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

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

File photo
Update: Leduc RCMP request assistance to identify armed robbery suspect

Leduc RCMP are searching for suspect involved in an armed robbery at the Leduc Giant Tiger.

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

A section of the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies is seen west of Cochrane, Alta., Thursday, June 17, 2021. A joint federal-provincial review has denied an application for an open-pit coal mine in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, saying its impacts on the environment and Indigenous rights aren’t worth the economic benefits it would bring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Panel says Grassy Mountain coal mine in Alberta Rockies not in public interest

Public hearings on the project in southern Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass region were held last fall

Most Read