An RCAF CF-18 prepares for takeoff at CFB Bagotville, Que. on Thursday, June 7, 2018. A senior air force officer says Canada’s military pilots are in danger of losing their edge as COVID-19 restrictions curtail their ability to conduct training exercises and other flying. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

An RCAF CF-18 prepares for takeoff at CFB Bagotville, Que. on Thursday, June 7, 2018. A senior air force officer says Canada’s military pilots are in danger of losing their edge as COVID-19 restrictions curtail their ability to conduct training exercises and other flying. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Pilot training, spare part shortages among challenges military facing from COVID-19

Members have said their physical health has gotten worse

Canada’s military pilots are in danger of losing their edge as COVID-19-related restrictions curtail their ability to train at home and abroad, according to a senior Royal Canadian Air Force commander.

Military pilots are required to fly a certain number of hours in the air to remain qualified for their aircraft, and typically participate in a number of international exercises each year to test their mettle and remain sharp for a potential conflict.

But Brig.-Gen. Iain Huddleston, who as director-general of air readiness is responsible for ensuring the air force has the equipment and personnel it needs, says that was before travel restrictions and other challenges emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our capacity to train has been curtailed,” Huddleston said. “And that’s going to be something we have to focus on in the next year, to figure out how to make sure that our personnel are properly trained on the other side of COVID to gain our edge back.”

The pandemic has also made it more difficult to source spare parts and conduct other maintenance activities on the air force’s various fleets, Huddleston said.

“Obtaining parts to fix airplanes has been more challenging over the past year due to COVID,” he told The Canadian Press.

The air force isn’t the only part of the military facing pandemic-related challenges, with impacts hitting everything from training to recruitment to the physical and mental fitness of those in uniform.

Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre referenced many of these challenges in a recent message to the troops, in which he warned that “potential adversaries are not resting, and continue to expand their reach and test our resolve.”

To that end, the Canadian Army is planning to hold a scaled-down version of its largest and most important training exercise in Alberta next week after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of last year’s iteration.

Exercise Maple Resolve, held each May at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, typically involves 5,000 Canadian soldiers as well as troops from the United States, Britain, Australia and France.

The exercise also includes artillery, armoured vehicles and aircraft to simulate a large-scale military operation and is considered essential for ensuring the Army is ready to defend the country from attack or conduct a major overseas mission.

But this year’s version will involve about half the normal number of troops, the vast majority from Alberta, Canadian Army spokeswoman Maj. Karina Holder said in an email. There will also be only a handful of soldiers from the U.S. and Britain.

All those participating will be required to follow strict public-health guidelines, Holder added, including a 14-day quarantine period for foreign troops.

“Once arrived, personnel will be moved immediately into the Wainwright, Alta., training area and not leave … unless there is a requirement due to a medical emergency,” Holder said.

“However, as the situation is both fluid and prone to disruptions, we must remain flexible. The health, safety and wellness of our members and the communities where we live, train and operate are important.”

Meanwhile, an internal survey of military members conducted last year found many struggling to stay physically and mentally fit during the pandemic.

Almost half the nearly 20,000 service members surveyed late last spring by the Defence Department’s research wing, the Defence Research and Development Corporation, reported that their physical health had gotten worse.

“A notable proportion reported engaging in increased levels of potentially negative health behaviours,” according to the survey report provided to The Canadian Press.

“This was especially the case for alcohol and cannabis use, and for consumption of junk food,” it reads.

About one-third of Armed Forces members also reported that their mental health had deteriorated during the pandemic, though only one in 10 had received some form of care.

FEDERAL BUDGET 2021: Money promised for military sex misconduct fight, NORAD upgrades

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Canadian Armed ForcesCoronavirus

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

MP Damien Kurek receives his COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo submitted)
Local elected representatives get the jab

MP Damien Kurek and MLA Lovely get their COVID-19 vaccinations

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta’a chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that there are more than 328,000 vaccine appointments booked over the next seven days. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta surpasses 2 million doses administered of COVID-19 vaccine

Red Deer down to 835 active cases of COVID-19

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Images show RCMP members and vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

The historic Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne in southern Alberta is up for sale

The lights of several emergency vehicles could be seen near the Sunken Bridge on May 13. (Photo submitted)
Patient airlifted from Ponoka with serious injuries

RCMP, fire, STARS respond to single vehicle rollover May 13

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Most Read