The news that the Canadian military is testing a prototype stealth snowmobile for use in the Far North raises two critical questions of national interest: Exactly whom does the army need to sneak up on in the Arctic? And how quickly can the technology be adapted for commercial use so that the whine of snowmobiles in cottage country can be eliminated?
The Department of National Defence put out a tender for the development of a silent snowmobile in 2011. A company based in Waterloo, Ont., got the contract and, thanks to a report uncovered by the Canadian Press, we now know that a $620,000 prototype has undergone preliminary testing at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. The public has also learned that the DND has named the prototype "Loki," after the Norse god famous for his ability to shape shift.
Loki has been developed, according to a government spokesman, on the theory that "anything in the military that's quieter is going to be advantageous." A better theory would have been "we really need silent snowmobiles for ambushing bad guys in the Arctic." The lack of a proven need for Loki's capabilities has generated some skepticism, which we share. "I don't see a whole lot of evidence that criminals and terrorists are scooting around Canada's North on snowmobiles and that we have to sneak up on them," said Michael Byers, a law professor at the University of British Columbia.
On the other hand, this being Canada, a snowmobile that doesn't sound like a small airplane taking off outside the bay window of your otherwise quiet winter retreat would be welcome. Military innovation has a history of being adapted to civilian life in useful ways. Who knows – Loki could become the Internet of rural Canada. With that in mind, the DND should get to work as soon as possible on a stealth Sea-Doo. Or a high-speed canoe.