditions;
  • To improve coordination in whole-of-government operations; and
  • To maintain interoperability with mission partners for maximum effectiveness in response to safety and security issues in the North.

The task force

The joint forces deployed on Operation NANOOK comprise personnel and assets from across Canada, and may be drawn from any or all of the primary force-generators of the Canadian Armed Forces:

  • the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN);
  • the Canadian Army;
  • the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF); and
  • Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM).

The size and make-up of the forces deployed on Operation NANOOK vary from year to year, according to the planned mix of activities and exercises, but they always include the following organizations of Joint Task Force (North):

  • 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, a Reserve formation of the Canadian Army headquartered in Yellowknife, with 60 patrol units distributed in communities across the North, and
  • 440 “Vampire” Transport Squadron, an RCAF unit based in Yellowknife, flying the CC‑138 Twin Otter, a utility transport aircraft designed for short take-off and landing.

Over the years, the forces deployed on Operation NANOOK have been combined and integrated with:

  • international military partners;
  • Canadian federal government departments and agencies; and
  • provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

Operation NANOOK is conducted under operational command of the Commander CJOC and operational control of Joint Task Force (North) Headquarters in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

Mission context

The area

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces define the North as the area encompassing:

  • the Sub-Arctic Region, the part of Canada that lies between 55 and 60 degrees North latitude; and
  • the Arctic Region, the part of Canada that lies north of 60 degrees North latitude.

The high Arctic is the part of the Arctic Region that lies north of the Arctic Circle, which is 66.5 degrees North latitude.

The global environment

The Arctic is known to have vast reserves of fossil fuels and an abundance of minerals, including gold and diamonds, and is increasingly accessible due to climate change. Consequently, this region is attracting more and more Canadian and international attention.

Because climate change is gradually eroding the Arctic icecap, the waters of the Arctic Archipelago are more navigable every year and more ships enter the region. Air traffic in the North is also growing; the annual total of flights on polar routes in Canadian airspace increased from fewer than 1,000 in 2003 to almost 10,000 in 2010.

The increase in traffic at sea and in the air, and the escalating exploitation of natural resources in the North, boost the risk of sovereignty challenges, environmental problems, accidents giving rise to search-and-rescue requirements, and criminal activity, especially illicit entry of people and goods.

The mission

Operation NANOOK has been conducted annually since 2007.

As an Arctic nation, Canada regularly and fully exercises its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its northern territories. The Canadian Armed Forces have a significant role to play in forestalling sovereignty challenges, defending Canada against threats in the region, and protecting Canadians by supporting whole-of-government efforts to ensure appropriate responses to security and environmental concerns in the North.

Operation NANOOK is the Canadian Armed Forces’ annual engagement with international military and security partners to demonstrate interoperability in the Arctic. This aspect of the operation usually entails exercises using scenarios in which the Canadian Armed Forces partner with other Canadian government departments and agencies, and with allied armed forces, to mount whole-of-government responses to security and environmental issues.

Operation NANOOK typically involves simultaneous activities at sea, on land and in the air, and all force-generators may be tasked to deploy personnel, capital equipment and other resources. The number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen deployed on Operation NANOOK has ranged from about 650 to more than 1,250.

The results

Operation NANOOK helps ensure the North remains secure within a strong and sovereign Canada. It enables the Canadian Armed Forces to demonstrate their joint capabilities to operate effectively at sea, on land and in the air across all regions of the North. It strengthens the Canadian Armed Forces’ links with international, interdepartmental and intergovernmental partners, and showcases the support the Canadian Armed Forces have to offer in response to threats to public safety and other hazards in northern regions.

The recurring presence of the Canadian Armed Forces throughout our country’s northern regions visibly expresses Canadian sovereignty while providing Canadian Joint Operations Command with eyes and ears in some of Canada’s most remote areas.

Past deployments on Operation NANOOK

NANOOK 2014

Operation NANOOK 14 took place in the Baffin Island region of Nunavut between 20 and 29 August 2014. It involved more than 800 participants, including personnel from all branches of the CAF as well as federal and territorial governments, a ship from the Royal Danish Navy, and a surveillance aircraft from the United States Navy.

The scenario-driven operation provided a visible presence in the North and demonstrated Canada's ability to respond to security and safety incidents in the region. Operation NANOOK 14 focused on two key aspects: search and rescue (SAR) capabilities and the CAF’s ability to support other government departments (OGDs) in remote areas of the North.

The two scenarios took place off the coast of Baffin Island in the Davis Strait and York Sound. Both scenarios promoted interoperability between participants.

