March 24, 2012

The Nicolet Proof and Experimental Test Establishment on Lake Saint-Pierre, Quebec

There are a lot of things that have gone on, and do go on, militarily in Canada that nobody seems to know about. I certainly didn't know where we had any munitions testing facilities, or where we rented out space to friendly nations to test their munitions in our facilities.  A lot of testing and cooperation, to levels that Canadians have no idea about, has gone on over the years. I saw a passing mention of the "Proof and Experimental Test Establishment" while looking for something completely different the other day, and made a note to get back to it later.

This facility has gone by many names...
  • The Nicolet Proof and Experimental Test Establishment (PETE) in Quebec
  • The Nicolet Proof and Experimental Test Establishment on Lake Saint-Pierre
  • The National Defense Proof and Experimental Test Establishment
From my understanding, the range is used to test ammunition; artillery, bombs, any munitions. The site was chosen in part due to its proximity to several military ammunition manufacturers. Having the test range close to the manufacturing facility meant the ammunition didn't need to be transported across the country in a truck or by train, potentially getting into an accident or falling victim to crime.
As it turns out, that facility has been in use since the 1950s, and is still in use today, in a reduced capacity.

While reportedly no artillery is being fired into the lake anymore, the area is still restricted airspace, to a height of 17,000 feet - so you won't be flying over it unless you're way up there.  Taking the coordinates documented in the Canadian Designated Airspace Handbook (226th edition, October 2011) I put the coordinates into a Google Map so you can visualize the area

The base itself is at the East edge of the no-fly zone. (Google Street View - So Handy!)

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

The Canadian Department of National Defence has been working on cleaning up Lac St. Pierre, since there is an estimated 10,000 unexploded shells at the bottom...

The following news article was published back in 2006, going over the use of the base to test US nuclear-capable artillery.
Canada Tested US Neutron Bomb Artillery Shells in Quebec

