Saskatchewan

In Saskatchewan, the story of a Cold War-era Canadian-designed rocket comes to an end

More than 83,000 CRV7 rockets will be disposed of over six years, making the end of a weapon that dates back to the Cold War and was adopted by NATO allies.

More than 83,000 CRV7 rockets will be disposed of over 6 years

Military personnel guide a CF-18 Hornet into position at the CFB Cold Lake, in Cold Lake, Alta, on Oct. 21, 2014. The CF-18 was one of the aircraft that was equipped with CRV7 rockets, which have since been retired from use. The federal government has issued a tender to disarm and dispose the remaining 83,303 units that remain in storage. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

South of the Saskatoon, nestled in the plains of Saskatchewan, there lies an underappreciated hub of the Canadian military. 

Canadian Forces Detachment Dundurn is relatively small. But the ammunition depot just east of the facility — Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot Dundurn — is the largest of its kind, in terms of soldiers deployed and in terms of area, according to the Department of National Defence. 

The last of the CRV7 rockets are housed at CFAD Dundurn in Saskatchewan. (Department of National Defence)

Dundurn holds about 60 per cent of the Canadian military's inventory of ordnance. 

Estimated by the Department of National Defence to hold nearly $2-billion worth of equipment, the facility acts as the distribution centre for soldiers deployed across the country and around the globe. 

Hidden in and among the facility's 30 or so magazines, packaged in their original fibre shipping tubes and wire-bound boxes, are 83,303 Canadian Rocket Vehicles (CRV7s). The remaining stock of the once-popular weapon, which was designed in Canada and retired from use in the 2000s, will soon be destroyed. 

'A step forward'

Even though the CRV7 holds a place in the nation's military history, few people will recognize its name.

Only fans of military simulation games or military history buffs are likely to have read a reference to the rocket system, which was adopted by the Canadian military in the 1970s. 

But those who used the weapon when it was first developed remember it well.

Joseph Paul André Deschamps, a former lieutenant-general, is shown in an undated photo. He said the CRV7 was 'certainly was a step forward' for the air force. ( Submitted by Joseph Paul André Deschamps)

André Deschamps, a retired lieutenant-general, was one of them. 

Before he became the chief of the air staff and the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Deschamps was a pilot. 

He flew fighter planes such as the CF-104 Starfighter, which were equipped to carry the CRV7. 

"For the 1980s, [the CRV7] certainly was a step forward for us in the air force," Deschamps said in an interview with CBC News.

Co-operation and innovation

The CRV7 was designed during the Cold War. 

Two political ideologies, communism and capitalism, led by the Soviet Union and United States of America, respectively, were vying for control around the globe through a series of proxy conflicts and behind-the-scenes power plays. 

Allied with the United States against the Soviet Union were members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which includes Canada. 

Part of its mandate was sharing of military technology and standardization of military hardware. 

Former Supreme Court justice Morris Fish details his new report on the justice system of the Canadian Armed Forces, which recommends changes that could have big implications for sexual misconduct cases in the military. 6:41

Often the Canadian Armed Forces purchased tools or equipment and then adapted or modified them for its soldiers. 

The CRV7 was the opposite. 

It is a rare example of military equipment that was designed here in Canada before being widely adopted by NATO allies.

"It was a significant increase in both range and lethality because of the extra speed of the rocket, when the warhead did impact had a pretty devastating effect on whatever it was aimed at," said Deschamps.

The rockets were deployed with Canadian fighter pilots in Europe during the Cold War, and the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Czech Republic are among the countries who have used them.

The use of the CRV7 among its allies also gave the Canadian military a sense of pride, according to retired major Harold Skaarup, a former intelligence officer. 

He said the rocket system was, and remains, a great example of Canadian innovation and collaboration. 

"We're not going to be able to stop a world war by ourselves. We have to work with our friends," he said. "So we talk to each other. We work with each other. And when somebody's got a good idea, we share it. One of the examples of that is this particular rocket."

The CF-104 Starfighter was one of the aircraft equipped with the CRV7 in the 1980s. (Steve Pajot/Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada)

But as with the Cold War, the CRV7 faded to memory. The rocket was declared surplus as new, more cost-effective weapons and technology were developed.

Deschamps says that is all a part of the evolution of warfare. 

"As systems of technologies improve, you come up with new means of delivering effective combat effects," he said. 

"[The CRV7 was] was a well-thought-out and effective weapon in the sense that it was cost effective … it could be used by a wide variety of aircraft was used on fixed wing airplanes, fighters and light attack aircraft," he said. "It was used with helicopter attack ships. So it was sufficiently versatile that you could fit it to basically anything that flies."

Photos of burned-out CRV7 rockets were included a federal tender document. The government is looking for a company to disarm and dispose of the CRV7s within six years. (Department of National Defence/Tender Documents)

Tender out for disposal

The final 83,000 live CRV7s that remain at CFAD Dundurn were purchased sometime in 1987 or 1988, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Defence. That's where they've been since the military stopped using the rockets sometime between 2005 and 2007. 

A tender recently issued by the federal government will see the last of the rockets be disarmed and disposed of. 

The goal is to get the job done within six years once the contract is awarded. 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Quon was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan. He has an interest in data reporting and political coverage and started at CBC Saskatchewan in 2021 after spending the first four years of his career in Atlantic Canada.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now