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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

An injection kit is seen inside a Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Hope’s high rate of drug overdose noted in BC Coroners Service report

Up-to-date numbers not available yet for 2021, but Fraser Health deaths on the rise

Screenshot from security footage a young, thin cougar prowling on Oliver Crescent in Sardis on May 7, 2021. (Dustin Meyer photo)
VIDEO: Cougar sighting in residential Chilliwack neighbourhood prompts warning

Springtime cougar sightings likely due to cats following deer down to valley floor, says CO

<a href="Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning." target="_blank"></a>Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning. (File photo)
Man killed in fatal hit-and-run collision between Abbotsford and Chilliwack

Body reported at 6 a.m., police close North Parallel Road, single highway lane as they investigate

Westbound traffic is slow moving on Highway 1 following a crash that has police blocking one lane. Google Maps screenshot taken at 9:07 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Crash on North Parallel Road causes road closure, single westbound Highway 1 lane blocked

Abbotsford Police investigating, roads closed between McDermott and No. 3 Road

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Twenty-nine staff members at Sunrise Poultry Processors Ltd. in Newton have tested positive for the virus, according to an information bulletin from Fraser Health Saturday (May 8). The health authority issued a 10-day closure order, effective May 7. (Image: Google Maps)
29 staff test positive for COVID-19 at Surrey poultry processing plant

Meantime, outbreak over at Surrey Memorial Hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Most Read