John Clearwater - November 6, 2006
During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s Ottawa allowed the US Army to test
artillery shells - some of them nuclear delivery vehicles - at the
Nicolet Proof and Experimental Test Establishment (PETE) in Quebec.
Declassified documents reveal that two different nuclear weapon
artillery shells, both with neutron bomb features, were definitely
tested in Canada.
The US Army regularly tested its experimental and operational
artillery shells in the cold, dense airspace above the range at PETE.
The Army had recognized that Nicolet, Quebec, offered a unique
combination of Arctic temperatures and high air density which cannot
be found anywhere in the USA. According to the US Army, these unique
conditions did "commonly occur in potential operational areas"(1), by
which they mean the Soviet Union.
The information was discovered in documents released in response to an
access to information act request to the department of national
defence. The declassified documents form part of the newly-released
book "Just Dummies: Cruise Missile Testing in Canada" by nuclear
weapons specialist John Clearwater.
Testing, which usually took place during January and February of most
years, was done with the permission of the Department of National
Defence. Each series of tests required the US Army and DND sign a new
While the majority of the artillery shells fired at PETE are
non-nuclear, and most are inert, a DND contract and other documents
reveal that there were nuclear-capable shells tested. Former Associate
Minister of National Defence, Harvey Andre, said "it is technically
feasible for projectiles of the size tested to have either a
conventional or nuclear explosive capability", but went on to say that
no nuclear munitions had ever been tested in Canada. Spokesmen for DND
have repeated this assertion.
In private Ottawa told the US Army that the rate charged by Canada for
US Army tests of nuclear artillery shells was $88.95 per hour of
person/range time plus a 3% service charge and a 10% administrative
fee, payable in either Canadian or US dollars.(2)
The only known public reference by the Government to the testing at
PETE came in 1982 when the then Minister of National Defence Gilles
Lamontagne told the House of Commons that the Canadian Forces had
conducted high air density tests on 155mm artillery shells on behalf
of the USA in the winter of 1977-78.(3) Lamontagne provided no other
details, thus leaving the public in the dark about other tests between
1977 and 1982. As PETE provided almost no annual reports, there is
little official record, and almost no list of nuclear weapons system
The US Army first deployed functional nuclear artilery shells in 1957.
The Mk-33/-422 shell was joined by Mk-48/-454 nuclear shell, the first
to use plutonium, in 1963. These two systems would remain the backbone
of US Army nuclear artillery until the W-79 and W-82 programmes came
along in 1975 and 1977. The new shells would have the Enhanced
Radiation Weapon (ERW) features, also known as the neutron bomb.
The Enhanced Radiation Weapon, or neutron bomb, known as the bomb
which kills people but does little physical damage to buildings, was
becoming a prominent weapon in the Reagan armament scheme in the early
1980s. It was to become the pre-eminent weapon as older shells were
The ERW was once called the ultimate capitalist weapon because it
killed while leaving property relatively unharmed. US military studies
showed that while there is substantially more radiation produced by
the ERW, the amount of blast is only reduced by about 20% over similar
non-ERW nuclear weapons.
The Pentagon had promoted the ERW as a way of lowering the yield of
the weapon without diminishing its effectiveness. It would be used
against armoured attack, and would not encourage the Soviets to
escalate to higher nuclear yields. However, tank crews would be able
to operate for at least a day after being irradiated, and NATO troops
would then have had to attack the tanks conventionally.(4)
Neutron bomb system testing at PETE goes back to 1976-77 when DND
allowed firing of the XM753, a 203mm artillery shell for the W79
warhead. The ERW version was first deployed to operational units in
1981. At least 340 nuclear warheads were built, but political problems
limited the ERW version to less than 40 warheads. These few warheads
were later converted back to standard nuclear weapons, with the ERW
components removed.
The letter of agreement for these cold weather trials of the shells
was signed on 27 September 1976, and the contract was authorized by
the Director General of Quality Assurance at National Defence (DGQA)
on 22 October 1976.(5)
On 15 October 1982, the Canadian Commercial Corporation signed an
agreement to allow the US Army to conduct flight and structural tests
of their new delivery vehicle for the 155mm XM785/W82 standard and
Enhanced Radiation Weapon: the neutron bomb.(6) Testing in Canada
followed a series of tests of the M549A1 artillery shell,
ballistically similar to the M785, at the Yuma Proving Grounds in the
United States. With a planned deployment date of 1989, the cold
weather trials in Canada were an important part of the early stages of
engineering and prototype work.
The contract for the use of PETE during the winter of 1982-83 shows
that the US Army paid DND $150 000.00 ($US) for the use of the
artillery testing range. DND supplied the manpower and range
instrumentation that was needed to conduct the tests.
Tests to determine how the nuclear artillery shell would perform in
the cold Arctic air which could be expected in and around the USSR,
took place in January and February 1983. The XW785 is the testing
model of the operational M785. This shell was to carry the W82 ERW
warhead, and was intended to replace the M753. The standard nuclear
explosive was used when Congress cancelled the ERW funding for this
shell in October 1983.
During the January 1983 firing test of the PXR6285, PXR6286, PXR6292,
and the PXR6296 were carried out at PETE. All of these test vehicles
were used exclusively to test the behaviour of the shell which carries
the W82 ERW warhead. Specifically, tests were conducted to determine
the flight pattern of the shell in Arctic cold temperatures; the
flight pattern in very dense air; and the survivability of the
delivery vehicle during launch acceleration.
The M549A1 has the mass properties of the XM785 and was tested for
transonic muzzle velocity at the Yuma Proving Ground in the USA and
then at PETE. The PXR6292 and PXR6296, both having similar mass
properties to the XM785, were given transonic range precision tests at
The PXR6285 and PXR6286, both having similar mass properties to the
XM785, were given transonic stability tests at 20 degree yaw angles at
PETE. The PXR tests took place at PETE in January and February 1983.
None of these tests show up on the PETE annual list of projects for
1982, 1983 or 1984.(7)
The government has never publicly confirmed that these tests took
place. DND has refused further comment, and the Department of Foreign
Affairs denies that any such tests had ever taken place.(8) It remains
unclear whether they are aware of their own declassified
W-79 Nuclear Artillery Shell
Name: M753 (203mm)
weight: 97.5 kg
diameter: 203 mm
length 1.09 m
range: 18 km (29 km with rocket assist projectile)
Security lock: 6 digit combination lock with limited try and lockout
fuze: target sensor and timer
Yield: 1-10 kt (selectable)
Nuclear type: standard and enhanced radiation warhead (ERW)
Deployed: 1981-1991
W-82 Nuclear Artillery Shell
Name: XM785 (155mm)
weight: 43 kg
diameter: 155 mm
length 0.87 m
range: 30 km
Security lock: 6 digit combination lock
fuze: radar airburst
Nuclear type: standard and enhanced radiation warhead (ERW)
Deployed: 1986-1991
The Difference Between a regular nuclear weapon and a neutron bomb.
Standard nuclear weapons release 50% of their energy in blast, while
the similar figure for the ERW is 40%. Prompt radiation from a
standard device is about 5%, but up to 30% for the ERW. Thermal
energy is 35% and 25% respectively, and residual radiation is 10% and
5 %
(1) US Army, DAAK10-82-R-0302 Scope of Work, p.7. unclassified.
(2) 11 January 1988, Letter to Director FSAC Armament Research
Development and Engineering, US Army Armament Munitions and Chemical
Command, Dover, New Jersey, from R.S. Arbukle, Director Quality
Assurance Support, DND. Re: Approval Given for US Army Tests of
Ammunition at PETE. 10081-2683.
(3) 08 November 1982, HANSARD. P.20486.
(4) Scoville, H., A Comparison of the Effects of Neutron and Standard
Fission Weapons", Centre for Defense Information, Washington DC. 12
August 1981.
(5) 27 September 1976, Letter of Agreement between the United States
Army and the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) for
1976/1977 Winter High Air Density Tests of 8-Inch Projectiles at
Nicolet, Quebec, Canada. Signed by USA 27 Sept 76, and by Canada 22
Oct 76.
(6) 15 October 1982, Award/Contract, Between the Canadian Commercial
Corporation and Department of National Defence for Canada, and the US
Army Armament R&D Command. Re: Use of facility PETE, Nicolet, Canada,
per scope of work. DAAK10-83-0- 0004.
(7) Tests of artillery/artillery shells by US Army at PETE. 1974-75:
M483 & M509; 1975- 76: 155mm (type unknown), 203mm (type unknown);
1976- 77: 203mm, M106, XM650E4, EBVP; 1977-78155mm (type unknown);
1982-83: 155mm (M785 ERW family), PXR6285, PXR6286, PXR6292, PXR6296,
M549A1, M483A1, M107; 1987-88: 155mm, XM915.
(8) 26 May 2000, letter to author from G.A. Calkin, Director North
American & Euro- Atlantic Security & Defence Relations, re: defence
activities and policies. (and) 3 January 2001 letter to author from N.
Etheridge, Director North-American & Euro- Atlantic Security & Defence
Relations, re: various aspects of defence related activities and
"Just Dummies: Cruise Missile Testing in Canada"
By John Clearwater
University of Calgary Press
$34.95 sc
November 2006
ISBN 1-55238-211-7
EAN 978-1-55238-211-0
283 pages
15 x 23 cm
Index, Notes, Bibliography
Political Science / History / Military
Cited from:

Yet another location to add to my bucket list of significant military sites in Canada to visit!

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