DND News

No RCAF in upcoming NATO exercise

Twenty-five NATO and partner nations are kicking off the largest air force deployment exercise in the alliance’s history June 12. In a rare occurrence, no Canadian assets are involved.

It’s not that the Royal Canadian Air Force is unwilling to participate in Air Defender 2023 (AD23). It’s simply that other commitments mean the RCAF is pretty well tasked-out for the time being.

“While we are not taking part in Air Defender it should be noted that we are still involved in other European-based NATO air and maritime aviation exercises,” an RCAF public affairs officer (PAO) told FrontLine. It had just wrapped up Arctic Challenge 2023, the sixth biennial iteration of a major NATO exercise planned and directed by the Finnish Air Force and co-hosted with Norway and Sweden.

The initial Arctic Challenge was strictly Nordic but it has mushroomed over the years. The latest, which ended June 9, involved fighters from more than a dozen countries as well as a NATO airborne early warning and control platform and other air assets. Those included at least three tankers, one of them an RCAF Polaris CC-150TT from 437 Transport squadron at 1 Wing in Trenton.

A total of 20 RCAF personnel were involved in that exercise, which is seen as a lead-in to AD23, including 15 from 437 Squadron. Five others attached to the Air Battle Management Detachment included two each from 21 Aerospace Control & Warning Squadron at 22 Wing in North Bay and 42 Radar Squadron at 4 Wing in Cold Lake, and one from 12 Radar Squadron at 3 Wing in Bagotville.

Other recent Canadian Armed Forces deployments include two major NATO events: Exercise Dynamic Mongoose 23 in Iceland April 24-May 5 and the biannual Exercise Joint Warrior 23-1 in March off northern Norway. The former, a large-scale anti-submarine warfare event in the North Atlantic involved assets from 11 countries while the latter, featuring airborne exercises, amphibious landings, evacuations and live-firing, involved 12 countries. The list, as it has for years, goes on – and there undoubtedly be many other opportunities for Canada to get involved.

But when asked why Canada is not involved in Air Defender 23, a second PAO explained that it’s simply of resource allocation as the RCAF weighs participation in “exercises, operations and activities against all other critical tasks.” The latter included “force generation, training, and maintenance.”

While the PAO didn’t mention it, it’s no secret that the RCAF, like other CAF elements, is feeling the effects of recruitment shortfalls. That aside, the PAO told FrontLine that Canada continues “to assess every mission carefully to ensure we remain ready to fulfill our mandate and provide the best possible support […] in both the short and long-term.”

As for Air Defender, which runs to June 23, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutman, told reporters last week that its intent is clear with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now in its 16th month. Operational and tactical-level training will happen mainly in Germany but there also will be elements in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia as the air forces fly “out and back” missions into the Baltic states and Romania.

Lieutenant-General Ingo Gerhartz, who has logged more than 2,500 flight hours on four types of fighters and is now head of the Luftwaffe, told reporters that the overarching goal of Air Defender, which runs to June 23 is two-fold. It not only is expected to “demonstrate the agility and swiftness of air Forces as a first responder” but also “showcase” NATO capabilities.

“The collaboration of 24 Nations hones our interoperability and enables a credible deterrence against a potential aggressor,” Gerhartz said without specifically mentioning Russia.

Ambassador Gutman was less diplomatic. “I would be pretty surprised if any world leader was not taking note of what this shows in terms of the spirit of this alliance, which means the strength of this alliance, and that includes Mr. Putin,” she said. “By synchronizing together, we multiply our force.”