Operations in the North

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has operated in the North for more than a century. The CAF contributes to the Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy by:

  • conducting routine sovereignty operations in the North;
  • working regularly with other government departments;
  • conducting regular surveillance and security patrols (land, sea and air);
  • monitoring and controlling of Northern airspace under the auspices of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD);
  • conducting coordinated responses to aeronautical and maritime search and rescue (SAR); and
  • maintaining the signals intelligence receiving facility at Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert, the most Northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world.

Working with partners

Effective stewardship of the North is achieved through partnerships among federal, provincial and territorial departments and agencies, as well as through established relationships with Northern leaders, communities, and peoples of the North, including indigenous communities.

The CAF works closely with several government departments and agencies to carry out its mandate. The CAF also supports the safety and security activities of its partners, such as disaster response, counter-narcotics, smuggling and terrorism. Some of these partners include:

  • Canadian Coast Guard (CCG);
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP);
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO);
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada;
  • Public Safety;
  • Parks Canada; and
  • territorial governments of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Joint Task Force (North)

Operational command and control of military assets in the northern area of operations is conducted by Joint Task Force (North) (JTFN) – one of CJOC’s six regional task forces. JTFN also serves as a liaison to territorial governments and communities of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut.

In addition to its headquarters in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, JTFN maintains detachments in Whitehorse, Yukon, and Iqaluit, Nunavut. Also located in Yellowknife is C Company, The Loyal Edmonton Regiment – a Primary Reserve Infantry. Tactical air support is provided by 440 (Transport) Squadron that uses tundra tire or ski-equipped Twin Otter aircraft to enable operations in the austere arctic environment

JTFN employs Canadian Rangers (a sub-component of the CAF Reserve) in the North through 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG). The members of 1 CRPG carry out more than 110 patrols and operations every year to provide the Government of Canada and the CAF surveillance and presence in isolated areas of the North.


The CAF maintains a year-round presence in Canada’s northern region through the activities of JTFN and a host of joint exercises and annual sovereignty operations held in the high, western and eastern Arctic. While the precise objectives of each operation differ, they share the same overarching purposes:

  • to exercise Canada’s sovereignty in the region;
  • to advance CAF capabilities for Arctic operations; and
  • to improve interdepartmental coordination and interoperability in response to Northern safety and security issues.

The following operations are conducted annually:

  • Operation NUNALIVUT employs the unique capabilities of the Canadian Rangers and 440 (Transport) Squadron to support JTFN operations in the extreme High Arctic environment.
  • Operation NUNAKPUT is an integrated JTFN sovereignty and interoperability operation in cooperation with the CCG, DFO, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the RCMP. It takes place on Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and the Beaufort Sea region, including Herschel Island. Canadian Rangers from 1 CRPG play a prominent role in providing local knowledge and mentorship to southern-based participants during this operation.
  • Operation NANOOK is Canada’s largest annual sovereignty operation and includes Canadian Rangers, Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) personnel and assets integrated with whole-of-government and international partners.
  • Operation NEVUS is the annual deployment of a CAF technical team to perform resupply and maintenance on the High Arctic Data Communications System (HADCS). The HADCS provides a communication link between CFS Alert on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island and the rest of Canada.

Search and Rescue in the North

In Canada, search and rescue (SAR) is a shared responsibility among federal, provincial/territorial and municipal organizations, as well as air, ground and maritime volunteer SAR organizations.

There are three SAR regions (SRR) in Canada, each one with a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) staffed by RCAF and CCG personnel. Responsibility for initiating a SAR response in Canada’s North generally rests with the JRCC in the region where the response is required:

  • JRCC Victoria provides the primary SAR response to the Yukon Territory;
  • JRCC Trenton to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, including the north of Baffin Island; and
  • JRCC Halifax to the southern half of Baffin Island.

The primary SAR responsibility of the CAF is the provision of aeronautical SAR and the coordination of the aeronautical and maritime SAR system.

Many CAF assets are prepositioned in various locations across Canada to support SAR operations. The following aircraft can be called upon to conduct SAR operations in the North:

  • CC-130 Hercules aircraft based at Winnipeg, Trenton and Greenwood;
  • CH-149 Cormorant helicopters based at Greenwood, Gander and Comox;
  • CC-115 Buffalo aircraft based in Comox;
  • CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft based in Yellowknife; and
  • CH-146 Griffon helicopters based in Cold Lake, Trenton, and Goose Bay.

The CAF also cooperates with international partners to provide greater SAR coverage in the Arctic region and conduct joint SAR exercises with other Arctic nations. In May 2011, Canada and seven other Arctic Council member states signed The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic in Nuuk, Greenland to strengthen how Arctic Council members respond to emergencies in the Arctic.

CAF resources may also assist in ground search and rescue (GSAR) efforts, medical evacuations and other humanitarian incidents if requested by the responsible provincial/territorial or municipal authority. The Canadian Rangers, Reserve Force members of the CAF, regularly aid in GSAR upon request in sparsely settled regions of the country.

