A CF-18 Hornet takes off for a combat training flight during Operation REASSURANCE - Air Task Force Romania, Dec. 2, 2020 at Mihail Kogӑlniceanu Air Base, Romania. (S1 Zach Barr/Canadian Armed Forces Photo)

Canadian fighter jets practice air-to-air refueling in the High Arctic

A pair of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 Hornet fighter jets practiced air-to-air refueling over the northeastern Canadian Arctic as part of their fighter training this week, Canadian Armed Forces said in a press release on Thursday.

The training scenario involved two CF-18 fighter jets based in Bagotville, Quebec and one CC-150T Polaris air-to-air refueling aircraft operating from Iqaluit, Nunavut, according to the press release.

All three aircraft met over Baffin Bay and after successful refueling, the Hornets continued flying north to conduct an Arctic patrol along the northeastern coast of Baffin Island, in the vicinity of the Nanisivik naval facility.

“The Arctic is a fundamental part of Canada and this type of training strengthens situational awareness and information sharing with our Arctic partners and allies while enhancing our agility and reach into Canada’s northernmost territories,” said in a statement Maj.-Gen. Eric Kenny, Commander of the 1st Canadian Air Division.

Practicing air-to-air refueling is an essential skill for the RCAF’s ability to operate over northern Canada and fulfill its obligations under the North American Air Defence Agreement (NORAD) and NATO.

Given Canada’s sheer size, the CF-18 Hornets, which have a range of about 3,300 kilometres, require refueling as soon as they reach the Canadian Arctic from their bases in Bagotville, Quebec, and Cold Lake, Alberta.

We often underestimate just how far Canada’s High Arctic is from where the majority of the Canadian population, and its military, reside,” said Timothy Choi, a defence expert and Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“For our fighters from their Bagotville base in Quebec to reach the naval refuelling station at Nanisivik, which was their destination this time, it’s tantamount to flying across the Atlantic from Newfoundland.”

Arranging for refuelling aircraft to be available in the right place and the right time requires that the logistical backbone is in place and such exercises are a way to ensure that what makes sense on paper actually works out in real life, Choi said.

RCAF’s Airbus CC-150T Polaris are basically flying tankers that support the military’s strategic airlift and air-to-air refuelling roles for domestic and overseas operations, as well as for NORAD, including Arctic operations.

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