Friday, December 16, 2005

"Good night Battle of Britain, good morning Gaza"

Maple Flag, the Israeli Air Force, and "the new type of battle we are being asked to fight"

Out of two hundred warplanes that took part in Exercise Maple Flag 2005 in Cold Lake, Alberta in May, only ten were Israeli F-16s. It would be easy to miss their significance. Yet, when Canadian forces extended an invitation to the Israeli Air Force for the first time in thirty-eight meetings of the Maple Flag war games, it signalled, according to military planners, a marked shift in Canadian military and political policy in the twenty-first century: good night Battle of Britain, good morning Gaza.

Exercise Maple Flag is the code name for one of the world’s largest air force exercises, with over 5,000 crewmen from eleven countries conducting active training operations and testing new weapons at Alberta's Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. Formerly know as the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range, the sprawling 11,630 square kilometre base is a symbol of Cold War preparedness, a state-of-the-art facility rapidly constructed between 1952 and 1954.

The range is a source of pride for the Canadian Forces and Department of National Defence (DND). In a glowing history posted on the DND website, the Airfield Engineers called the base "by far the biggest undertaking" of Canada in the Cold War, not least because it required "a 42-mile, sand and clay access road [be] constructed through dense bush and muskeg."

The dense forest and running streams tamed by this feat of engineering were the prodigious trapping, hunting and fishing lands of the Dene Suline, now known under the federal government's band council system as the Cold Lake First Nations. In 1952, the Dene were cut off from their traditional lands and the population ultimately expelled. The nearby Canoe Lake Cree Nation faired little better, losing seventy-five percent of their homelands to the weapons range.

Some fifty years after the land grab, the Canadian government settled claim with the Cold Lake First Nations, paying out a total of $2500 to each band member and $7000 to each elder, with an additional twenty million dollars put in a development trust fund. That settlement amounts to about nine dollars per acre (roughly $22 a hectare), and not more than $150 per person for each year of their displacement. Such is the stage for Exercise Maple Flag, a six-week set of war games designed to provide training in the context of hyper-realistic simulations of aerial combat operations abroad.
-by John Elmer.


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