Royal Canadian Air Force CH-147F Chinook helicopters from 450 Squadron join U.S military aircraft as part of a simulated air assault during the U.S. Army’s Exercise ARCTIC WARRIOR 21, which took place around the Donnelly Training Area in Alaska from February 8-19, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Royal Canadian Air Force
Technicians with the RCAF’s Tactical Air Detachment work on a CH-147F Chinook helicopter. Photo courtesy of the Royal Canadian Air Force
A RCAF CH-147F Chinook helicopter, with special skiis in place for winter operations, awaits its turn to take off as a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk takes to the air during Ex ARCTIC WARRIOR 21. Photo courtesy of the Royal Canadian Air Force
450 THS members return from Ex ARCTIC WARRIOR 21 in Alaska
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday March 11, 2021
About 40 members of 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (450 THS) had to confront temperatures as low as -54 C during Exercise ARCTIC WARRIOR 21 while they honed their abilities to manoeuvre in a northern environment.
The aircrew, maintainers and support personnel were sent to Alaska with two CH-147F Chinook helicopters to join their American peers as they collectively refined their techniques, tactics and procedures in the Arctic.
The 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment (1-52) invited the Royal Canadian Air Force 1 Wing’s 450 THS to join them from Feb. 8 to 19. Together, they seamlessly tested their abilities on the ground and in the air around the Donnelly Training Area near Fort Greely, Alaska.
Lieutenant Colonel (LCol) Robert Tyler, Commanding Officer of 450 THS, had two outcomes he wanted to push while up North.
He wanted to get the soldiers used to the extreme cold, and he also wanted to reaffirm the ties between both nations.
“There are always some minor differences when two nations get together but there were no issues operating with them,” said LCol Tyler. “It just reinforced our relationship and reinforced the fact that we can jump in, do a couple of flights, make sure everybody is happy and we are good to go.”
The exercise’s culminating event included 14 helicopters smoothly taking to the sky together in an air assault, with 450 THS leading the mission. This tested the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel and all the units within the United States Army Alaska (USARAK), the formation that governs northern-bound soldiers.
“It just shows we have that skillset to be able to lead that kind of mission and that ability to integrate into their capabilities,” said LCol Tyler, adding it was a satisfying challenge.
Working in the cold was difficult, but nothing that they hadn’t planned for. Though the Commander and his team knew the Chinooks could operate regardless of temperature, the extreme weather gave them a better chance to fine-tune their skills.
“Those challenges we expected to see were encountered and we just found a way to make our procedures better,” said LCol Tyler.
“It was really good to see (them) adapt and overcome, push through it and get the job done,” he added. “I have a lot of pride in the Squadron and the people who were there to be able to pull the exercise off.”
Returning to the North for cold-weather focused training has been of greater interest recently.
With the realities of warfare changing, both Canadian and American military leaders have expressed their desire for troops to renew their navigating abilities in remote Arctic winter conditions and overcome both environmental and military challenges.
Exercise Arctic Warrior 21 depended on joint and multinational partners to succeed, from multiple supporting Army units, to Air Force air and ground crews, to CAF partners providing aviation support.
“The intent was to get back there, learn some lessons and ... get back into the game again,” said LCol Tyler.
But with the ongoing pandemic, getting 450 THS to Alaska wasn’t simple.
The exercise required planning and careful use of quarantines, masking, hygienic practices, social distancing measures, and countless COVID tests. Both Canadian and American personnel respected the guidelines.
“So far, ... every test we’ve done has come back negative,” said LCol Tyler. “I think it shows that when you take the right steps, you can do this kind of operation in a COVID environment.”
He hopes 450 THS can return to Alaska next year for another round of Arctic exercises. Led by Lieutenant Colonel (LCol) Jorge Rosario, 1-52 were true ambassadors during the exercise and went above and beyond to accommodate the Canadian troops.
“Without him, it would have been impossible,” said LCol Tyler.