Canadian Army

The Canadian Army has a variety of assets that are stationed throughout the Arctic and others that can be deployed at a moment’s notice.

Four Arctic Response Company Groups (ARCGs) provide forces for sovereignty operations across the Canadian North. They are primarily composed of Army reservists and supported by the Regular Force. Two ARCGs are maintained at high-readiness for summer deployments and two for winter deployments.

DND and Natural Resources Canada partnered in the creation of The CAF Arctic Training Centre (ATC) in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. The CAF ATC provides a permanent and strategic location for staging and force projection across the high Arctic. It serves as a location to pre-position equipment and vehicles, as well as a command post for emergency operations and disaster response in support of civilian authorities.

The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, C Company (Yellowknife) is under the command of the 41 Canadian Brigade Group based in Edmonton, Alberta and is the first army reserve company to be manned and stationed as far north as Yellowknife. The company trains to operate in the harsh Arctic environment in support of other CAF formations, units, and federal departments.

The Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the CAF Reserve, serving as the military’s eyes and ears in sparsely-settled areas to demonstrate a year-round visible CAF presence in Canada’s Arctic. They conduct sovereignty and surveillance patrols, collect local data of military significance, provide local knowledge and expertise to operations, participate in SAR operations and provide assistance to federal, provincial/territorial or municipal authorities. The Canadian Rangers live in over 200 communities and speak 26 dialects and languages – many of which are Indigenous. There are approximately 5,000 Canadian Rangers serving in 179 patrols; each patrol consists of a minimum of eight Canadian Rangers.

Royal Canadian Navy

The RCN plays a key role in exercising Canada’s sovereignty along all three coastlines through regular participation in operations and patrols in Canada’s northern waters. The RCN also assists other government departments in enforcing national and international law.

Fisheries patrols, or FISHPATS, are conducted under a Memorandum of Understanding in support of DFO to monitor fishing vessels and enforce fishing regulations in Canada’s economic exclusion zone. The RCN contributes Halifax-class frigates or Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessels to FISHPATS.

Two Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOCs), located in Halifax, N.S. and Esquimalt, B.C., maintain vigilance over Arctic waters. MSOC facilities are staffed by personnel from the five core partners that have a vested interest in maritime security:

  • Canada Border Services Agency;
  • DND/CAF;
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada (including the CCG);
  • the RCMP; and
  • Transport Canada.

Royal Canadian Air Force

The RCAF conducts aerial, sovereignty, reconnaissance and surveillance patrols to defend Canadian and United States airspace, including the North. The RCAF also provides assistance to northern sovereignty and SAR operations.

Reporting to 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., 440 (Transport) Squadron is the only RCAF flying unit based in the North. This Yellowknife-based squadron operates four CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft to conduct airlift, utility and liaison flights. 440 Squadron maintains the capability to conduct “off-airport” operations on skis in the winter and on tundra tires in the summer. The RCAF also deploys CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft on regular aerial reconnaissance patrols.

CFS Alert also falls under the command of the RCAF through 8 Wing Trenton, Ont. CFS Alert maintains a geolocation capability (the process of identifying the geographical location of a person or object), and provides support to SAR operations, Environment Canada, Arctic researchers and other operations.

The RCAF, in conjunction with the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), maintains four Forward Operating Locations in the North. They provide the necessary infrastructure and supplies to support the deployment of CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft to remote locations.


Canada maintains a strong bilateral defence relationship with the United States. Cooperation and collaboration at the military level take place through the Tri Command: the relationship between the Canadian Joint Operations Command, the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and NORAD. The Tri Command Framework for Arctic Cooperation is a roadmap for military cooperation between CJOC, USNORTHCOM and NORAD. The Framework identifies areas for enhanced cooperation including planning, domain awareness, information-sharing, training and exercises, operations, capability development, and science and technology.


NORAD was established in 1958 as a bi-national military command in order to monitor and defend North American airspace, with the Canadian North as a critical region under this mandate. Although there are no NORAD personnel permanently-stationed in the North, the Canadian NORAD Region (headquartered in Winnipeg) maintains a significant amount of infrastructure throughout the region.

At several times during a given year, the Canadian NORAD Region conducts operations and training at various FOLs – sometimes in partnership with one or both of the Alaskan and Continental U.S. NORAD Regions.

NORAD also maintains the North Warning System, a series of 11 long-range and 36 short-range radars along the entire Arctic coast of North America. Tied in with other NORAD radars, the system forms a radar coverage zone 4,800 kilometres long and 320 kilometres wide that stretches from Alaska across Canada to Greenland, allowing NORAD to detect all approaching airborne activity.

NORAD’s mission was expanded in 2006 to include warning of potential maritime threats so that respective national authorities, like CJOC, can respond as required.

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