Thinking Outside the Igloo?
© 2011 FrontLine Defence (Vol 8, No 3)

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When the Government first announced it would enhance the Ranger Program, I believed it was an excellent opportunity to improve security and sovereignty of the Arctic. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the new resources are well spent. Additional options should be examined.

Until very recently, the Canadian Government was almost blind to what was going on in the Arctic. The only continuous presence of a federal nature was limited to the North Warning System (NWS) and the Rangers of 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG) which is located north of the 60th parallel. The Canadian Coast Guard was present during the summer months but security and sovereignty was not part of their mandate. The NWS is naturally focused on the air threat and has been doing a great job of it.

The Rangers – the “eyes and ears” of the Canadian Forces – have also contributed to the surveillance of the Arctic in a significant way but their footprint, in an area larger than continental Europe, is somewhat limited. Their land contribution has been exceptional but their maritime contribution has been minimal.

Rangers travel to Iqaluit for Operation NANOOK on HMCS Goose Bay. From left: Cpl Edward Dempsey, MCpl Bert Croucher, MCpl John Sexton, WO Donnie Rowsell, MCpl Earl Lawrence, and (kneeling) Pte Levi Nochasak.
After studying security and sovereignty of the Arctic for over 15 years, I am convinced that we face two principal threats. The most important and immediate one is of an environmental nature and is related to human security. The Arctic is a very fragile eco system with a very short and vertical food chain. It is a pristine environment that the Inuit have enjoyed for centuries, and any ecological damage will be felt for decades. It is therefore incumbent for the Canadian Government to closely control human activity to ensure that it is conducted in a safe and responsible manner.

That environmental threat is mostly from maritime activity. In 2010, three ships ran aground, one of them carrying millions of liters of fuel. Fortunately, there was no loss of life and minimum environmental damage, however, these incidents clearly underline the need to increase our capacity to monitor this fragile environment. Climate change is making the Arctic increasingly accessible and it is therefore imperative that the federal government quickly take appropriate steps to protect it.

The second threat is closely related to the first. It is of a sovereignty nature. Canada defines its internal waters using the straight baselines method which draws our boundary along the outside perimeter of the Arctic Archipelago. All the waters inside the baseline are internal waters over which Canada has total sovereignty.

Many countries, however, do not recognize the straight baseline method. They use the 12 nautical miles rule to define territorial waters. To make matters worse, many nations, including the United States, also claim that the Northwest Passage is an international strait through which they have the right of transit. Either way, other countries claim the right of “innocent passage” through our Arctic waters.

In addition, the right of transit over an international strait includes the airspace above and the water below. With seven possible routes across the Arctic Archipelago, there are many ways that aggressive nations could transit across our Arctic.

Surveillance and Protection
It follows that to protect such a fragile environment we should first be ready to support our claim of sovereignty over the waters of the Arctic Archipelago. We must build a capacity to identify all intruders and be in a position to swiftly deal with any issue anywhere in the Arctic.

Our ability to identify air intruders has been considerable along the line of the North Warning System – although it still lacks somewhat along the northern tip of the Arctic Archipelago.
The ability to identify intruders on the land or the ice has been excellent given the presence of the Rangers’ boots on the ground. It should be noted that identifying marine intruders has improved significantly through the use of RADARSAT 2, increased Aurora long range maritime patrols and the recent requirement for ships over 300 tons to report to NORDREG, the Arctic Maritime Management System.

Our ability to respond to an intruder is another matter. NORAD has proven time and again that the CF-18s under its command can deal with air threats over the North. The ability of the Rangers to deal with intruders on land is also good – they report suspicious activity to the RCMP who can enforce the rule of law quickly. Marine intruders, however, present a special problem.

First, we need complete situational awareness, to be aware of all entities – surface and sub-surface – that are approaching our waters. This is where our challenge begins because we have few “eyes and ears” on the water. The Coast Guard may or may not have an icebreaker in the area. Most of the time it will be hours or often days before they can physically intervene. Next, we need to ascertain if they are friendly or aggressive, or pose a risk to the environment. If they have not reported to NORDREG, and are spotted by an Aurora or RADARSAT 2, they are immediately categorized as suspicious and need to be dealt with. What if there is a marine emergency? What if the intruder is polluting the environment?

One of the ways to fill the gap in the short and long term, is to train the Rangers for a maritime mission. After all, they know their general area and can easily spot changes that require action.

The Rangers live in the North, and have vested interests in protecting the fragile environment they cherish deeply. If Canada hopes to make Northern communities economically viable in the long term, training the native peoples for meaningful jobs will create the only win-win option possible. The spin-off benefits, such as reduced domestic violence and suicides are  an obvious by-product of nurturing an optimistic future for the people who already live in the challenging northern climates.

While we wait for the Arctic Patrol Vessels to become operational – in 10 years time – we could quickly, and at little cost, train and equip Ranger patrols along the Northwest Passage with a respectable sea-capable vessel like the Rosborough boats that are being used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They are built in Canada, can be procured rapidly, and the Air Force strategic lift could quickly deploy them across the Northwest Passage.

Such a deployment would provide an immediate and pervasive federal presence.  It would provide “eyes and ears” that could assist other federal departments. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) could be alerted to foreign vessels that have not reported on NORDREG due to small size. The Rangers could even provide transportation to a CBSA officer to board the vessel if required.

In their regular patrols, Rangers could identify oil spills or garbage that may have been dumped at sea by a cruise ship. They could provide transportation to RCMP officers dealing with an enforcement issue in an adjacent community. They could effectively become the “first responders” deployed along the Northwest Passage in support of a number of federal departments.

Not a New Model
The maritime Ranger patrols could operate on a part-time basis during the shipping season and the Rangers could serve in a fashion similar to reservists under a Class B contract. Their mandate, mission, and training requirements would naturally need to be reviewed. In my view, it is a simple matter and one that has happened time and again since their inception in 1942 to protect against the Japanese invasion. It is not even thinking outside of the igloo.

The benefits would be significant. First we would increase our security in the Arctic and simultaneously solidify our sovereignty claim. The social benefits to the northern communities will be very important and potentialy transformational.

This is the Harper Government’s oppor tunity to make history – by implementing Canada’s Northern Strategy in a manner that fully includes our native ­peoples. It will provide meaningful and important employment in a sector requiring technical knowledge. The young Inuit are ready; in an era where their way of life has been drastically altered by the effects of “progress,” these challenges will encourage future generations.

Training and equipping the Rangers for increased responsibilities increases the capacity – in the broadest sense of the word – of those communities. Rangers would receive their sea worthiness tickets and be trained in the operation and maintenance of small engines, satellite communications, the use of GPS, first aid, and the use of spill kits, to name a few.

Rangers are the proudest ‘citizen soldiers’ I have come across. It is my understanding that they would eagerly embrace this new mission and accomplish it in the same manner they have served the Canadian Forces to date. My consultation with the aboriginal leadership indicates that they would support such an initiative.

Providing the Rangers with a limited maritime capability will vastly improve Canada’s search and rescue capability along the Northwest Passage and comply with recommendations by the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

One important benefit of a marine mandate is that local aboriginals will be protecting their own ancestral fishing and hunting grounds. Who, from the international community, would dare challenge them?
Colonel (retired) Pierre Leblanc, is the former Commander of CF Northern Area.
© FrontLine Defence 2011