Military plans biggest-ever sovereignty operation

“It’s covering a larger chunk of the North than has ever been covered”

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The Canadian military will stage its biggest, most expensive sovereignty operation ever in the High Arctic next month.

Operation Nunalivut, or “land that is ours,” will involve about 75 Canadian Forces troops snowmobiling 4,500 kilometres from different points to meet up at Lougheed Island on April 4.

“It’s covering a larger chunk of the North than has ever been covered,” said Capt. Conrad Schubert with the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. The five patrols will form a rough triangle, with one patrol leaving from Ellesmere Island, three more from Prince Patrick Island, and a fifth from Resolute Bay.

Put together, that covers an area of about 250,000 square kilometres, he said.

The operation is the first time Ranger patrols will receive guidance from Twin Otters flying overhead. It will also be the first time separate patrols will attempt to meet up in the middle of nowhere. Except for a few Rangers from Resolute, the terrain will be unknown to everyone, Schubert said.

Planners hope they’ll have better weather than Rangers from several Kivalliq communities who planned a sovereignty exercise last week. Blizzards forced them to cancel the mission.

Operation Nunalivut’s patrols will inspect abandoned runways and buildings along their route. If they’re found in good shape, the structures could be used in emergencies, for instance, in the event of a passenger jet crashing in the Arctic, Schubert said.

Some buildings, like the abandoned weather station in Mould Bay, apparently still have snowplows and trucks, as well as comfy couches, decade-old movies on VHS, and somebody’s old guitar.

“It’s kind of like a ghost ship,” Schubert said. “They apparently just packed up and walked away.”

This patrol plays a more practical role than many past sovereignty exercises, which involved mostly symbolic gestures, like visiting a desolate hunk of rock to build an inuksuk and raise a Canadian flag.

The military has invited the Governor General to meet them on the ice, but as of this Tuesday, they had not heard back, said Schubert.

Rangers will also be able to test out new satellite tracking gadgets, allowing them to find precise locations quickly in an emergency.

As early as next week, an Aurora aircraft will fly over the proposed route. Troops will begin their expedition on March 28, returning on April 9.

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