The Canadian Rangers, the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve in isolated areas, are now testing the new weapons that will replace the Lee-Enfield rifles, used since the group's inception in 1947.
Rangers were issued the old Lee-Enfields when the military had a surplus after the Second World War, but that stockpile has now been depleted, according to Maj. Carl Gendron, who is overseeing the replacement.
Colt Canada will supply 6,820 new rifles to the Canadian Rangers by 2019. The weapons are a variation of the Finnish-made Tikka T3 CTR that will be built under licence at the Colt plant in Kitchener, Ont.
"You cannot, not like this weapon — it's a top tier weapon," Gendron said. "It's one of the best in the world in that price range so there's no problem with that. I'm 100 per cent confident they [Rangers] are going to love it."
Rangers need their weapons for self-defence against large predators and to live off the land, he said, so a model of a polar bear was created and used as part of the testing.
"We're confident that the rifle can stop a polar bear with the ammunition that we're providing, that was also tested," Gendron said. The weapon also passed tests for accuracy, making them good for hunting when Rangers need food while on patrol in the North.
The preliminary cost estimate for the replacement project is $28 million or $4,000 per rifle, he said. That cost includes everything from development and testing to additional equipment, including hard and soft cases for the weapons and a two-year supply — almost two million rounds — of ammunition.
"The gun will be extremely reliable because it's made of stainless steel," Gendron said. "It's very corrosion resistant. We tested it specifically for use in the North in adverse conditions."
The rifle was tested to NATO standards, he said, including a test to ensure it would function at –51 C and would not accidentally fire when dropped. It was also adapted specifically for use by Rangers.
The trigger guard was enlarged and the sensitivity of the trigger changed so it can be used with gloves, Gendron said, and a system of sights, up to 600 metres, was added.
More than 125 new rifles are already being used by Rangers and will be in the field next month in Operation Nanook, the annual military exercise by Joint Task Force North, being held this year in Fort Smith, N.W.T.
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