An early version of this article first appeared in SOFREP in February 2014 as an expert analysis written by Jonathan Wade, a Canadian Forces veteran and a previously contributing editor for SOFREP. This part 1 of 3 Winter Warfare Training series has been augmented with additional information and updated for publication today.
Winter warfare is a specialized field within military operations, and few countries understand its intricacies, as well as Canada.
With a significant portion of its territory covered in snow and ice for most of the year, Canada’s military has developed unparalleled expertise in fighting in harsh winter conditions.
In this article, we will delve into the importance of winter warfare training, drawing from the experiences of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and how they contribute to the readiness and security of North America.
Canada’s Commitment to Winter Warfare
As an Arctic nation, Canada bears the responsibility of protecting its citizens and vast landmass against both external and internal threats, even in the most extreme weather conditions.
Normal winter conditions persist for about 3-4 months in the southern part of the country and are almost permanent in the Great North.
The Canadian Forces have honed their skills to operate effectively in these conditions, making them one of the world’s most advanced militaries in winter warfare.
RAFALE BLANCHE: A Major Winter Warfare Exercise
A prime example of Canada’s dedication to winter warfare training is the RAFALE BLANCHE exercise, which typically involves approximately 2,500 soldiers and 700 vehicles from the 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group.
This exercise, spanning from late January to early February, is a testament to the CAF’s commitment to maintaining a state of readiness to protect Canadians and national interests at home.
Then-Colonel Dany Fortin, the Commander of the 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, emphasizes the significance of this exercise, stating that it ensures rigorous training and preparedness, which is vital for homeland security.
For decades, RAFALE BLANCHE has been a critical training exercise for Canadian soldiers, focusing on winter warfare skills. It has become increasingly important as Canada shifts its focus from international missions to homeland defense.
The Role of Allies and Exchanges
Canada’s commitment to winter warfare is not confined to its own military; it extends to sharing its knowledge and expertise with allies.
The United States, in particular, has benefited from Canadian winter warfare training. American military units frequently send soldiers to train in Canada’s extreme weather conditions.
The exchange of knowledge and experience between Canada and the United States is essential due to their shared border, which is the largest unprotected border in the world. This collaboration is a crucial aspect of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), ensuring the security of the continent from external threats.
Exercises like RAFALE BLANCHE also provide opportunities for NATO soldiers to enhance their expertise and become more well-rounded in winter warfare.
These exchanges strengthen the cooperative efforts of NATO members in addressing various security challenges, including those in extreme weather conditions.
Incorporating Lessons Learned from Afghanistan
To make winter warfare training scenarios more realistic and challenging, there is an opportunity to integrate the lessons learned from past deployments, such as Afghanistan.
For example, the concept of “road sweeps” used to secure highways from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and ambushes in Afghanistan can be adapted to urban environments in training exercises like RAFALE BLANCHE.
Soldiers could be tasked with keeping roads secure to protect both civilians and convoys during daily sweeps.
Another valuable lesson from Afghanistan is the practice of “cordon and search” operations.
In domestic scenarios, such as responding to natural disasters, soldiers could conduct house-to-house surveys to assess homeowners’ needs and health.
Additionally, their experience conducting soft knocks in Afghanistan could aid in identifying and apprehending criminals without alerting neighbors, enabling a smoother transition to law enforcement authorities.
The Importance of a Strong Foreign Policy and Homeland Defense
Canada’s shift in focus from international missions to homeland defense underscores the importance of being ready to protect its own territory.
The opening of the Northwest Passage, with its strategic implications, necessitates a military that can quickly respond to domestic threats during the winter months, which are almost permanent in the northern regions.
The CAF’s commitment to winter warfare is further demonstrated by outfitting all its personnel with arctic survival equipment and ensuring that Canadian Forces equipment can operate effectively in arctic conditions with minimal modifications. This preparedness reflects Canada’s commitment to operate in winter conditions and protect its citizens and territory.
Winter warfare is a unique and vital aspect of military readiness, especially for a nation like Canada. The experiences gained from exercises like RAFALE BLANCHE, along with knowledge sharing with allies like the United States, contribute to the security of North America. Moreover, incorporating lessons learned from past deployments in challenging winter scenarios enriches the training experience.
In the next parts of this throwback series, we will delve deeper into soldier training and their roles, the importance of NATO’s involvement in winter warfare expertise exchanges, and the specific functions of units like A Company of the 3rd BN Royal 22nd Regiment in winter warfare. These articles will shed further light on Canada’s dedication to winter warfare training and its significance in today’s evolving security landscape.