No this is not the Hoth system, it’s Canada …
In this series of articles, I will elaborate on the importance of being able to fight in winter warfare here in Canada. It is also important to share our experience with our NATO allies but even more with the United States Military as we share an unprotected border and we keep our continent safe and secured through NORAD.
But before going into the subject, I’d like to talk about my experience in the winter. In 14 years of service, I had the opportunity to go in the Great North three times for periods between 7-21 days. We also had an introduction to winter warfare every year to keep a certain standard and readiness and to make sure our newly formed privates don’t die from hypothermia.
While most of the effort and budget was directed to Afghanistan, we kept training for Winter Warfare at a platoon and company level. We would spend weeks in the field here in Quebec working on the very basics; establishing patrol bases with arctic tents, conducting combat patrols with snowshoes and working a cache routine to keep the enemy at bay.
It was a normal thing for me to be able to operate in temperature of about -20 to -40 degrees celsius with efficiency. Most of the Canadian soldiers learn to work in the cold the hard way but they get used to it and it becomes second nature.
RAFALE BLANCHE, a Brigade Major Winter Warfare Exercise
Approximately 2,500 soldier and 700 vehicles from the 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (5 CMBG) are presently taking part in a major exercise called RAFALE BLANCHE. From January 28th to February 5th, the 5 CMBG will train in winter warfare.
Colonel Dany Fortin, Commander of 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, Valcartier, Québec clearly affirmed that:
“Over the past ten years, the Canadian military mission to Afghanistan has taken centre stage. It is important to remember, however, that one of our priorities has always been to maintain a state of readiness to protect Canadians and Canadian national interests at home. Such readiness, of course, depends upon rigorous training, and that is what is currently being provided through RAFALE BLANCHE.”
With my last article focusing on going back to a more conventional warfare, I thought this would really demonstrate the intention of the Chain-of-Command. In my 14 years of military service, RAFALE BLANCHE was always a very important training exercise to keep us up to date on our Winter Warfare skills. But since a good amount of soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan, the training was always cut short or only done at platoon and company size to keep the cost as low as possible.
But now that our focus is changing, those major exercises are starting to come back. I do believe that this is a good thing because our training was not entirely focused on defending our country in the last 13 years, the first purpose of Armed Forces if you ask me.
Nowadays, it is important to be able to react on our home front, especially since we have to cover vast open areas in our Great North.
Even a platoon of Polish paratroopers from the Polish Army 6th Airborne brigade based in Krakow, Poland are taking part in RAFALE BLANCHE. They were parachuted from a C-17 Globemaster alongside A Company of the 3rd BN Royal 22nd Regiment, my old unit. A few years ago, we had Gurkhas with us in an exchange training. They would come here to learn the basics of Winter Warfare and then we’d go to Borneo to learn the basic of jungle warfare. It is through exchanges that NATO soldiers gain more expertise and become more well-rounded.
As I could read on Defence Watch:
“Exercise participants will practice winter survival skills; conduct long range patrolling; navigate in rural and urban settings; secure helicopter landing pads; and complete a parachute drop in cold weather conditions. Soldiers will also have the opportunity to meet with residents of the region and showcase the army equipment being used during the weekend of February 1-2.”
But will those exercises survive the massive budget cuts underway in the Defence? I surely hope so, as being ready to intervene at brigade level in a Winter Warfare scenario is crucial for Canada, one of the biggest Arctic countries on this planet.
The Importance of Being Ready for Winter Warfare
That brings me to the importance of winter warfare. The Canadian Forces (CF) are one of the most advanced militaries in the world when it comes to fighting during the winter time. As an Arctic country, it is their responsibility to protect their citizens and the land against any outside or inside threat in any weather conditions. Normal winter conditions last for about 3-4 months in the southern part of the country and are almost permanent up in the Great North.
While we are called upon to deploy everywhere in the world, I am glad to see that the CF are once again refocusing on those winter exercises. We sure need a strong foreign policy to keep our border tight and secured but we also need to be able to fully operate on our home turf.
With the opening of the Northwest Passage, as I wrote in one of my articles here on SOFREP, it is only normal that the Canadian soldiers are able to quickly react to any threat or domestic situations during the winter time, which is almost permanent up there.
The Canadian Forces is the only member of NATO to outfit all its personnel with arctic survival equipment; this is in addition to all Canadian Forces equipment being able to operate effectively in arctic conditions with minimal changes. This clearly shows Canada’s preparedness to operate during winter.
Training American Soldiers
The United States military sends soldiers almost every year to come and train in our weather conditions. This is a great opportunity for these soldiers to gain precious experience and share it with their home unit.
The North American continent has the largest unprotected border in the world and NORAD is a successful organisation that keeps it secured from outside threats as well. It is only normal, in my opinion, that we share some of our knowledge with our closest ally so they can also operate in those extreme conditions alongside us.
I will cover this more deeply in part 2 of the article.
Lessons Learned from Afghanistan in a Winter Warfare Scenario
There is a way to incorporate the lessons learned from Afghanistan into Winter Warfare training scenarios to make them more realistic and challenging. For example, the road sweeps. As an advisor to the Afghan National Army in 2009, we were doing daily road sweeps to keep Highway 1 secured against IEDs and possible ambushes.
In exercices such as RAFALE BLANCHE, where a part of the training is done in urban environment involving civilians, soldiers could be tasked to keep the road secured to protect both the civilians and the convoys by conducting daily sweeps.
Another example would be to cordon and search areas. It was a very usual thing that was done in Afghanistan as we would do soft knocks on a certain number of compounds everyday to tag them as safe.
In a domestic operation scenario, such as a natural disaster, soldiers could be called to go from house to house to do a quick survey about the needs of the home owners and their current state of health. There is also a possibility that crime could be committed so by having experience of doing soft knocks in Afghanistan, the soldiers could find those criminals without alerting the neighbours and transfer them to the Law Enforcement officers.
This is only a quick introduction of the next few articles I will write. In part 2 I will concentrate on the soldier’s training and their jobs. I will also talk about how NATO should learn from our experience in Winter Warfare through more exchanges like we have recently started to do. I will also present you A Company of 3rd BN Royal 22nd Regiment, my old unit, who are paratroopers, as I cover what their role is in Winter Warfare.
In part 3, I will get into a more political side of the importance of being able to protect our own country while keeping a strong foreign policy.