The Canadian and U.S. governments say they intend to proceed with “co-ordinated investments” that bolster their ability to protect North America from “a greater and more complex conventional missile threat” including gear that watches for incoming threats from “the sea floor to outer space.”
The joint announcement from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and his American counterpart U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin was published Saturday night, on the eve of Sunday’s federal election call in Canada. There were no spending commitments.
The risk that Canada and the U.S. have in mind is missile technology advancements in Russia and China that can send non-nuclear warheads far greater distances with far more accuracy, said Dave Perry, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. These include hypersonic missiles, which travel extremely fast and can dodge and weave during flight to avoid interception, as well as next-generation cruise missiles. This evolution in conventional missiles’ power have made them an increasingly important tool to deter threats or project power without resorting to nuclear weapons.
“It’s the Chinese and Russians that are building really cutting-edge new stuff with three characteristics: very accurate, long range and maneuverable,” Mr. Perry said.
The Sajjan-Lloyd statement would appear to represent a deepening of Canada-U.S. collaboration in protecting North America from missile threats. Titled “Joint Statement on NORAD modernization,” it sets out priorities for the future of North American Aerospace Defense Command, the heart of the Canada-U.S. continental defence pact, saying the two countries must be able to “detect, identify [airborne] threats earlier and respond to them faster and more decisively.”
However the Liberal government insisted Sunday this does not represent a deviation from its policy to avoid participation in U.S. ballistic missile defence, announced in 2005. “[The] joint statement does not reflect any change in the Government of Canada’s position,” Daniel Minden, press secretary for Mr. Sajjan, said. “The statement will help guide our collaborative approach to security and NORAD renewal with our closest neighbour in the coming years.”
One of the most imminent spending decisions for Canada is rebuilding the soon-to-be obsolete North Warning System, a joint United States and Canadian radar system that includes dozens of radar sites from Yukon to Labrador. Its job is to detect airborne threats. The price tag has been estimated at more than $11-billion.
The statement said the North Warning System will be replaced with technology including “next-generation over-the-horizon radar systems,” which have the ability to detect targets at very long ranges. It’s technology that is being developed by Canada’s Department of National Defence. It also talks of building a network of American and Canadian sensors installed everywhere from the seabed to satellites in space.
Andrea Charron, director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, said modernization of NORAD will comprise far more than North Warning System renewal and the statement helps prioritize where Canada can focus its efforts while the United States engages in a “wider rethink of homeland defence.”
“Certainly what you can read into this is the United States needs Canada to make certain commitments – and sooner than later – and so ‘Here we are prioritizing them for you’,” she said.
Prof. Charron said in her opinion the statement also underlines the need for Canada to proceed with buying new fighter jets. In 2010 Canada announced its intent to buy Lockheed Martin F-35s in 2010 but backed off amid controversy over the lack of a competitive bidding process. The government is now expected to announce later this year which fighter jet will replace Canada’s aging CF-18 aircraft.
She speculated one reason for the timing of this joint NORAD announcement with the United States, hours before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau triggered a federal election campaign, could have been political. “I am guessing but the Liberals are always accused, especially by the Conservatives, as being soft on defence, so here is something that they can point to and say ‘Look at what we are doing with the U.S. Here are the priorities,’” Prof. Charron said.
She also said the United States has been very eager to move forward on NORAD modernization.
Mr. Perry said that it’s considered likely now that if Russia were to launch conventional-warhead missiles at North America they would come straight over the North Pole through the Canadian Arctic or from the North Atlantic. Thirty years ago, the range of conventional missiles was so much shorter that the Russians would have had to fly relatively close to the U.S. mainland to strike a target there. “So there’s more pressure from the United States for us to make a big contribution here, as well a much more direct Canadian defence concern, given the geography is ours.”
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