Cablegate: Atlantic Canada: The Future of 5 Wing Goose Bay

Published: Tue 14 Sep 2004 03:03 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) SUMMARY: The Ambassador recently met with civic
leaders and military officers at 5 Wing Goose Bay and the
adjoining community of Happy Valley during a trip to Labrador.
Community leaders and the Premier of the province are concerned
that declining use of the military base at Goose Bay by NATO
allies will ultimately result in its closure, depriving the
community of its major source of jobs. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) 5 Wing Goose Bay was built and staffed primarily by
U.S. forces during the Second World War and through much of the
Cold War. It has been used by NATO allies as a flight training
area for decades, although in recent years allies have begun
cutting back the amount of training they do there, and some have
announced plans to leave altogether. The base boasts two major
runways -- 11,000 and 9,000 feet -- and has a training area of
about 130,000 square kilometers (more than 50,000 square miles)
where flying is allowed as low as 100 feet. In an arrangement
unique to Canada, virtually all operations of the base have been
privatized, with a contractor responsible for all operations and
maintenance except search and rescue and the Canadian Forces
contingent reduced to a skeleton 70 personnel, except when
CF-18s are temporarily deployed to the base on a NORAD mission.
3. (U) As changing technology and declining budgets have
altered allied training needs, the GOC seems to have realized
belatedly that it had priced Goose Bay out of the market.
Better facilities, better training opportunities and a more
reasonable cost sharing arrangement have caused foreign
governments to shift Canadian training operations to 4 Wing Cold
Lake, Alberta, leaving Goose Bay with fewer and fewer clients.
The GOC initial response to this was ambivalent, leaving many
with the impression that it intended to close or mothball the
base. Recently, however, the GOC has begun to try to market
Goose Bay's strategic location and advantages not only for
fighter-bomber flight training but for special operations
exercises, tactical air transport training, and cold weather
trials of new equipment, among other things. The GOC has also
revised its approach to fees, adopting a "hotel" approach with
fixed costs rather than amortizing all of the base's annual
costs over the number of sorties flown by allies during the
training season. U.S. National Guard and Reserve units are
among the allies being targeted for a modest marketing campaign.
4. (SBU) Goose Bay clearly has some advantages as a training
location. The GOC's efforts to market the base, however, are
not helped by its failure to use it itself, something akin to a
chef not eating in his own restaurant. A senior Canadian Air
Force officer at 5 Wing, after nodding throughout a briefing on
the base's advantages, spent much of a private conversation
describing how Cold Lake was superior in many respects because
the GOC has made the investment to create more modern training
facilities there. Goose Bay is the main gateway to Labrador for
civilian aircraft, and would still be needed for commercial use
regardless of any military use of the base; the military
presence, however, has created far more jobs than the civilian
use of the airport.
5. (U) Newfoundland-Labrador Premier Danny Williams, in Happy
Valley-Goose Bay (HVGB) for much of the Ambassador's visit, made
it clear that the province is working closely with the community
to keep the base open. Among other things, Williams has taken a
delegation to Europe to meet with NATO allies about their
training needs and to see what the province could do to improve
their chances of continuing to train in Labrador. He said that
he had been encouraged by a visit to HVGB in March 2004 by
then-Defense Minister David Pratt and Prime Minister Paul
Martin. Martin, according to Williams and other community
leaders, spoke of the need to provide more GOC support to the
base. Subsequently, they said, the Air Force became much more
upbeat in presentations about the base. However, that has so
far not stopped allies from announcing plans to pull out, and
the GOC has yet to deliver on any tangible assistance for the
base or the community.
6. (U) During his discussions with civic leaders the
Ambassador noted that in his own experience with base
realignment in the U.S. it was vital to get the private sector
involved and to have all members of the community speaking with
one voice. This the community of HVGB had clearly done.
Premier Williams pointed out, in the context of the Ambassador's
remarks about the need to all pull together as one team, that
the federal government now had to step up to the plate as well
and do more to show that it was committed to Goose Bay's
continued viability as a military training facility.
7. (U) Although there is talk of increasing tourism and the
economic benefits that will flow from development of the
Voisey's Bay nickel deposits and the Lower Churchill Falls
hydroelectric potential, these are long-term projects. In the
short to medium term the community sees little option but to
pursue continued military training at 5 Wing as the foundation
on which to build a more diversified economy.
8. (SBU) In some ways the situation of Happy Valley-Goose Bay
is a variant of a common story in the remoter parts of Canada:
the closing of a mine or industry which was a town's main
employer. While the HVGB community seems to be doing an
excellent job of pulling together and thinking creatively about
how the base can be revived, a tangible commitment by the GOC to
the survival of 5 Wing seems to be an essential element in
keeping it operational. In the longer term the development of
Labrador's considerable energy and mineral resources will
provide new economic stimulus, although at a cost to the
wilderness that surrounds the few human settlements in the
region. END COMMENT.
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