Canada’s defence minister gave no timeline for replacing the country’s four Yellowknife-based Twin Otters as he arrived in the city to help hand over new rifles.

The North’s Canadian Rangers will receive their C19 rifles, which replace Lee-Enfield rifles dating from the Second World War, over the coming months.

Addressing reporters at the Yellowknife airbase of 440 (Transport) Squadron, defence minister Harjit Sajjan said a replacement for the Twin Otter was on the way but declined to outline a timeline for that work.

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“Our government made a commitment to replace the Twin Otter before its end of life. As a first step, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are working together to better understand our mobility needs in the North,” said Sajjan.

“When we have completed this work, we will be launching a competitive process to procure a replacement aircraft for the Twin Otter.”

Asked by Cabin Radio when that replacement might be ready, Sajjan said: “We haven’t set a timeline for it. What we have now done is made a commitment we are going to be replacing it.

“One of the most important aspects we need to do is, as we look at the importance of this aircraft in the North, are we understanding the environment that they’re in?”

Sajjan said the federal government would invest in research to identify a replacement aircraft that will meet northern needs “not just now, but also into the future.”

End of life

Canada’s four Twin Otters are all based in Yellowknife. They provide transport for northern operations and occasionally help search and rescue missions.

The federal government is one year into a $9.6 million contract with a BC-based firm to refurbish and maintain the four planes. The contract, lasting a minimum of four years, is designed to keep the Twin Otters in the air until at least 2025 – but possibly longer.

The Twin Otters have been part of the Canadian fleet since 1971. The first of the aircraft was would have reached the end of its life this year without refurbishment work, according to a Canadian Armed Forces assessment.

Canada has made use of five other Twin Otters since 1971. Two were destroyed and the remaining three were disposed of in 1994.

While the minister declined to provide a timeline, one already exists on the Canadian Armed Forces’ website.

In a document produced four years ago, final delivery of a replacement for the Twin Otter – a project estimated to cost anywhere from $500 million to $1.5 billion – is forecast to happen as late as 2035, by which time the existing aircraft would be almost 65 years old.

Four years after that plan was published, it is not clear if the aspiration to meet that date remains in place.

‘Quite a different rifle’

Brig-Gen Patrick Carpentier, who assumed command of Joint Task Force (North) in April, spoke alongside Minister Sajjan to welcome delivery of the new rifles.

“The Arctic is constantly changing, which means we must adapt and be ready to act rapidly to any call. Preparedness is essential. Having the right tools to respond to various scenarios is a top priority,” said Carpentier.

Again, no timeline for delivery of the rifles was available, though it is expected to happen for most northern Ranger groups this year.

Canada's defence minister gave no timeline for replacing four ageing Yellowknife-based Twin Otters as he arrived in the city to help hand over new rifles.
Canada’s defence minister gave no timeline for replacing four ageing Yellowknife-based Twin Otters as he arrived in the city to help hand over new rifles. Alice Twa/Cabin Radio

“This is quite a different rifle to the old one so there is training associated with that. As the stores get up to the appropriate level, distribution will begin,” said Carpentier.

Sajjan, praising the design chosen, said: “The new rifles perform extremely well in conditions well below freezing.

“Talking to the Rangers themselves, not only today but in previous years, I can tell you how excited they are to receive this.”

In 2016, Canada signed an agreement worth $32.8 million to purchase 6,820 Finnish-designed Sako rifles, manufactured under licence by Colt Canada.

This rifle, the C19, replaces the Lee-Enfield rifle used by Canadian Rangers since 1947. Colt Canada delivered the first of the new rifles in March of this year.

Rules and regulations

Alongside work to identify the Twin Otter’s successor, Sajjan also told reporters his government is looking to revamp the way Canadian Rangers are trained and commanded.

“We heard we needed to change some of the rules and regulations to make it easier,” said Sajjan.

“As we look at how the North is changing from climate change, how do the Rangers operate together with other departments within government? We need to make sure we do the proper analysis.

“In particular, with the Rangers, we now finally have the resources to look at those needs. We want to make sure certain rules put in place in the past are not inhibiting our ability to support.”

Sajjan said aspects of the Ranger program under review include the uniform, succession planning, and flexibility for leaders to make decisions tailored to the northern environment.

Sajjan’s northern trip continues with visits to Nunavut over the coming two days. The minister will stop at Canadian Forces Station Alert and the Nanisivik naval facility near Arctic Bay.

A DND-issued photo of a new C19 rifle to be issued to Canadian Rangers
A DND-issued photo of a new C19 rifle to be issued to Canadian Rangers.