On Monday, 15 August, Canada begins the summer leg of Operation Nanook. An annual exercise, the operation takes places as many as four times throughout the year, each time in a different part of Canada’s North, and each time with a different objective in mind.
Taken as a whole, Operation Nanook is, according to its military, the country’s signature Northern operation and is designed as a show of national defence capabilities and to secure its Northern regions.
“At its core, [Operation Nanook] strengthens the Canadian Armed Forces’ knowledge of this vital region, allows us to work hand-in-hand with our fellow Arctic nations and key allies and fortifies our close partnerships with federal, territorial and local communities,” the military said in a statement last month. “Working in Canada’s North also hones our ability to operate in a challenging environment requiring unique skillsets, in-depth local knowledge and support and equipment designed to operate in extreme weather conditions.”
During Operation Nanook, Canadian forces — and the forces of other participating countries (this time around France, Denmark and the United States) — are mostly focused on activities that show it can operate in the country’s Northern regions, and, if needed, to defend them.
Keeping an eye on Canada’s north has never been a small task: the region encompasses 75% of the country’s coastlines and an area of some 8 million square kilometres on land and at sea, but, as other countries and individual companies have become more interested in operating in the Arctic as the region becomes more accessible, the task has become more important, while also taking on a new dimension.
“These factors are expected to lead to increased commercial activity, research and tourism in and around Canada’s northern region. The increase in traffic brings new safety and security risks. Canada must be ready to respond to search and rescue missions, as well as natural or man-made disasters,” the military said.
Operation Nanook, which was first held in 2007, took place annually with one major activity in the North. In 2018, it was separated into four distinct activities. Operation Nanook-Nunakput — the component that will be taking place next week — is used to show Canada’s presence along the Northwest Passages while also using getting a better idea of who is sailing the waterway, why they are doing so, and whether they are doing so responsibly.
Known as presence and sovereignty operations, the point of this type of mission is as much about proving to others as is to those who participate (and those who determine their budgets) that they can effectively operate in a particular place. If the next few weeks, then, are (to oversimplify what this type of activity seeks to accomplish) mostly about showing the flag, the winter component — Operation Nanook-Nunalivut — is simply about keeping warm. The point of the cold-weather exercise is to show that the military can sustain forces in the Arctic and to teach troops how to survive there.
The third led, Operation Nanook-Tatigiit, is a whole-of-government operation focused on addressing key threats identified by territorial governments, while the fourth, Operation Nanook-Tuugalik, demonstrates the Royal Canadian Navy’s ability to conduct surveillance and presence patrols in the North alongside its partners and allies.
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