CAMPIA TURZII, Romania — Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are why the Royal Canadian Air Force answered an urgent appeal from NATO to deploy fighter jets deeper into Europe than ever before, according to Matthew Fisher, from Canada.com.Half a dozen CF-18 Hornets from Bagotville, Que., have been flying near Ukraine’s southern border and elsewhere in Romania for three weeks, sometimes flying alongside Soviet-era Romanian MiG-21s over Transylvania, which legend says was once the home of the infamous Count Dracula.
“Our civilians do not really understand why the Canadians are here, but they support their presence as something that is good because we are part of NATO,” said Cmdr. Marian Petrus, who runs the Campia Turzii fighter base. “But our high-level people make the direct connection with the political situation in Ukraine. We are a member of NATO so we do not worry for ourselves but for Moldova.”
Moldova is a small, Romanian-speaking former Soviet republic on Romania’s northeastern border where Russia keeps troops.
“The Canadians are here at the direction of NATO to help with security so that a peaceful solution can be found.”
Hornet fighter jets break out of formation while doing a familiarization flight of the region in Câmpia Turzii, Romania during NATO reassurance measures on May 13, 2014. Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera Deux chasseurs CF18 Hornet rompent la formation, pendant un vol de familiarisation effectué dans la région de Câmpia Turzii (Roumanie), le 13 mai 2014, en appui aux mesures d’apaisement de l’OTAN. Photo : Cplc Patrick Blanchard, Caméra de combat des Forces canadiennes IS2014-3023-12 ORG XMIT: IS2014-3023
Hornet fighter jets break out of formation while doing a familiarization flight of the region in Câmpia Turzii, Romania during NATO reassurance measures. (Photo: Corporal Patrick Blanchard)
This is the first time that the RCAF has deployed 2 Air Expeditionary Wing, which was purpose-built to get the air force up and flying quicker than before in distant locales.
“We learned our lessons from Haiti, Aviano and Libya,” said Lt.-Col. Luc Girouard, who is running the Wing’s operations here. “We need to deploy quickly and we need people with experience to do it. That is our raison d’etre. It is a concept that has been developed over the years.”
Among the difficulties that Girouard has experienced has been arranging to store bulk fuel and to sign contracts in a country where the Canadian military has never had any contractual arrangements.
Lt.-Col. David Pletz, the fighter pilot who commands Canada’s air task force and 425 Squadron, which is supplying the aircraft and pilots, said that getting out to the far corners of the world more quickly will not only help the fighter jet community but would also improve the speed with which the RCAF responds to humanitarian crises such as earthquakes and floods.
“It is a way to save lives and get Canada in the game fast,” Pletz said. “It is the first time I have seen us be so quick.”
Romania, like many of NATO’s new members in eastern Europe, has been keen to get as much help as possible from older members of NATO. Given its proximity to Ukraine and Russia, it was no surprise that it has given Canada’s unexpected deployment an incredibly warm welcome.
Six CF-18 Hornets from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron take off from Bagotville, Quebec on April 29, 2014 to fly to Romania as part of Canada‚Äôs contribution to NATO‚Äôs reassurance measures in order to promote security and stability in Eastern and Central Europe. Photo: Corporal Jean-Roch Chabot, 3 Wing, Bagotville Le 29 avril 2014, six CF-18 Hornet du 425e Escadron d‚Äôappui tactique s‚Äôenvolent de Bagotville, au Qu¾©bec, en direction de la Roumanie dans le cadre de la participation du Canada aux mesures d‚Äôapaisement mises de l‚Äôavant par l‚ÄôOTAN en vue de favoriser la s¾©curit¾© et la stabilit¾© en Europe de l‚ÄôEst et en Europe centrale. Photo : Caporal Jean-Roch Chabot, 3e Escadre, Bagotville BN2014-0111-10 ORG XMIT: WO#2014-0239
Six CF-18 Hornets from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron take off from Bagotville, Quebec to fly to Romania as part of Canada’s contribution to NATO’s reassurance measures in order to promote security and stability in Eastern and Central Europe. (Photo: Corporal Jean-Roch Chabot)
“It is a great experience for us because the Canadians have flown in war zones,” said Maj. Alin Cuchit, who flies MiGs. “I had only seen F-18s fly in videos. It is a dream come true for me to fly next to one.
“We’ve flown exercises with American F-16s but that is more of an air-to-air aircraft. The F-18 is more multiple role with air-to-ground missions, too. Having two engines, the F-18s have more power. It’s a fantastic opportunity because Canada has some of the best pilots in the world.”
Pletz returned the compliment.
“The MiG-21 is an icon. To train with them is an experience we would never get at home,” he said.
The Canadians have been flying about six to eight sorties a day with their “six-pack” of CF18s. When this has involved joint missions with the Romanians, they have practised tactical intercepts and conducted what are described as air policing patrols.
A curious aspect of the mission is that the Canadians have not brought any weapons with them.
“That has been a decision made by the government of Canada with NATO and the government of Romania,” Pletz said. “As you know, it is a very delicate situation over here at this time. We’re aware of that. “
Colonel Darcy Molstad, Canadian Air Task Force Commander, Lieutenant General Ştefan Dănilă, Romanian Chief of General Staff and Commander Marian Petrus, base Commander, discuss international cooperation on the airfield in Câmpia Turzii, Romania during NATO reassurance measures on May 15, 2014. Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera Le lieutenant-colonel Darcy Molstad, commandant de la Force opérationnelle aérienne du Canada, le lieutenant-général roumain Ştefan Dănilă, chef d’état-major général, et le commandant Marian Petrus, commandant de la base, discutent de coopération internationale à l’aérodrome de Câmpia Turzii (Roumanie), le 15 mai 2014, pendant la mise en œuvre des mesures d’apaisement de l’OTAN. Photo : Cplc Patrick Blanchard, Caméra de combat des Forces canadiennes IS2014-3025-03 ORG XMIT: IS2014-3025
Colonel Darcy Molstad, Canadian Air Task Force Commander, Lieutenant General Ştefan Dănilă, Romanian Chief of General Staff and Commander Marian Petrus, base Commander, discuss international cooperation on the airfield in Câmpia Turzii, Romania during NATO reassurance measures. (Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard)
The RCAF is well known within the Canadian military for always having the best digs. Their colleagues back home in Canada might be shocked to learn that they are operating in a semi-austere setting here. Their offices are in tents that were flooded during a heavy rainfall. The 13 fighter pilots have been living as many as six to a room in barracks that house more than 200 Canadians. Vast fields of corn can be seen from their bedroom windows.
There is no need for alarm clocks as the roosters announce their presence every morning before dawn. This is followed a little later by the mooing of cows. Packs of dogs add to cacophony by barking when farmers return with sheep from grazing nearby.
How long the mission lasts remains an open question. Indications from Ottawa have been that Canadians are likely to be flying over Dracula’s fabled old stomping grounds until at least sometime late this fall.
“If Canada decides to have a longer term presence here in Romania then those decisions will be made at the government of Canada level and at the strategic level in the Canadian Forces to determine if we build a more permanent infrastructure here in Romania or wherever we determine to continue operations in eastern Europe,” Girouard said. “What I can say is that now our infrastructure is strictly temporary.”