Polar nations meet to discuss High Arctic

News Article / March 2, 2017

From The Maple Leaf

Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces representatives gathered with their counterparts from seven other polar nations—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and United States—in late 2016 for the International Cooperative Engagement Program for Polar Research (ICE-PPR) conference. 

Hosted by Joint Task Force North commander Brigadier-General Mike Nixon in his headquarters in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, the conference was co-chaired by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Dale Reding, Director General Science and Technology Air and Navy; and Rear-Admiral Mat Winter, the United States Navy’s Chief of Naval Research. 

“It was Joint Task Force (North)’s pleasure to host the second International Cooperative Engagement Program for Polar Research conference in Yellowknife to discuss Arctic security, research, and development challenges with other arctic nations,” said Brigadier-General Nixon. “The two-day conference was an opportunity to collectively look at these challenges while also exposing international participants to the beautiful Canadian North.”

ICE-PPR is a multi-national partnership forum that links research and operational communities through science and technology to strengthen polar nations’ partnerships and to plan for the future to our mutual benefit.

“I continue to be pleased with the sustained momentum of activities and dialogue since our first national principals meeting in Helsinki in February 2016,” Rear-Admiral Winter said. “The convening of our second meeting in Yellowknife, Canada's gateway to the Arctic, is a great opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges in cold-weather, high latitude environments.”

The inaugural ICE-PPR conference, held in Helsinki, Finland, provided a unique forum in which senior international defence officials could explore their nations’ interests in collaborating on scientific and technological research efforts that follow four key themes through a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

The October conference had two objectives: to negotiate a formal agreement among participating nations that captured in a practical form the ideas and spirit of the first meeting including activities, resources, and how to access or collaborate; and to identify specific activities for each nation that would contribute to the four thematic areas of interest:

Situational awareness: Improving the ability of Canada’s military to monitor and control the approaches to Canada from the Arctic has been the objective of successive operations, exercises, and science and technology projects. Sharing experience, knowledge, and resources with our polar colleagues should accelerate the meeting of that objective.

Environmental sensing and modelling: Understanding the Arctic environment enables the Canadian Armed Forces to effectively operate in the Arctic when others may not, giving us a significant advantage. That understanding also enables the CAF to avoid, minimize and, if necessary, correct the impact of  operations on the environment. The Canadian High Arctic may differ in some respects from the polar environments of the other ICE-PPR participants, but sharing information and resources contributes to a deeper understanding of all the environments.

Human Performance: Strengthening the abilities of CAF personnel to survive and operate effectively in the North has been the object of many Forces’ exercises and activities in the High Arctic. Improving the abilities of CAF members to adapt to the wide range of challenges posed by life and work in the High Arctic—long periods of sunlight or darkness, biting insects, extreme cold, incessant wind, recovery from injury, and more—continues to feature in Canadian High Arctic defence activities that Canada has in common with its polar partners. Together, the partners can work more efficiently to pursue resolution of many of these challenges.

Platforms: Expanding the operating envelopes of Canadian aircraft, surface vehicles, ships and submarines will also benefit from sharing opportunities to trial new ideas and to share the results of those trials.

Existing and surviving in the Arctic is a challenge for Canada. Canada needs to better coordinate national and international science and technology activities necessary to provide innovative, timely and effective polar capabilities supporting defence and security operations in the north. ICE-PPR provides a framework for cooperating with major polar nations on innovative naval research and operational capabilities. In essence, ICE-PPR represents international polar research for today and tomorrow.

“On behalf of the Assistant Deputy Minister of Science and Technology and the Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, and in my role as scientific advisor to the RCN and the RCAF, it was my pleasure to co-chair our international and national science and operational colleagues in Yellowknife,” Mr. Reding said. “The enthusiasm and energy shown by all participants to work together to tackle tough polar science and technology problems was absolutely incredible. Bringing together like-minded polar nations, under the ICE-PPR banner, has already led to an explosion of innovative ideas on how to better enable naval operations in polar environments.”

ICE-PPR also provides a forum for the participating nations to work together in extreme environments, identifying and solving interoperability challenges unknown and unanticipated in other environments.  By identifying to each other the objectives of various operations and exercises, economies can be realized in organizing, commanding, and supporting activities in the High Arctic.

The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces personnel live in and operate on a daily basis in the High Arctic through the activities of a variety of organizations and activities. Defence Research and Development Canada has experience in power and energy projects. Joint Task Force North conducts expeditionary operations and exercises – involving personnel and assets from the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force –  throughout Canada’s North, many of which include an international component.  Canadian Forces Station Alert, which belongs to the Royal Canadian Air Force is a key signals intelligence facility on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island and is regularly used to support Canadian military operations in the North. In addition, the RCAF conducts search and rescue training and missions in the North.

And soon, Canada’s future fleet of arctic and offshore patrol ships, the first of which is set to arrive in the autumn of 2018, will better enable the Royal Canadian Navy to assert and enforce sovereignty in Canadian waters, including in the Arctic.

These are all examples of the breadth of experience the Department and the Forces have in operating in the High North that enables a significant contribution to ICE-PPR. Canada’s High Arctic is a complex environment no matter the perspective, and the polar environments of Canada’s ICE-PPR colleagues are no less challenging. The International Cooperative Engagement Program for Polar Research will provide all its partners with a venue to work together in mastering those complexities and challenges.

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