Operation NUNALIVUT is a sovereignty operation conducted annually since 2007 in Canada’s North. It provides an opportunity for the CAF to:
- assert Canada’s sovereignty over its northernmost regions;
- demonstrate the ability to operate in the harsh winter environment in remote areas of the High Arctic; and
- enhance its capability to respond to any situation in the Canada’s North.
It also allows the Canadian Armed Forces to provide meaningful support to scientific research in the Arctic, and to demonstrate interoperability in the High Arctic with military allies and other Canadian government institutions.
The Task Force
Task Force NUNALIVUT comprises 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; and
- the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
The size and make-up of the forces deployed on Operation NUNALIVUT vary from year to year, according to the planned mix of activities and exercises, but they always include the following organizations:
- 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 and adaptable to skis.
Operation NUNALIVUT is conducted under operational command of the Commander CJOC and operational control of Joint Task Force North Headquarters in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
International military partners and Canadian federal departments and agencies often take part in Operation NUNALIVUT activities.
The Canadian Armed Forces in the North
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.
The objectives of the CAF in the North are to:
- assert Canada’s sovereignty over its northernmost regions;
- enhance the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to operate in Arctic conditions;
- improve coordination and cooperation in whole-of-government operations; and
- maintain interoperability with mission partners for maximum effectiveness in response to safety and security issues in the North.
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;
- the Arctic Region – the part of Canada that lies north of 60 degrees North latitude; and
- the High Arctic – 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.
Previous deployments on Operation NUNALIVUT
Operation NUNALIVUT 16 took place from April 1 to 22, 2016 in and around Resolute Bay and Alert, Nunavut. The operation involved more than 230 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel from across Canada including:
- Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, and the 4th Canadian Division Arctic Response Company Group;
- Canadian Rangers from 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group;
- Divers from the Royal Canadian Navy’s Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic); and
- Airmen and airwomen from across the Royal Canadian Air Force, including Yellowknife-based 440 (Transport) Squadron;
International participants in Op NUNALIVUT 16 included:
- Personnel from The U.S. Air National Guard 109th Airlift Wing; and
- Personnel from the Danish Sirius Patrol
The three-week operation provided an opportunity for the CAF to:
- Exercise Canada’s sovereignty over its northernmost regions;
- Demonstrate the ability to operate in the harsh winter environment in remote areas of the High Arctic; and
- Enhance its capability to respond to any situation in Canada’s North. Op NU 16 also allowed the CAF to provide meaningful support to scientific research in the Arctic, and to demonstrate interoperability with military allies.
Op NUNALIVUT 15 took place from April 1 to 22, 2015. The operation was commanded by Joint Task Force North and involved over 200 personnel including:
- Canadian Rangers from 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG);
- soldiers from Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI);
- Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) divers from both Pacific and Atlantic fleets;
- airmen and airwomen from across the Royal Canadian Air Force, including Yellowknife-based 440 (Transport) Squadron; and
- members of the 109th Air Squadron, United States Air National Guard.
Op NUNALIVUT 15 was conducted with three distinct lines of operation. 1 CRPG conducted a sovereignty patrol in the Victoria Island area, and 3 PPCLI conducted two separate patrols running east of Cambridge Bay. Joint Ice Diving operations were conducted between Parks Canada’s underwater archeologists and RCN divers on the sea ice in the vicinity of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Ice diving operations included a joint archeological effort over the site of the HMS Erebus.
Throughout this operation, the Canadian Rangers guided and mentored southern troops and provided predator control to deployed elements.
Op NUNALIVUT 14 took place between April 2 and May 3, 2014 and involved approximately 250 CAF members along with international allies, including:
- 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG);
- 1 Battalion Royal 22e Régiment (1 R22eR) C Company (Valcartier, Quebec) from the Canadian Army;
- the Royal Canadian Navy Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic);
- 109 Airlift Wing from New York State; and
- Yellowknife-based 440 (Transport) Squadron.
The operation was conducted in three distinct locations in the Resolute Bay, Nunavut area. The Task Force Headquarters operated out of Resolute Bay. A company (minus) from 1 R22eR conducted a patrol around Bathurst Island, Nunavut, approximately 500 km northwest of Resolute Bay. The Dive Team conducted operations near Gascoyne Inlet, Nunavut about 100 km east of Resolute Bay.
