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

The Sprig of Heather restaurant at R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum features a 40-by-40 foot covered pavilion in the heart of the public garden. (Photo contributed)
Salmon Arm’s RJ Haney Heritage Village preps for opening of new attractions

No date set yet, new highlights will be Sprig of Heather restaurant, Children’s Discovery Centre

A topographic (3D) perspective captured from Google Earth, to create a perspective of the approximate proposed cut block outlines on Mount Ida in relation familiar local landmarks. (Alex Inselberg image)
Salmon Arm council’s concerns eased over Mount Ida logging

Fire chief explains proposed cut complements wildfire risk reduction efforts

(Pixabay photo)
Morning Start: Dogs can understand some English

Your morning start for Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

Followers of CBC reporter Justin McElroy’s twitter feed responded to his criticism of Salmon Arm’s new municipal flag by offering alternative design options. (Justin McElroy/Twitter)
Salmon Arm flag design flounders on internet

‘Business card’ design prompts creative alternatives

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

The community is rallying around Phil Hotzon who needs a new electric tricycle. (Contributed)
Tricycle for Phil: Support pours in for Kelowna man with traumatic brain injury

Phil Hotzon lost his electric tricycle after falling into Mill Creek, fundraiser aims to replace it

The area around the Christie Mountain wildfire that was restricted to the public is no longer restricted effective at 12 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. (BC Wildfire photo)
The area around where the Christie Mountain wildfire took place is officially restricted to the public effective May 12. (BC Wildfire photo)
Christie Mountain wildlife area near Penticton closed to public

The area was damaged in 2020 by the Christie Mountain wildfire

Vancouver court on Tuesday, March 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Defence lawyers call foul as Crown counsel granted access to COVID-19 vaccines

Defence attorneys are pushing the province to extend inoculation access to workers in courtrooms across B.C.

A 30-year-old Kelowna woman is facing potential charges after allegedly driving impaired before crashing into a Mugford Road residence and fleeing the scene on May 11. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Alleged impaired driver crashes into Kelowna home before fleeing on foot

The crash caused damages to the yard, the surrounding chain fence and the residence’s deck

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. Indigenous leaders are calling for an investigation into the conduct of Mounties on Vancouver Island after two police shootings of members of a small First Nations community in three months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Indigenous leaders call for clarity, investigation into RCMP after B.C. shooting

The RCMP declined to comment on the requests by Indigenous leaders

A property crime map for the month of March shows the hot spot for crimes is centered around the area where the Victory Church homeless shelter is located. (City Submitted)
B.C. Premier asked to intervene in Penticton homeless shelter dispute

Mayor sends letter urging premier to reconsider Eby’s use of paramountcy powers

Most Read