Canada is moving military air transports from Kuwait to U.K. to support Ukraine

The Canadian military’s air detachment in the Middle East — which has been supporting anti-terrorism operations and UN peacekeeping missions in Africa — is being relocated to the United Kingdom.

Responding to questions from CBC News, the Department of National Defence described the redeployment of two C-130J cargo planes and their associated ground support crew as necessary in light of ongoing efforts to supply Ukraine with weapons and ammunition.

The airlift detachment has been headquartered out of Kuwait under Operation Impact for several years.

Canada’s top military commander, Gen. Wayne Eyre, confirmed the redeployment to CBC News on Wednesday while visiting the military air base at 5 Wing Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ont., on June 20, 2022. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

While the demands of missions related to the war in eastern Europe prompted the decision, Eyre said he’s confident that the cargo planes can continue to support missions in Iraq and peacekeeping deployments as needed.

“What we have done is consolidated in Scotland our C-130 tactical air detachment to be able to provide that support to Ukraine within Europe [and] to episodically provide support in the Middle East, and as well episodically provide support in Africa,” he said.

Canada’s military cargo planes — both the C-130Js and the bigger C-17s Globemasters — have been working overtime since Russia stepped up its invasion of Ukraine in February. They have been ferrying humanitarian aid, military hardware and ammunition to points in eastern Europe where the supplies can be shuttled across the border into Ukraine.

Although it’s not part of the equipment airlift, flight tracking shows one of Canada’s military surveillance aircraft — a CP-140 Aurora that has been attached to NATO as part of an intensified effort to monitor for signs of Russian aggression — has also been flying out of northern England on patrols over the North Atlantic.

A CP-140 Aurora aircraft on the ground in Kuwait in 2015. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

News of the redeployment comes as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives in Canada on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and tour Arctic defence facilities.

Trudeau’s government recently signed on to a U.K.-led military mission that will see British and Canadian troops training Ukrainian recruits at bases in the U.K.

It is a massive undertaking. The aim is to train as many as 10,000 soldiers every five weeks. 

Dan Le Bouthillier, DND’s manager of media relations, said Canadian aircraft are not involved in flying the Ukrainian trainees to and from Britain. That’s the job of the Royal Air Force, he said.

Eyre said the military is trying to strike a balance between overseas operations and the need for airlift resources at home.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft were first deployed to the Middle East in 2017 as part of the federal government’s revamped commitment to the international coalition fighting Islamic State extremists. They hauled troops and equipment around Iraq and throughout the wider region.

Later, Ottawa expanded the mission to include what were supposed to be once-a-week support missions for United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa.

Dave Perry, a defence expert at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the strain of keeping up the pace of all these flight operations — especially in eastern Europe — started to show a few months ago.

“It didn’t surprise me that there’s been a reallocation, just given the volume of stuff, material, that’s being moved,” said Perry, whose organization has occasionally hosted events sponsored by defence contractors.

Military planners have learned some hard lessons over the last several months as overseas demands have increased, he said.

“Whenever there’s an international crisis, airlift is always in short supply,” said Perry, who added that the Liberal government’s recent decision to replace the air force’s air-to-air fuelling fleet and VIP transport likely was influenced by the increased demands.

“I think it kind of reinforces the logic and the increasing of the acquisition of multiple tankers, because clearly, there’s some fairly pressing demand for airlift.”

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