Armed Forces eyes Nanisivik for military base

Plans for increased presence in Nunavut include additional personnel, navy exercises


The Canadian Armed Forces is planning to increase its profile in Nunavut by hiring additional personnel and possibly establishing a new base at Nanisivik.

“There will be more presence in the North,” said Col. Kevin McLeod, commander of the Canadian Forces Northern Area.

McLeod plans to add 30 new positions to the Northern Command — six this year. He also wants to develop three or four new military defense sites across the North.

“We could do that through smaller bases that are ready to be occupied or have a capacity to be occupied for training, operations or in response to an incident,” he said.

One of those bases could be the soon-to-be abandoned mine site at Nanisivik. The command is preparing a military estimate, or feasibility study, to determine Nanisivik’s suitability as a military base.

McLeod said he is also discussing the possibility with Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik.

“We’re working with him and his task force,” McLeod said. “[Nanisivik has] an airport, a port and it has buildings.”

Land, sea, ground coordination

This summer, Nunavut will see the addition of new military personnel. In August, McLeod plans to post a permanent, year-round officer in Iqaluit, holding the rank of captain.

“His role is to be my eyes and ears in Iqaluit and provide my direct liaison,” McLeod said. “He will wear his uniform and people will say, ‘Yes, there’s a Canadian Forces presence in Iqaluit.’”

Also in August, Canada’s navy will return to Iqaluit for the first time since 1989, for a series of maritime exercises with coastal patrol vessels.

The exercise is part of McLeod’s larger plan to lay the groundwork for more coordination between Canada’s land, sea and air forces in the Arctic.

“We want to do this in baby steps,” McLeod said. “It is very complex.”

The commander also supports the development of a new satellite surveillance system that would keep watch over the Arctic.

“We need a satellite-based capacity to monitor our environment, our activities,” McLeod said.

The Canadian military is looking at a $600-million satellite system, dubbed the Polar Star, that would conduct surveillance on aircraft and vessels approaching North America, keep an eye on the Arctic, and supply information to the United States.

Work could begin as early as next year on ground stations to support the Polar Star system.

The satellite system could complement a U.S. plan to put weapons, such as lasers, in orbit. These weapons could be a vital component of the National Missile Defense system the U.S. wants as a shield against missile attacks.

Protecting the Arctic

The U.S. has already asked Canada to participate in a new Northern Command unit that would be similar in design to the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), in which Canada already cooperates.

Lt-Gen. Ken Pennie, the current Canadian deputy-commander of NORAD, has said it would be in Canada’s interest to be involved in the new Northern Command because an attack on the U.S. would affect Canada as well.

The national defense department in Ottawa will decide what form of collaboration, if any, Canada will have with the U.S. on its Northern Command and NMD system.

But McLeod said he wants any Canadian involvement to dovetail with the objectives of the Canadian Forces Northern Area command.

These objectives were fine-tuned at a meeting of the Arctic Security Inter-departmental Working Group this month, during which 47 participants spent three days in Iqaluit discussing issues related to Arctic security and sovereignty.

McLeod said meeting participants discussed, among other things, the need for more protection of Arctic waters and land.

“The Coast Guard clearly needs to get a plan in place to replace its icebreakers and there needs to be a more aggressive capacity of Canada to protect its Arctic waters with the Navy or Coast Guard or a combination of both.”

McLeod said it’s essential ships register with Canadian officials before sailing in Canadian Arctic waters.

“We must have a grip on who’s there, what they’re carrying, where they’re shipping, what their intentions are,” he said.

The Northern Forces also needs to improve its ability to cope with an air disaster.

“We must at all costs and at every turn try to increase out capacity to respond to a major air disaster in the North,” McLeod said.

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