Canadian Army Exercise ARCTIC BISON 2017 challenged by winter thaw

Soldiers from the Arctic Response Company Group load used equipment into a CC-138 Twin Otter on Lake Winnipeg during Exercise ARCTIC BISON 2015. (MCpl Cameron Skrypnyk/DND)
About 200 Canadian soldiers began a winter warfare exercise in an unusually balmy weather on Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba Friday.

Dubbed Arctic Bison, the biennial winter exercise will see approximately 100 members of the Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG) travel by snowmobile from Gimli on the southwestern shore of Lake Winnipeg northeast to Berens Island, with additional soldiers remaining in Gimli at the exercise headquarters or in supporting roles, the Army said in a press release.

The exercise is designed to train members of the Regular and Reserve Forces of the Canadian Army in conducting long-range patrols, ground search and rescue, and casualty evacuation in the unforgiving environment of Canada’s North.

Manitoba’s harsh winters and the frozen expanse of Lake Winnipeg usually provide a perfect stand-in for the Arctic. But this year, soldiers begin their exercise with temperatures hovering around 4C, when the normal temperature for this time of the year ranges between -8C and -20C.

And temperatures are expected to remain above freezing for almost half of the ten-day exercise, according to Environment Canada’s meteorological forecast.

The exercise will test the ability of the ARCG to operate, communicate, and sustain itself over 200 kilometres from its support base, according the Army’s press release.

Each of Canada’s four Army Divisions has an ARCG. The members of this force come primarily from the Army Reserve, and are trained and equipped to operate in all Arctic conditions, the military says.

Exercise ARCTIC BISON 2017 will involve participation from 38 Canadian Brigade Group (CBG), as well as soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, and 440 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The Canadian Rangers, a sub-component of the Reserve, are the military’s eyes and ears in the North, and regularly assist with training and exercises conducted by the ARCGs. Rangers act as guides and scouts, as well as teaching troops vital survival and land skills.

About 100 Canadian soldiers will drive snowmobiles from Gimli to Berens Island on Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, as part of Exercise Arctic Bison 2017. (Google Maps)
Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canadian Rangers to get new rifles, ditch WWII era Lee Enfields, Radio Canada International

Finland:  Finnish Air force to take part in joint Finnish-Swedish-US military exercises, Yle News

Norway:  Norway patrolling Russia’s military activity in Arctic with new intelligence vessel, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia:  Paratrooper exercises over Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  National draft may be reintroduced in Sweden by 2019, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. general says Alaska military cuts not final without Arctic plan, Alaska Public Radio Network

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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