Reserve units to form core of new Arctic force

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
March 22, 2009

The Canadian army has designated four reserve units to form the backbone of a new Arctic force to be created over the next five years.


Eventually the units, with about 480 personnel in total, could conduct exercises up to four times a year in the North. They would also be available to respond to any incident in the Arctic.


At the same time the Canadian Forces is continuing with its expansion of the Canadian Rangers, made up of First Nations and Inuit reservists. That expansion to around 5,000 personnel is expected to be completed by 2012.


The reserve units are 1 Royal New Brunswick Regiment, Voltigeurs de Quebec, Grey and Simcoe Foresters from Ontario and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.


The army will start off with small numbers of soldiers but eventually work its way up to having company size units, with about each having around 120 personnel, said Lt. Col. Bernie Ciarroni of the directorate of land force development, responsible for reserve issues.


“It will take place over a five-year period,” he said. “We’re now looking at what resources could be put toward this.”


The work up will give troops a chance to develop the skills they need as well as get additional equipment for Arctic operations, Ciarroni said.


Depending on the situation, regular army units may respond first or combine to join forces with the reserve units in reacting to an incident in the Arctic.


But Ciarroni noted the selected reserve units will constitute the leadership of the Arctic companies. “Our focus is getting them up there so they can understand the environment and survive in it,” he said. “That’s our principle thing at this stage of the game.”


Initially the units will go up North once or twice a year but other initiatives would be included as time goes on. The first operation could be scheduled for the fall.


Ciarroni said that the focus is to have units working in the fall and the spring. “Our intention is to work up there in peak periods,” he explained. “If it is 72 below zero and pitch dark I don’t think we’ll be up there unless we really had to be.”


Prime Minister Stephen Harper has emphasized that Canada will increase its military presence in the North as part of his government’s Canada First defence strategy. Over the years the government has announced a series of initiatives, ranging from the proposed construction of Arctic and offshore patrol ships for the navy, an icebreaker for the Coast Guard, and an Arctic training centre for troops. Such initiatives are still years away from becoming reality.


Harper has also signalled concern about incidents where foreign military vessels, including those from the U.S., have entered Canadian northern waters without permission from Canada. There have been a number of sightings of mysterious vessels in the country’s northern waters, the latest taking place last summer. Some in the military believe the vessel, sighted by hunters at the northern portion of Baffin Island, was a foreign submarine.


Harper has pointed to the oil, gas and mineral deposits in the country’s Arctic region, resources which he noted are critical to the country’s economic growth. “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic; we either use it or lose it,” Harper said in July 2007. “And make no mistake — this government intends to use it.”


But Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, chairman of the Senate’s defence committee, questioned the government’s focus on the use of military forces in the Arctic. He said while having a military capability for the North is useful, the emphasis should be on adding more RCMP and employees from other government agencies to boost the Canadian presence in the region.


Kenny also said that more resources should be directed to the Canadian Coast Guard so it can expand its operations in the North.


Ciarroni said the Arctic companies will develop good relations with the Rangers and the local population, ensuring those links continue on a regular basis.


The navy and air force are also looking at ways to increase their presence in the north.



For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:


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