Canada will spend $4.9 billion over the next six years to modernize continental defense, Defense Minister Anita Anand said Monday.
Anand made the long-awaited announcement on the NORAD upgrade at the Canadian Army’s main airbase in Trenton, Ontario.
“NORAD has continually adapted and evolved in response to new threats. Today we turn another page and begin the next chapter of NORAD,” the minister said in front of a backdrop of flags and a CF jet fighter -18 aging.
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The figure represents Canada’s share of the cost of overhauling the decades-old binational Joint Air Defense Command, originally designed to monitor Soviet bombers. The project was not part of the Liberal government’s 2017 defense policy document.
The United States covers about 60% of the NORAD bill.
The money is expected to come from the last federal budget, which earmarked up to $8 billion in new funds on top of the defense appropriation increases the Liberal government had already agreed to. Up to $6 billion of this money has been earmarked for various commitments, including the modernization of NORAD.
Anand said the government’s overall investment in continental and northern defense will exceed $40 billion over the next two decades. She did not provide a breakdown of those expenses, and the Department of National Defense did not release a backgrounder explaining the proposed expenses.
The Minister’s statement referred to negotiations with and potential benefits for Indigenous communities, whose concerns have been largely ignored in previous NORAD upgrades. When the first set of radar stations were decommissioned and the current North Warning System was built, the government engaged in only cursory consultation with local communities about their environmental concerns.
WATCH: Defense Minister Anita Anand announces funding for NORAD overhaul
The nature of NORAD has changed in recent years as it has taken on additional responsibilities to monitor sea lane approaches to North America and guard against cyberattacks.
The NORAD overhaul will include replacing the North Warning System, a chain of radar stations in the Far North. The system will eventually be replaced by two different types of radar systems – one north, one polar – which have the ability to look beyond the horizon.
The redesign will also deploy new satellites built to track moving targets on the ground and a top-secret array of remote sensors.
The new network will monitor not only the Arctic — NORAD’s traditional domain — but also the Pacific and Atlantic approaches to the continent.
Military experts have long warned that the current NORAD surveillance system is not designed to track cruise missiles – weapons fired from submarines or from outside North American airspace. Nor is it designed to deal with hypersonic missiles, which travel at many times the speed of sound.
Both weapon systems figured prominently in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The threat environment has changed,” Anand said, responding to a reporter’s question on Monday.
“As our threats evolve, our defensive capabilities must also evolve. And what we’re aiming to do with this announcement today is to ensure that we, at all levels, engage in the largest and most relevant upgrade of Canadian NORAD capabilities in nearly four decades. “
Military planners have been warning about changing technology for nearly a decade. Some of their nightmare scenarios unfold daily in Ukraine as cities and infrastructure are pounded by Russian hypersonic missiles or cruise missiles launched from planes circling on the Russian side of the border.
Canadian Lieutenant General Alain Pelletier, deputy commander of NORAD, said he and other senior military officials took notes on the Moscow air campaign.
“Some of this assessment is classified, but I can tell you that we see the use of cruise missiles in this theater, as we expected, and as we expect this cruise missile to be able to be used in the future, against the potential … critical infrastructure in North America,” Pelletier told CBC News in an interview following the minister’s statement.
Asked if Canada would end its ban on participation in the US ballistic missile (BMD) system, Anand said the government would maintain the current policy of non-involvement.
Chief of Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre provided a more nuanced response. He said the technology and evolving nature of the threat has moved beyond the nearly two-decade-old political debate over BMD, and there may soon be other ways to shoot down incoming missiles.
“We see the technology advancing so quickly,” Eyre said. “That’s why the R&D component of this package is super important because we’re going to have to monitor the … threats that exist to be able to make sure our defenses 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 on defence, the government can now come to next week’s NATO meeting with something to show for it.
Anand played down that aspect in his responses to a reporter’s question, but defense expert Stefanie von Hlatky said optics matter.
She pointed out that the minister alluded in her remarks to the protection of NATO’s northern flank.
“I think that message is deliberate,” said von Hlatky, an associate professor and defense policy expert at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “The timing too, just before the summit, showcasing those contributions, as you know, to benefit NATO. And I think she’s right.”
When European members of NATO talk about so-called flanks, she said, they often refer to the east, where Russia is more present and visible.
“It makes sense for Canada to remind European allies that North America is part of this [NATO] security equation,” von Hlatky added.