Canada and the Defence of North America

feat. David Perry

Standing Committee on National Defence
May 5, 2016



Mr. Chair, Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to speak to you today as part of your study of North American defence.

These hearings are happening at an important time, not only due to the Review of Defence Policy now underway, but also because of the worsening circumstances surrounding North American defence in the last two years.

For more than two decades, the focus of North American defence and security has largely been on non-state threats and actors, such as narcotics trafficking and terrorism. The notable exception to this trend has been a focus in the United States on the increasing threat from North Korean Ballistic Missiles. North Korea has been developing this technology for several years and is now working to launch these missiles from their submarines. While the United States has developed a Ground Based, Mid-Course Defence against these weapons, and has asked Canada to participate in that system, Canada declined to do so. As a result, Canada currently has no defence against a ballistic missile attack.

Beyond this particular threat, other events over the last two years have brought back to the fore the need to defend North America against other potential state-based threats. The Russian military has significantly upgraded its air and naval forces in recent years and continues to do so. Over the last two years, the Russians have demonstrated the effectiveness of this new equipment as well as a willingness to use it to advance their own interests.

In Syria, Russian forces successfully employed a new class of sophisticated conventional air and sea launched cruise missiles that have a greatly increased range, are difficult to observe, and are capable of precision targeting. Three aspects of this development are troubling. First, these weapons come in both nuclear and conventional variants. Second, they can be carried by Russian Long Range Patrol Aircraft as well as their newest and most capable submarines, which Russia has resumed deploying around North America over the last decade. Third, because of the increased distances at which these new missiles can successfully hit targets and their low observability characteristics, the current arrangements for defending North America will have to be upgraded to counter them effectively.

In sum, Russia has developed, and recently used abroad, sophisticated new technology that could be deployed against North America using the same aircraft and submarines now routinely patrolling the air and waters around North America. It’s not a question of whether the Russian’s are coming; they’re already here. The question is what their intentions are, and how we should respond.

As part of the Canadian Defence policy review, we must address the need to increase our ability to detect and effectively defend and/or counter against this type of state based activity. Accordingly, I’d recommend five measures be taken to enhance Canada’s ability to defend North America.

First, Canada should seriously reconsider becoming a full partner in the Ballistic Missile Defence of North America program, and if the terms are agreeable and the Americans are willing, join. This would give the Canadian government the ability to defend Canadians from ballistic missiles, something it cannot do at present. Even if Canada is not threatened directly by North Korea, the United States clearly believes it is. This means that Canadian citizens could be threatened by an accidental launch or wayward missile from North Korea aimed south of our border. One should not be sufficiently confident in North Korean missile technology to assume there is zero chance the North Koreans might mistakenly hit Vancouver, though they were aiming for Seattle. Currently, the Canadian government would be unable to prevent such an occurrence.

Second, the increased Russian activity around North America requires that we enhance our knowledge regarding what is happening in our airspace and maritime approaches and in the Canadian Arctic in particular. Since 2007, the Russians have conducted long-range aviation patrols near Canada’s Arctic airspace, and have done so in ways that indicate an inclination to link this activity to strategic confrontations with Canada elsewhere in the world. Similarly, Russian submarine patrols in the Atlantic have recently reached levels unseen since the Cold War. To that end, progress should be made to further upgrade and extend the life of existing platforms that conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions, so that we are able to maintain an awareness of this activity in the short-term. In the medium and long-term, we need to acquire new platforms to enhance our ability to do so in the future. This should include upgrading the Canadian component of North Warning System with something better suited to the current and future threat environment.

Third, the government should move quickly to replace our fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft in order to maintain our ability to successfully intercept long-range aviation flights approaching Canadian airspace, both today and in the future. Since it has committed to holding a competition, a competition that is fully open to all interested bidders should begin as soon as possible.

Fourth, the government needs to invest in Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities to be able to counter Russian submarine activity if needed. Canada’s existing submarines, our most capable Anti-Submarine Warfare assets, are rapidly approaching the end of their current lifespan. Options for life-extending the fleet should be explored in the short-term, and a project to acquire new submarines that could patrol all three of Canada’s ocean waters should be launched.

Fifth, the government needs to ensure that the Department of National Defence has the needed financial and human resources to acquire modern equipment to defend North America. At present, it does not. Under the existing financial arrangements, a number of projects needed to maintain a modern capability to defend Canada against aerospace and maritime threats are not included in DND’s Investment Plan and are therefore not funded. The list of unfunded projects includes an upgrade of the North Warning System, a replacement for our maritime patrol aircraft, and the life-extension and replacement of Canada’s submarines. Funding for these projects must be committed.

Similarly, the Canadian defence procurement system continues to be unable to acquire needed military equipment on schedule. This was witnessed just this last March when nearly four billion dollars allocated for procurement was deferred into the future; the third time in six years this has occurred. Adequately defending North America requires a better functioning defence procurement system. Improving the procurement of military equipment will require, at a minimum: i) a clear indication by the government that recapitalizing the military is a priority; ii) a prioritization of defence equipment projects as part of the defence review; iii) a streamlining of the unwieldy process that currently exists; and iv) an increase in the capacity of the procurement workforce.

In combination, these measures will result in a necessary improvement to Canada’s ability to defend North America in conjunction with the United States.

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