Maple Flag military exercise no go for foreseeable future

There will be not be a Maple Flag military exercise in 2019 or in the “foreseeable future” in Cold Lake, the Royal Canadian Air Force has decided.

The air force say they paused the exercise to re-focus Maple Flag’s mandate and to modernize the infrastructure used during the exercise.

The goal being that Maple Flag remains focused and relevant to fighter operations in a dynamic and fluid battlespace, now and into the future, the Air Force said on their website.

“After careful consideration, we will not conduct Exercise Maple Flag in 2019. We are planning to ensure we have the right capabilities at hand while working to ensure we are able to meet the evolving training needs of Canada and our Allies,” said Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, commander of the RCAF.

“By pausing to evaluate Maple Flag, including its role and conduct in future years, I am confident we will be able to deliver a revitalized training experience that will build on the legacy of excellence for which Maple Flag is known in Canada and around the world.”

Just last week, it was reported that military aircraft testing was scheduled to relocate from Cold Lake to Ottawa.

At the M.D. of Bonnyville council meeting Wednesday, Reeve Greg Sawchuk said during committee reports that Maple Flag is a top notch air force exercise, but the current equipment on base is not up to date.

“The F-18 is falling behind… and that’s why you’ve seen the drop off in numbers from the US and the bigger air forces coming to Maple Flag over the years,” said Sawchuk during council Wednesday.

“Until we see a future fighter come into play, along with all the equipment that comes with it, Maple Flag could be a little ways away.”

However, he said that in May 2019 a request for bid will be going out for work on the air base and will take to about 2021 for the contract to be awarded.

“Once that happened, you would see significant development on the base.”

The goal of Maple Flag is to prepare national and international participants for conducting operations. Now, the exercise will be adapted to make it a more realistic training environment.

“With the many technological advancements in military aviation over the decades, there has emerged a need for training methods and infrastructure to advance as well… Our adversaries are innovating, and so must we and our Allies,” said Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger.

“It’s too early to say exactly what changes will take place or what our timeline will be,” said Lieutenant-General Meinzinger. “Our first step is to identify how Maple Flag should look in the future and then develop the processes to make those changes happen.

“The landscape of warfare has evolved, and Maple Flag must also evolve to ensure it remains operationally relevant for ourselves and our joint and combined partners, both now and into the future.”

Maple Flag is normally held each year over one or two, two-week periods from late May until late June. 4 Wing has hosted the international training event since 1978, when the primary purpose of the exercise was to re-create the first ten aerial combat missions a fighter pilot could expect to encounter during a conflict. It has evolved to include aircraft such as bombers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft as well as fighters.

It now also integrates Air Force elements such as tactical airlift, tactical helicopters and electronic warfare assets as well as Army elements. Since 1987, the exercise has been cancelled on four occasions, all due to RCAF operational commitments.