ABOVE: “Canadian Rangers test-fire the recently-adopted C-19 rifle”. (Image credit: Canadian Armed Forces)
The Canadian Rangers are a sub-component of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, and serve as Canada’s military presence in the sparsely settled northern, coastal, and isolated areas of Canada. From their formation in 1947 (an evolution of the earlier Pacific Coast Militia Rangers) as a modestly-sized ranging force, today’s Canadian Rangers number 5000 strong, and are divided into five Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups (CRPG). The remote regions of Canada, and especially the country’s norther expanses and extensive coastlines, have long posed security and sovereignty challenges to the military. Accordingly, 1 CRPG, stationed in Nunavut, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Northern British Columbia, remains the largest of the CRPGs. Some 1850 Rangers of 1 CRPG report to the Armed Forces’ Joint Task Force (North). The Rangers are frequently referred to as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Canadian Forces, operating where a conventional and sustained military presence would not prove economically efficient. Their motto is Vigilans, or ‘The Watchers’. Since the 1970s, the Rangers role has increasingly been tied to the defence of Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. Rangers conduct patrols to demonstrate Canadian ‘boots on the ground’ in the far North, and periodically inspect many of the 47 North Warning System (NWS) radar sites located between Labrador and Yukon.
Since the Ranger Enhancement Project began in 1995, a range of military equipment has been issued to Rangers. The 2007 Canadian Rangers Equipment Modernization Project (CRMP) budgeted $45 million CAD for “light equipment of the best quality to allow [Rangers] to perform their tasks effectively”, including multitools, ballistic eyewear, backpacks, and satellite phones. In August 2010, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRD) released a report titled ‘Canadian Ranger Rifle: Human Factors Requirements Validation’. This report examined the current-issue Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk 1* rifle, first issued to Rangers in 1947, and noted that Canada’s stock of replacement rifles and parts was nearly exhausted. According to some sources, certain Ranger patrols have resorted to ordering parts online.
The report also included interesting statistics on how Rangers employed their rifles. The majority of Rangers included in the study (66.3%) fired fewer than 200 rounds from their weapons annually. Approximately half (44.5%) of the Rangers used their weapon for hunting, outside of military activities. 81.9% of Rangers indicated that typical engagement ranges were no greater than 200 metres. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rangers operating further North tended to engage targets at longer ranges; 1 CRPG indicated that their weapons were mostly employed against targets at 201 – 300 m. Rangers surveyed indicated that their primary durability concerns with the Lee-Enfield were damage to the magazines and iron sights. The most praised feature of the current issue rifle was its durability (47% of respondents), whilst the most significant criticism was its weight (70.8%). The most important qualities according to the Rangers interviewed were as follows:
Useful as a hunting and survival tool;
Reliable, accurate, and durable in extreme environments;
Capable of engaging targets up to 200 m;
Lighter in weight and shorter than the current Lee-Enfield;
The report indicated that the most generally acceptable rifle would be a durable, lightweight, and accurate bolt-action hunting rifle chambered for .308 or .30-06, capable of mounting a scope, and optimised for engaging mostly large game at ranges typically between 101 and 200 m.
An October 2011 initial price & availability request (P&A) was later followed by a request for proposal (RFP) indicating that suppliers would be required to partner with Colt Canada. This led many to speculate that the NCRR was likely to be an AR type rifle, such as the Colt Canada C7 series, however those following the program could see that the requirements called for something other than a modern military assault rifle. Replacing the Rangers’ rifle constitutes a small part of the broader Canadian Small Arms Replacement Project 2 (SARP 2) programme, which will also see the modernisation or replacement of a number of other key weapon systems within the Canadian Forces. SARP 2 Phase 1 includes the acquisition of a New Canadian Ranger Rifle (NCRR).
The 2011 P&A specifies a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solution, and the RFP states that the replacement weapon will be a “commercially available hunting rifle”. Further, the Canadian Armed Forces Statement of Operational Requirement – SARP2 (Canadian Ranger Rifle Capability) indicates that the NCCR must serve as a military small arm or anti-personnel weapon, as well as being suitable for self-defence against large predators, and for personal survival. Regional surveillance missions (including NWS patrols) are often conducted for extended periods in remote areas, requiring the Rangers to hunt for food.
According to a June 2015 Colt Canada press release, the NCRR must have the following attributes:
Suitable for use as a hunting rifle for survival and self-defence against large North American carnivores;
Accuracy at ranges from 0 to 300 m;
Operable in temperatures ranging from -51C to +39C with moderate to high humidity;
Resistant to corrosion from long-term exposure to salt laden air and water; and
Suitable for transport by foot, wheeled commercial vehicles, skidoos, sleds, small boats and all-terrain vehicles.
These largely reflect the priorities of the Rangers outlined in DRD’s 2010 report. It is no surprise then, that the weapon selected as the NCRR is a conventional, magazine-fed bolt-action rifle, chambered for a common calibre and based on a commercially available and successful design. The NCRR is a SAKO .308 Winchester design, designated the C-19, based on the Tikka T3 Compact Tactical Rifle. Colt Canada will produce the barrel, bolt and receiver under licence from SAKO, and Stoeger Canada will serve as the Canadian supplier. The ownership of the intellectual property of the design will remain with SAKO, and Colt Canada will acquire a manufacturing license for the design on behalf of The Government of Canada and the Department of National Defence, under the Munitions Supply Program (MSP).
As per the Colt Canada press release, the C-19 has the following modifications from the original Tikka T3 CTR:
Larger bolt handle and enlarged trigger guard to accommodate gloved hands;
Protected front and rear iron sights;
Laminated stock in unique orange or red colour with Ranger Crest; and
Two stage trigger with three position safety.
The selection of a rifle chambered for .308 Winchester will greatly simplify the Canadian Armed Forces’ supply chain, and may obviate the need for General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems – Canada to continue producing the .303 CDN MK8Z cartridge currently in service with the Rangers’ Lee-Enfield rifles. The C-19 is capable of chambering not only in-service 7.62 x 51 mm ammunition such as the Ball C21 cartridge, but also commercially-available .308 Winchester ammunition. The iron sights, not standard on the Tikka T3 CTR, can be supplemented by optics mounted to the MIL-STD-1913 (Picatinny) rail on the top of the receiver. Canadian Forces have not issued a requirement for weapon sights for these rifles, so presumably the choice of optics will remain the preserve of individual Rangers.
Prototype rifles were recently delivered to the Rangers, and will undergo user trials through to the end of 2015. These trials are expected to take place in Nunavut and British Columbia, allowing for testing in arctic and coastal/humid environs. The rifle will also be supplied with a soft transport case, Pelican hard transport case, cleaning kit, sling, and trigger lock. According to SAKO, production of 6500 or more rifles is expected to commence in mid-2016, and the full complement are expected to be delivered by the end of 2018. The rifle was prominently displayed at the SAKO booth at DSEI 2015 in London.
Despite the cosmetic differences, the similarities between the C-19 and the Rangers’ trusty Lee-Enfield are fundamental. Both are chambered for a .30 calibre cartridge, both feed from ten-round box magazines, and both are bolt-action weapons. The C-19 trials represent the first instance in several decades that a bolt-action rifle has been put through its paces for adoption as a primary issue weapon. Nearly 75 years after the introduction of the No. 4 Mk 1* during the Second World War, and more than 120 years since the advent of the Lee-Enfield more broadly, the Canadian Rangers have selected another bolt-action rifle to serve them in some of the most remote and unforgiving regions of the world.