NORAD overhaul will replace aging radar stations in Far North
Canada will spend $4.9 billion over the next six years to modernize continental defence, Defence Minister Anita Anand said Monday.
Anand delivered the long-awaited announcement on the NORAD upgrade at the Canadian military's principal air base at Trenton, Ont.
"NORAD has continually adapted and evolved in response to new threats. Today, we turn another page and begin NORAD's next chapter," the minister said in front a backdrop of flags and an aging CF-18 jet fighter.
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The figure represents Canada's share of the cost of overhauling the decades-old joint bi-national air defence command, originally designed to watch out for Soviet bombers. The project was not part of the Liberal government's 2017 defence policy document.
The United States covers about 60 per cent of the bill for NORAD.
The cash is expected to come out of the latest federal budget, which set aside up to $8 billion in new funding beyond increases in defence appropriations to which the Liberal government already had agreed. Up to $6 billion of that money was earmarked for a variety of commitments, including NORAD modernization.
Anand said the government's overall investment in continental and northern defence will exceed $40 billion over the next two decades. She did not provide a breakdown of that spending and the Department of National Defence did not release a backgrounder explaining the proposed expenditure.
The minister's statement referred to negotiations with, and potential benefits for, Indigenous communities — whose concerns were largely ignored in previous NORAD upgrades. When the first series of radar stations was being decommissioned and the current North Warning System was being built, the government engaged only in cursory consultation with local communities about their environmental concerns.
WATCH: Defence Minister Anita Anand announces money for NORAD overhaul
Defence Minister Anita Anand says the money will be used to overhaul the decades-old joint bi-national air defence command.
The nature of NORAD has changed in recent years as it has assumed additional responsibilities for monitoring sea lane approaches to North America and guarding against cyberattacks.
The NORAD overhaul will include the replacement of the North Warning System, a chain of radar stations in the Far North. The system eventually will be replaced with two different types of radar systems — one northern, one polar — that have the ability to look over the horizon.
The overhaul also will deploy new satellites built to track moving targets on the ground and a top-secret series of remote sensors.
The new network will monitor not only the Arctic — NORAD's traditional domain — but also Pacific and Atlantic approaches to the continent.
Military experts have long warned that NORAD's current surveillance system is not built to track cruise missiles — weapons fired from submarines or from outside of North American airspace. It's also not set up to deal with hypersonic missiles, which travel at many times the speed of sound.
Both weapons systems have featured prominently in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"The threat environment has changed," Anand said, answering a reporter's question on Monday.
"As our threats evolve, so must our defensive capabilities. And what we aim to do with this announcement today is to ensure that we — across the board — are engaging in the most significant and relevant upgrade to Canadian NORAD capabilities in almost four decades."
Military planners have been warning about the shift in technology for almost a decade. Some of their nightmare scenarios are playing out in Ukraine on a daily basis as cities and infrastructure are pounded by Russian hypersonic missiles or cruise missiles launched from aircraft circling on the Russian side of the border.
Canadian Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, the deputy commander at NORAD, said he and other top military officials have been taking notes on Moscow's air campaign.
"Some of that assessment is classified, but I can tell you that we're seeing the usage of cruise missiles in that theater, like we were expecting it, and like we expect that that cruise missile may be used in the future, against potential … critical infrastructure in North America," Pelletier told CBC News in an interview following the minister's statement.
Asked whether Canada will end its prohibition on participating in the U.S. ballistic missile system (BMD), Anand said the government will maintain the current policy of non-involvement.
The chief of defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, provided a more nuanced answer. He said technology and the evolving nature of the threat have moved beyond the nearly two-decade-old political debate over BMD, and there may soon be other ways to knock down incoming missiles.
"We're seeing technology advance so fast," Eyre said. "That's why the R&D component of this package is super important because we're going to have to watch the … threats that are out there to be able to ensure that our defences keep pace."
For the Trudeau government, there could be a political upside to Monday's announcement.
Long criticized for not spending as much as Canada's allies do on defence, the government can now go into next week's NATO meeting with something to show.
Anand downplayed that aspect in her answers to a reporter's question, but defence expert Stefanie von Hlatky said the optics are significant.
She pointed out that the minister referred in her remarks to protecting NATO's northern flank.
"I think this messaging is deliberate," said von Hlatky, an associate professor and defence policy expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "The timing of it also, right ahead of the summit, playing up these contributions, as you know, benefiting NATO. And I think that she's right."
When European members of NATO talk about so-called flanks, she said, they're often referring to the east, where Russia is more present and noticeable.
"It makes sense for Canada to remind the European allies that North America is part of that [NATO] security equation," von Hlatky added.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Senior reporter, defence and security
Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.
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