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5 Wing Goose Bay Military Base

Russian Bombers Challenge Canada’s Air Defences


By —— Bio and Archives--October 24, 2007

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For years the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have been calling on the federal government to make the military base at 5 Wing Goose Bay a fully operational and integral part of Canada’s defence.

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During the last federal election Stephen Harper promised to station a 650 member rapid response contingent at the base but since taking office there has been little talk of the issue. Now residents of the area are expressing concerns after Russian bombers arrived in the area unexpectedly on several occasions in recent months.

5 Wing Goose Bay was once a key installation in protecting Canada’s sovereignty. Geographically located on the eastern and northern approaches to Canada it is ideally situated for such a mission. Since the end of the cold war the base has largely been used as a training facility and in recent years has been all but forgotten by the Canadian government.

Canada’s Eastern and Northern air defence in the area is now managed from a base at Bagotville Quebec, nearly a thousand kilometres further inland than the 5 Wing base.

Recently Russian planes have made several forays either to the edge or, according to some reports, even inside Canadian airspace without permission. There are also unconfirmed reports that on several occasions the pilots of those planes refused to identify themselves when directed to do so by military personnel.

During the first such incident, in August, Canadian forces CF-18 fighter jets were scrambled from the Quebec base however witnesses say that by the time they arrived in the area the Russian plans had already reached Labrador. Since that time six F18s have been temporarily assigned to 5 Wing in order to respond to any potential infractions by the Russian military.

One of the people strongly in favour of renewing the role of 5 Wing is Liberal Senator George Baker, who said in the past that CF-18s are sometimes scrambled from Quebec and are forced to touch down in Goose Bay to refuel before continuing out over the Atlantic to complete their missions.

In response to the latest incidents,  Lt. Col. Brian Bowerman, acting wing commander for the squadron, said he believes the Russian bombers have been testing North American air defence response, and although he does not consider their actions hostile the Canadian forces are indeed on alert.

The stationing of 6 CF-18s in Labrador, in response to this move by Russia and the apparent ability of foreign aircraft to reach, or even enter, Canadian airspace, has led to renewed calls on the federal government to live up to its obligation to Canada’s air defence and to the Labrador base. So far there has been no response from either the Prime Minister or the Minister of Defence.

Meanwhile, Dean Clarke, a town councillor in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, said he believes the presence of the CF-18s at the local base proves 5 Wing still has strategic importance. This sentiment is echoed by Newfoundland and Labrador Transportation Minister, John Hickey.

According to Hickey, “Goose Bay is as important to our military, the defence of our country and North America as it was back in the ‘40s and ‘50s and this is evidence of that”.

“It makes sense to position aircraft here on a permanent basis.”

In his recent throne speech,  Stephen Harper indicated that Arctic sovereignty was a key issue for his government yet the lack of a military response team in Labrador has left some wondering just how sincere the Prime Minister really is on the issue and how secure our borders truly are.

There has been no confirmation of whether or not the Russian bombers might have been carrying any offensive weapons when they approached Canadian airspace.


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Myles Higgins -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Myles Higgins is freelance columnist and writes for Web Talk - Newfoundland and Labrador
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