CFS Alert

Canadian Forces Station Alert, also CFS Alert, is a Canadian Forces signals intelligence intercept facility located in Alert, Nunavut on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island, at coord|82|30|N|62|19|W.

It is the northernmost permanently-inhabited settlement in the world. It takes its name from HMS "Alert", which wintered 10 km east of the present station off what is now Cape Sheridan, Nunavut in 1875-1876.

*Inuit Nunangata Ungata (Inuktitut, "The People of the Land Beyond the Land Beyond")

*The main feature of the Alert crest is the head of a muskox, a suitably northern animal. Behind the muskox is a background of black and yellow, signifying the periods of total darkness and total sunlight experienced at Alert. Below are two peaks denoting the two mountains to the south, Crystal Mountain and Mount Pullen, between which the sun rises in March. Behind them are the white peaks of the Western Mountains. Below the peaks, a blue band between two white wavy lines signifies the Lincoln Sea and the water and ice pack surrounding Ellesmere Island. The crest is encircled by a wreath of gold maple leaves and with the royal crown of Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of Canada, on top. On a banner below the crest is the motto "Inuit Nunangata Ungata"

Weather Station

Alert (then part of the Northwest Territories) was first inhabited by employees of the Canadian Department of Transport and the United States Weather Bureau in 1950 when the Joint Arctic Weather Station (JAWS) was established. An airfield and small building were built to service various weather monitoring equipment.

This weather station remains in operation to this day, however operations were subsequently handed over to employees of the Canadian Department of the Environment via the Meteorological Service of Canada.

Alert Wireless Station

The Canadian military was interested in the establishment of JAWS at Alert for several reasons. The JAWS facility extended Canadian sovereignty over a large uninhabited area which Canada claimed as its sovereign territory.

During the Cold War, Alert was strategically important because of its proximity to the Soviet Union; Alert was the closest point in North America to the northwestern area of the Soviet Union. In fact, Alert is closer to Moscow than it is to Ottawa. Thus, the possibility of utilizing the site for the purpose of intercepting radio signals was deemed to warrant a military presence.

In 1956, the Royal Canadian Air Force, which was expanding its presence throughout the high Arctic with the construction of the Distant Early Warning Line radar network, established a building uphill from the DOT's JAWS station to house "High Arctic Long Range Communications Research", or signals intelligence operations.

In 1957, the Alert Wireless Station was conceived as an intercept facility to be jointly staffed by personnel from the Royal Canadian Navy and the RCAF. Five additional buildings were constructed: a mess, 3 barracks/accommodations buildings, and a power house and vehicle maintenance building, in addition to the existing operations building, built in 1956. The operations building housed the radio intercept and cryptographic equipment. Up to 24 men would be posted to Alert at any one time. Alert was considered (and remains to this day) a hardship assignment, with no spouses being permitted. Until 1980 only men were permitted to deploy to Alert.

CFS Alert

The February 1, 1968 unification of the RCN, RCAF and Canadian Army to form the Canadian Forces saw the Alert Wireless Station change its name to Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS Alert). Its personnel were no longer drawn from only the air force or navy, but primarily from the Canadian Forces Communications Command.

At its peak, CFS Alert had upwards of 215 personnel posted at any one time. The station became a key asset in the global ECHELON network of the US-UK-ANZAC intelligence sharing alliance, with Alert being privy to many secret Soviet communications regarding land-based and sea-based ICBM test launches and many operational military deployments.

Budget cuts to the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces in 1994, and modernization of communications equipment, saw CFS Alert downsized to approximately 74 personnel by 1997-1998 when most radio-intercept operations were remotely controlled by personnel at CFS Leitrim. Remaining personnel are responsible for airfield operations, construction/engineering, food service, and logistical/administrative support. Only six personnel are now responsible for actual operations and control of the facility was passed to DND's Information Management Group following the disbanding of CF Communications Command with force restructuring and cutbacks in the mid-1990s. Several of these personnel are likely also attached to DND's Communications Security Establishment.

With Canada's commitment to the global war on terrorism following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, CFS Alert has received renewed and increased funding to expand its SIGINT capabilities. However, as of April 13, 2006 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was reporting that the heating costs for the station had risen, in consequence of which the military were proposing to cut back on support trade positions by using private contractors [] .

Air Command officially took responsibility for CFS Alert from Canandian Forces Information Operations Group (CFIOG) 1 April, 2008. "The numbers of personnel in Alert continues to dwindle and most of the support staff will eventually be contracted. In order to ensure that the artifacts in Alert that are deemed "museum pieces" are handled appropriately, a team of two will be flown to Alert to accession the surviving artifacts." []

Aircraft Crashes

The military has constructed several roads in the area to permit patrolling, as well as for logistics purposes from shore locations near anchorages east of the station, as well as to the airfield. Resupply is provided by cargo ships during the short shipping season in late summer when Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers can provide escort services. The rest of the year, Alert is serviced exclusively by Canadian Forces Air Command (AIRCOM) transport aircraft which land at the adjacent airfield.

Alert is in total darkness from October 14 to March 1 every year and its weather conditions and isolation provides a significant challenge to pilots. This has led to some well-known crashes:
* In summer of 1950 an RCAF Lancaster crashed during the establishment of the JAWS weather station when the parachute for resupplies being airdropped became entangled on the tail of the aircraft. All 9 crewmembers were killed and are buried west of the airstrip.
* A C-130 Hercules, part of Operation Boxtop 22, crashed about convert|30|km|mi|abbr=on short of the runway on October 30, 1991, killing 5 of the 18 passengers and crew. The pilot apparently was flying by sight rather than relying on instruments. Subsequent rescue efforts by personnel from CFS Alert, USAF personnel from Thule, and CF personnel from bases in southern Canada, were hampered by a blizzard and local terrain. The crash investigation recommended all CC-130s be retrofitted with ground proximity detectors. The crash and rescue efforts were the basis of a film called "Ordeal In The Arctic" (1993).


In early April 2006 the Roly McLenahan Torch that was used to light the flame at Whitehorse, Yukon for the Canada Winter Games passed through Alert. [] . While the Canada Games torch was supposed to pass over the North Pole, bad weather prevented a Canadian military Twin Otter from making the trip. The torch did not travel outside of Alert that weekend (April 9-12).

ee also

* Alert Airport

External links

* [ CFS Alert (Canadian Forces)]
* [ Arctic Adventure (Webpage of past Alert GAW lab operator)]

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