  • A SAR exercise (SAREX) was held from 20-23 August in the Davis Strait featuring a simulated fishing vessel in distress. Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Halifax led the SAR operation to locate the vessel and survivors. The JRCC was supported by HMCS Shawinigan, HMDS Triton, and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen with associated aircraft.
  • From 25-29 August, Canadian Armed Forces members responded to a simulated 50 passenger cruise ship grounded due to mechanical difficulties in York Sound. The CAF deployed a major air disaster (MAJAID) kit and worked with OGDs to respond to the simulated crisis.

NANOOK 2013

Supporting emergency management scenarios, responding to threats to public safety and assisting law enforcement agencies were the main focuses during this Operation NANOOK 13 from 2 to 23 August.

The operation included four scenarios taking place in four geographically distinct areas of the Canadian North.

  • In Whitehorse, Canadian Armed Forces members, in the air and on land, provided the Government of Yukon disaster relief as the result of a national wildfire that was threatening the City of Whitehorse;
  • Environment Canada requested the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces on Cornwallis Island, Nunavut after a report of suspected poaching activities in the area;
  • on Resolution Island, the Canadian Armed Forces, worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and helped investigate simulated suspicious activity; and
  • on King William Island, the Canadian Rangers conducted simulated patrols to report on activity in the Northwest Passage.         

NANOOK 2012

Operation NANOOK 2012 (1–26 August 2012) demonstrated Canada's Arctic capabilities in two widely separated locations: Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., in the western Arctic, and Hudson Strait, Hudson Bay and its littoral area, including Churchill, Man., in the eastern Arctic.

In the western scenario, air and land forces worked with the RCMP and other whole-of-government partners in a simulated security incident. In the eastern scenario, an RCMP-led whole-of-government response to a simulated “vessel of interest” included a request for military assistance. Both scenarios emphasized the primary focuses of the Canadian Armed Forces at home: safeguarding the nation, deterring threats to Canadian security, and responding to emergencies anywhere in the country.

International participants on Operation NANOOK 2012 included:

  • a warship from the Royal Danish Navy;
  • a U.S. Coast Guard vessel; and
  • observers from the United Kingdom and the United States.

Operation NANOOK 2012 involved more than 1,250 personnel from the RCN, the Canadian Army (including the Canadian Rangers), the RCAF and CANSOFCOM.

NANOOK 2011

Operation NANOOK 2011 (4 August–1 September 2011) was planned in two phases. The first phase, conducted in cooperation with international partners from the United States and Denmark, included sovereignty and presence patrolling ashore on Cornwallis Island and at sea in Davis Strait, Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound, and the first deployment of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the high Arctic.

The second phase, an exercise using an air-disaster scenario, was cancelled to allow the engaged forces to respond to a real crisis. On 21 August 2011, when First Air Flight 6560 crashed near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, Canadian Armed Forces members deployed on Operation NANOOK 2011 were first on the scene, and remained to assist the federal, territorial and municipal authorities throughout the rescue and recovery operations.

The forces deployed on Operation NANOOK 2011 included about 1,100 Canadian Armed Forces members from the RCN, the Canadian Army (including the Canadian Rangers), the RCAF and CANSOFCOM, and more than 100 allied military personnel.

NANOOK 2010

Operation NANOOK 2010 (6–26 August 2010) took place in the eastern Arctic and high Arctic. As well as more than 900 Canadian Armed Forces personnel, it involved about 600 personnel from the Canadian Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Danish Navy. The operation concluded with a whole-of-government exercise using a spill-response scenario: a simulated petrochemical leak in Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

NANOOK 2009

Operation NANOOK 2009 (6–28 August 2009) took place on the southeastern coast of Baffin Island. It comprised three phases: sovereignty patrolling, a military exercise focusing on anti-submarine warfare, and a whole-of-government exercise that involved more than 15 departments and agencies from all levels of government.

NANOOK 2008

Operation NANOOK 2008 (16–26 August 2008) took place in and around three communities on Baffin Island: Iqaluit, Kimmirut and Pangnirtung in Nunavut. Exercises conducted during Operation NANOOK 2008 used maritime emergency scenarios, including the evacuation of a ship in distress and an oil spill.

NANOOK 2007

Operation NANOOK 2007 (7–17 August 2007) took place on Baffin Island near Iqaluit and Kimmirut in Nunavut. It included drug-interdiction and oil-spill scenarios that involved about 650 Canadian Armed Forces personnel, two surface ships, a submarine, and four types of aircraft.