The Canadian Rangers guided and mentored southern troops and provided predator control to deployed elements. All outlying locations were commanded and controlled by the Task Force NUNALIVUT headquarters element.
Operation NUNALIVUT 2013 (April 2 to 30, 2013) involved 120 participants and focused on demonstrating the Canadian Armed Forces’ capability projection in the High Arctic during winter, the ability to operate in the harsh winter environment and the capacity to respond to any situation in Canada’s North. CAF members conducted reconnaissance and surveillance patrols on the land, in the air and on ice over 600km going as far west as Mould Bay, Northwest Territories and as far north as Isachsen, Nunavut.
Approximately 35 Canadian Rangers from 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group participated by conducting presence patrols between Resolute Bay and Isachsen, Nunavut, as well as on Devon Island, more specifically in Griffon Inlet and in Gascoyne Inlet.
Using the ski capability of the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-138 Twin Otter, 440 Transport Squadron assisted the exercise by providing tactical airlift for, and resupply of, troops on the sea ice. The airlift and resupply missions included the movement of fuel, rations, equipment and personnel throughout the theatre of operations, which included landing on the Arctic sea ice.
NUNALIVUT 2012 (April 10 to May 1, 2012) was conducted on Cornwallis Island and Devon Island by a task force of about 150 Canadian Armed Forces members, including about 50 Canadian Rangers. It combined ground patrols with search and rescue (SAR) exercises and diving operations in support of the Northern Watch Technology Demonstration Project, an initiative of Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). The diving operations included a survey of the world’s most northern known shipwreck, HMS Breadalbane, lost in 1853 while searching for traces of the Franklin expedition.
The SAR exercises, which went on for five days, involved CC-130 Hercules and CC-115 Buffalo fixed-wing aircraft, with crews from 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron (from 14 Wing in Greenwood, N.S.) and 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron (from 19 Wing in Comox, B.C.). CP-140 aircraft with crews from 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron (from 14 Wing in Greenwood, N.S.) and 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron (from 19 Wing in Comox, B.C.) conducted surveillance and presence flights, and gathered data on ice conditions. Air support to the exercise was provided by 440 Squadron from Yellowknife, NWT, flying CC‑138 Twin Otter aircraft equipped with skis to land on the sea ice.
Operation NUNALIVUT 2011 (April 6 to 22, 2011) involved about 250 Canadian Armed Forces members conducting cross-country patrols between Resolute and Isachsen in Nunavut, and testing critical communication links under adverse conditions.
Operation NUNALIVUT 2010 (April 6 to 26, 2010) demonstrated the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to respond to emergencies on Ellesmere Island, near Canadian Armed Forces Station Alert, on Ward Hunt Island, and on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. It featured a combined exercise with Slædepatruljen Sirius, a Greenland-based Royal Danish Navy reconnaissance unit that uses dogsled teams, the Canadian Armed Forces’ first diving operating in the high Arctic, the longest sustained ice dive in Canadian Armed Forces history, and the first flight of a CC‑177 Globemaster III strategic airlifter to the gravel- and ice-covered airfield at CFS Alert.
On Operation NUNALIVUT 2009, about 100 Canadian Armed Forces personnel conducted four aerial surveillance and ground patrols on Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg Island. For the first time, a northern operation exploited RADARSAT 2 and Polar Epsilon imagery, and benefited from weather forecasting by the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Meteorological Centre.
During Operation NUNALIVUT 2008, which was conducted during the International Polar Year, scientists accompanied the Canadian Rangers to the northwest shore of Ellesmere Island to investigate changes in the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf.
On Operation NUNALIVUT 2007, the first sovereignty operation by the Canadian Armed Forces in the northernmost islands of the Arctic Archipelago, three teams patrolled Ellesmere Island on snowmobiles, covering almost 6,000 kilometres. One team travelled up the island’s west coast to CFS Alert, the world’s most northern permanent settlement, stopping on the way to install a flag on Ward Hunt Island, a traditional start point for North Pole expeditions. The second team patrolled up the centre of Ellesmere Island, and the third crossed the island from Eureka on the west coast to Alexandra Fjord on the east coast. Air support was provided by 440 Squadron from Yellowknife, flying ski-equipped CC-138 Twin Otter utility transport aircraft, to deliver fuel and supplies along the patrol routes.
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