Air, sea and land military exercise underway in eastern Arctic

Operation Lancaster continued in Canada's Far North on Saturday as hundreds of navy, army and air force personell patrolled Lancaster Sound.

Hundreds of navy, army and air force personnel continued patrolling the waters, skies and land in and around Lancaster Sound on Saturday as part of an exercise to assert Canada’s sovereignty in the North.

The area around Lancaster Sound was chosen because of its strategic location as the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage, the military said.

A main plank of Operation Lancaster is to help ensure that Canada's military is efficient in dealing with foreign intrusions or emergencies in the Arctic, Lt.-Col. Kevin Tyler told CBC News.

Tyler, the senior operations officer for Joint Task Force North, said there are strategic reasons for waving the Canadian flag and making sure officials at sea and on land are working together.

"Make them co-operate more jointly so that they're talking the same language," he said, so that "when we do react, we're able to react more quickly."

Another concern is the increase in shipping traffic in the region, said Ranger Cpl. Brian Simonee.

"There's been a lot more cruise ships earlier in the year and weird ice conditions each and every year; it's never the same anymore," he said.

Operation Lancaster will conclude its mission on Aug. 25.

PM visits North

Last weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to the North as part of a trip to reassert Canada's claim of sovereignty over Arctic waters.

On Sunday he visited Ellesmere Island and Canadian Forces Station Alert, the most northern permanent inhabited settlement in the world. He reiterated his claim to assert control over the Northwest Passage.

"Sovereignty is not a theoretical concept, you either use it or lose it," he said in a speech before military personnel.
"Let me be absolutely clear that your new national government is committed to using."

Last weekend, Harper spoke before hundreds of politicians, military personnel and the public at the Nunavut legislature in Iqaluit. He said his government was committed to supporting a visible presence in the North.