Trekking Up North: Canadian Rangers ride snowmobiles over the Arctic tundra on an April 19 sovereignty patrol near Baring Bay, Nunavut. Canada plans to expand its Arctic military role with a new training base, a fleet of patrol ships and other new gear. (Canadian Forces)
OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces’ push to boost its presence in the Arctic is fueling the need for new equipment, ranging from stealthy snowmobiles to UAVs that can operate in the remote region.
Other companies are preparing to bid on the Canadian Army’s project to buy a new fleet of all-terrain vehicles for operations in the north.
The Army’s commander, Lt. Gen. Peter Devlin, said efforts to improve Arctic capabilities are progressing well, and that 800 Canadian soldiers conducted exercises in Norway in February and March. But increasing presence in such regions will require support from industry with new equipment, as well as help with logistics.
A new Arctic training base is set to be built, and plans are underway for construction of a new fleet of Arctic and offshore patrol ships at a cost of 3 billion Canadian dollars ($3 billion), as well as a 700 million-Canadian dollar Polar-class icebreaker.
“The challenge in operating in the north is that it costs big bucks,” Devlin said. “You have to transport yourself there, and then there are additional costs tied to fuel, tied to how syou feed yourself, tied to water, tied to sanitation.”
But defense companies are lining up to bid on the potential contracts.
Northrop Grumman has made a presentation to the Canadian government about selling a fleet of Global Hawk UAVs capable of patrolling the Arctic.
Canada has a plan to eventually purchase UAVs, but Northrop’s proposal would see the acquisition of Global Hawks outside of that project. Canadian government sources said the purchase is being consi-dered by the Conservative Party government as a way to show it is delivering on its promise to project Canada’s sovereignty over its Arctic territories.
Northrop official Dane Marolt said the company has proposed the purchase of at least three UAVs, dubbed Polar Hawks.
“One Polar Hawk can fly the entire Northwest Passage five or six times in a single mission,” said Marolt, director of international business development for the company’s Global Hawk program.
“With three aircraft, you can do coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That gives you situational awareness of what’s going on, so if something’s identified, then action can be taken by the government,” Marolt said.
The price would be about $150 million to $170 million for each UAV, plus long-term maintenance.
Armored Vehicle Proposals
The Army has an Arctic capability project underway called the medium all-terrain vehicle. Canada already operates the Hägglunds Bv206, a tracked armored vehicle built by a Swedish subsidiary of Britain’s BAE Systems.
“We have a re-life package for that or separately we have the BvS10,” said Jim Reid, BAE’s business development director for Canada.
Reid said such vehicles could play more than just a role in the Arctic.
“It’s not just about the snow. It actually gives you a capability to do other things,” he said, noting that the BvS10 has been used in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.
General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada and ST Kinetics, a Singapore firm, also have their eye on the Army project. They’ve joined forces to promote the Bronco New-Generation Marginal Terrain Vehicle.
No cost details or timelines have been released on the Army project.
The country’s decision to build a fleet of Arctic and offshore patrol vessels, as well as a new Polar-class icebreaker, has sparked discussions between the Army and Arktos Developments, Surrey, Bri-tish Columbia.
The company builds the Arktos amphibious craft, and company President Bruce Seligman said the government is interested in placing those onboard the patrol vessels and icebreaker.
The craft originally was designed to evacuate people from oil rigs, and it can carry 52 in that mode. Arktos has sold 21 amphibious craft so far, mostly to the oil and gas industry.
Seligman said in the Canadian situation, the Arktos could be used as a “connector” to transport people from ship to shore.
The Special Operations Forces Command also has an eye on developing equipment for the Arctic.
In August 2011, the Department of National Defence informed industry it was interested in the development of a prototype snowmobile for covert military operations in Canada’s Arctic. The department’s science branch, Defence Research and Development Canada, has reserved 500,000 Ca-nadian dollars to develop a prototype gas-electric hybrid vehicle.
The government has told industry that existing gas-powered engines are too noisy for covert operations, and it wants a snowmobile with a silent mode that could be activated when necessary.
The special operations forces are interested in acquiring such a vehicle, military sources said. It is expected that a prototype can be developed by next March.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been pushing for an increased military presence in the Arctic for several years.
“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, after he announced the patrol ship program. “And make no mistake — this government intends to use it.”
He has cited the presence of oil, gas and minerals in the country’s Arctic region, resources he labeled as critical to its economic growth.
Canada also is creating a 500-member Army response capability for the Arctic, and it is expanding the Canadian Rangers, a reserve force made up of First Nations and Inuit personnel.