Arctic Search & Rescue – SAR Treaty – Canadian Sovereignty – June 2011
Griffons and Arctic SAR FOLs — Step 1 in an Incremental Approach to Satisfying Canada's Arctic
A Modest Proposal by Stephen Daly,
Ed: Having signed the new Arctic Council SAR Treaty , Canada's Arctic search-and-rescue responsibilities move from the
largely hypothetical to the legally binding. Press speculation has already begun as to whether this
treaty-signing is the Harper Conservative's method of rationalizing the priority assigned to the expensive Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project in a time of economic constraint.
We shall see. Meanwhile, rotary-wing SAR goes unnoticed.
The Canadian Forces helicopters dedicated to SAR are the troubled fleet of CH-149 Cormorants. These helicopters are sent to perform Arctic SAR but all 14
Cormorants are based in the south. That problem is common to all CF aircraft  but
utility helicopters are routinely deployed to the Arctic on the seasonal re-supply missions. Stephen Daly
proposes expanding such deployments to include SAR.
For this ModProp, the goal is the imaginative use of existing
military resources as opposed to a procurement approach. The failure to provide adequate aerial SAR response
time in the Canadian Arctic is due to southern basing. DND's FWSAR 'solution' relies on faster aircraft. Even if
that reasoning were sound, it cannot be applied to slow-flying helicopters. The only possible military SAR solution
is forward basing which is precisely what Mr. Daly suggests.
In all things, the perfect is the enemy of the good. As the title suggests, the concept behind this ModProp is just a first step in an incremental process. It is also only
one component in a complex system of SAR response most of which is performed by civilians (volunteers
in many cases). In most Arctic SAR scenarios, local civilians will be the 'first responders' with
military helicopters providing the actual rescue/recovery in difficult terrain. This partnership must be kept in
mind when discussing the military's role (and forward-basing) in the Arctic.
In this 'first-step' ModProp, the forward-based Arctic SAR missions would
be performed in utility helicopters by crews used to tactical operations. In other words, these are not
trained SAR Technicians. Nor is forward-basing a panacea flying distances in the North are often staggering
(often 'neighbouring' airfields will be outside the range of a mid-sized helicopter). To be truly effective in this
Arctic SAR role, it will be necessary to include remote refuelling points in future and increasing the total
number of operating locations. But that's for Step 2.
Incremental Approach to Satisfying Canada's Arctic Search-and-Rescue
A major concern when facing any search-and-rescue response in the Canadian Arctic is the basing of
all major military aerial SAR assets in southern Canada. Four small and slow CC-138 Twin Otters are based at Yellowknife. But our major SAR aircraft transit
north to the Arctic resulting in much longer response times. For Canadian Forces Fixed-Wing Search-and-Rescue
( FWSAR ) aircraft, delays can stretch several hours past what would be considered 'normal' in the
By comparison, the situation for CF rotary-wing assets is bleak. Self-deploying helicopters over very long
range is a bad match with their performance by their nature, helicopters are relatively short-ranged machines
flying at much lower speeds than most of their fixed-wing counterparts. In routine deployments to the
Canadian Arctic, CF helicopters can be partially disassembled and loaded into a military transport aircraft.
After the long transit North, this airframe is unloaded, reassembled, and then the helicopter can finally begin local
operations. But, by its very definition, an emergency aerial SAR response is not a routine
SAR FOL: First Increment in Filling Arctic SAR Requirements with Military Helicopters
Fortunately, there is a third deployment path. The Air Force maintains Forward Operating Locations at
Arctic airports for use by fighter aircraft and seasonal supply flights. It would be comparatively simple to set up
similar FOLs for
search-and-rescue helicopters. All that would be required is providing air and ground crew accommodation (if
such do not already exist at the civilian airfield) and the prepositioning of some CF Ground Support
Two initial SAR FOL locations suggest themselves, one an existing FOL, the other a CF base under
construction. These are: Inuvik in the western Arctic and Nanisivik on Baffin Island.  Each SAR FOL
location would host 2-3 aircraft allowing for one on-call SAR helicopter, a second on standby (in case of
mechanical problems), and a third machine available for local familiarization flights as well as sovereignty
In the short-term, Inuvik and Nanisivik offer immediate utility for SAR FOLs but there's room for expansion. With
the challenging flying distances involved in the Canadian Arctic, there is also a need. In the
west, Tuktoyuktuk's coastal location would save 100nm+ of range for over-water flights. Further north,
Resolute Bay will be the new home of a CF Arctic Training Facility which will need helicopters making
Resolute a natural location future SAR FOL.
SAR FOLs would not be year-round operations. Initially, the operations would be limited to the period of greatest
potential need – specifically, the navigable season. In the off-season, the SAR FOL would function as an
anchor-point, a place where a known, albeit rudimentary, support base exists. Properly stocked, the SAR FOL
positions valuable supplies thousands of kilometers closer to the area of military Arctic aerial SAR operations than
Selecting suitable military helicopters to deploy North requires some creative thinking. The dedicated Canadian
Search and Rescue Helicopters, the CH-149 Cormorant fleet, cannot be spared in sufficient numbers to make such a
proposition worthwhile. So where does the Air Force find a helicopter type suited to those SAR FOLs within its
existing rotary-wing fleets?
Arctic Griffons Enter Mythical Beasts Responsible for Guarding Priceless Possessions
The solution can be found in the CF's Tactical Helicopter Squadrons (THS). TacHel CH-146 Griffons are
mid-sized utility helicopters. TacHel Griffons may not be ideal, but these aircraft are available in
sufficient numbers to accommodate modest, seasonal deployments up to the Arctic. Employing TacHel present other
advantages as well. THS are practiced at operating in austere conditions, are more self-contained units (which
limits required logistics support and impact on local communities), are better trained at the required long-range
deployments, and routinely utilizing forward refueling points to extend their squadron's operational
Deploying TacHel Griffons to SAR Forward Operating Locations may not represent an ideal solution to Canada's
Arctic search-and-rescue commitments, but it is doable. This proposed interim solution has focused on providing
technical assets. A remaining question is suitable personnel. Existing members of Tactical Helicopter Squadrons
are not SAR specialists. So, do we need to add SAR Techs or medical staff to deployed TacHel
detachments to increase their Rescue capability? Not an easy question to answer, but less daunting
than the current practice of an emergency deployment to the Arctic of desperately-needed SAR
Establishing Arctic Search-and-Rescue Forward Operating Locations for the Griffon THS is but a first step.
And, from a military aviation perspective, using TacHel units in a SAR role in the far North is
unconventional. However, many of the required skills for deployed Arctic SAR operations are the same as those
routinely practiced by TacHel squadrons. Along with saving lives and meeting Canada's Arctic search and rescue
treaty commitments, the TacHel SAR deployments to the Arctic would serve to exercise these essential skills while
bringing military helicopters and their personnel to an area where they can serve a vital
It is just a matter of finding the will.
 The exception are four small and slow CC-138 Twin
Otters of 440 (T) Sqn at Yellowknife.
 Siting an SAR FOL at Inuvik, NT has the advantage of sharing facilities with the existing fighter FOL. Nanisivik,
NU will soon be the site of a naval facility on the Northwest Passage.
 The Resolute Bay Arctic Training Facility also makes a natural home for a detachment of Tactical Helicopters.
Needed to support Army training, 'Army' helicopters can also provide an SAR capability. In the
west, establishing a FOL at Tuktoyuktuk may seem redundant but a separate SAR FOL would reduce the likelihood of
over-taxing the limited Inuvik facilities.