Canadian Forces test diesel snowmobile during Arctic operation

The future of Canada's Arctic military is on display this month in Nunavut, as Canadian Forces get their hands on prototype equipment — including a snowmobile that runs on diesel fuel.

Forces also testing out all-terrain vehicles, including militarized amphibious Argo

The D900 - a multifuel snowmobile that can run on jet fuel or diesel - is being tested this month as part of Operation Nunalivut. If successful, its capabilities could increase the ranger of Arctic patrols and save money on fuel costs. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

The future of Canada's Arctic military is on display this month in Nunavut, as Canadian Forces get their hands on prototype equipment — including a snowmobile that runs on diesel fuel.

The D900, produced by Ottawa company DEW Engineering, is a military-grade snowmobile that offers a range of more than 500 kilometres and a large stowage area. Two D900's are being tested by members of the army and the Canadian Rangers as part of Operation Nunalivut, which is taking place this month near Resolute, Nunavut.

However, the biggest innovation is its multi-fuel engine, which can run on diesel fuel or JP-8 — the two most common fuels at military operations, and something that project manager Bob Thwaites says could have major implications for Arctic patrols, where supplies are scarce and the terrain vast. 

The D900 sits among a group of gasoline powered snowmobiles at the military's camp on Little Cornwallis Island. Two D900s are being tested on the tundra this week, while another 18 are undergoing tests in Yellowknife. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)
"It'd fall under endurance," said Thwaites.

"You take a gas-powered snowmobile and go from point A to point B, you use 10 litres of fuel. You take a diesel-powered snowmobile from point A to point B, you use five litres.

"We'll look at the whole snowmobile, but it's really gas versus diesel."

The military first tested the D900 at last year's Operation Nunalivut, near the Nunavut hamlet of Cambridge Bay. Twenty of the machines are currently owned by the military, with the remaining number being used for tests and patrols in Yellowknife.

While the Canadian Forces are optimistic about the D900, don't expect to be able to buy one any time soon — the vehicle is a prototype, and is not available for commercial sale. However, its unique capabilities could resonate in the Arctic for years.

"From my understanding, when I chat with the guys, this is the first of a kind," said Capt. Jeremy Macdonald.

"Quite possibly, the decisions, or the outcomes of this type of study, could last for a generation. Or at least a generation of military personnel using that equipment."

'It's not a speedy vehicle, but it'll get you there'

Capt. Jeremy Macdonald stands in front of the militarized Argo in Resolute. Macdonald is heading up tests of the vehicle, which offers a slow top speed but mobility and warmth that can't be matched by a snowmobile. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

The D900 isn't the only vehicle being tested in Resolute. Capt. Macdonald is heading up tests of a militarized version of the Argo all-terrain vehicle, an amphibious machine that could assist with mobility during ice break-up season.

The Canadian Forces have militarized the commercially-available Argo, adding treads and the capability to carry radio equipment or stretchers. Though it moves much slower than a snowmobile — topping out at around 27 km/h — Capt. Macdonald says its ability to shelter riders and equipment, as well as its mobility could make it useful for Arctic operations. 

"This is a very unique vehicle," he said.

"It's got some great mobility, can traverse across a variety of terrain that not many vehicles can. It's not a speedy vehicle. But it'll get you there."

Capt. Macdonald acknowledged that the Argo's speed remains a potential concern, as well as its durability — its plastic door handles couldn't stand up to Resolute's frigid temperatures. However, he underlined that these types of tests — and the feedback they generate — are important to determine what works in the punishing conditions of Canada's Arctic.

"For us, it's a very exciting time to get our hands on what the future could hold for the army," he said, "and see what works in the North."


Garrett Hinchey

Managing Editor, CBC North

Garrett Hinchey is a Métis journalist based in his hometown of Yellowknife, where has worked since 2014. He has worked at CBC North as a social media presenter, copy editor, multimedia reporter, and senior assignment producer. He has been CBC North's managing editor since June 2021.


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