Spending on military programs often leads to years of heated political debate and little action in Canada. But the announcement this week that Canada will spend nearly $5 billion over the next six years upgrading Norad’s defense systems passed with hardly any controversy.
Norad, or the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is a Cold War creation that began in 1958. The only joint operation of the Canadian and United States armed forces, it was first set up to destroy incoming bombers with nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union and to provide air support to defend the two countries.
In the popular imagination, Norad was a high-tech operation that has starred in film and in Canada’s Christmas celebrations. The movie “Dr. Strangelove” featured fictional Norad data from the far north of Canada and Alaska populating a “big sign” tracking Soviet bombers.
And on Christmas Eve, Norad is the outfit that follows Santa’s movements and reports on them via broadcasters and online.
Norad’s systems, last overhauled 40 years ago, have fallen behind technologically and need to be thoroughly modernized, defense policy analysts have long said. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, those calls have become more urgent.
The current system cannot detect cruise missiles and would not detect hypersonic missiles until it was too late to be useful. The new category of missiles has sparked a war of arms and there is currently no effective countermeasure.
Russia claimed to have used a hypersonic missile early on during its invasion of Ukraine. Such missiles are generally defined as missiles that travel at least five times the speed of sound and can aim with pinpoint accuracy. Even without a warhead, they will hit targets with a force equivalent to five to ten tons of explosives. If that’s not enough, they can carry nuclear warheads. It is generally the intention of the countries developing them that they would be fired from ships, submarines or aircraft and reach their targets in 15 minutes or less.
“Death from the sky, on-time delivery guaranteed,” Steven Simon, an analyst with the Quincy Institute, a Washington foreign policy research group, and a professor of international relations at Colby College, described hypersonics in an op-ed for The Times.
[Read: Hypersonic Missiles Are a Game Changer]
By the time Norad’s current systems discovered such fast and powerful missiles, it would be far too late to do anything about it. Expenses announced this week by Defense Secretary Anita Anand include money for new types of sensors that can “see” over the horizon to give decision-makers more time to make assessments.
But even if those sensors can track the entire flight of a hypersonic missile, R. Jeffrey Smith, a former national security correspondent, argued in an article for The Times, that may not be enough.
[Read: The Growing Threat of Hypersonic Missiles]
“Creating a significant new arsenal of super-fast weapons could make other countries jittery — fearing that they would be robbed of the ability to respond effectively to a major attack,” he wrote, asking whether a hypersonic missile “is that fast.” that it could exceed capacity.” ability of people to act wisely and avoid a conflict they would rather avoid?”
I asked Andrea Charron, a professor at the University of Manitoba and director of the Center for Defense and Security Studies there, whether the new systems that Canada will fund along with the United States will provide adequate warning when a hypersonic missile is fired.
“Once they’re launched, I don’t think anyone will have a good solution,” said Professor Charron. The new systems and sensors, she added, are designed to prevent a launch. They “focus on where the potential threat might come from so you can make decisions and do things before you’re in a launch scenario,” she said.
Professor Charron said Norad remained functional despite its age, and upgrades, including an artificial intelligence system for analysis, have expanded its capabilities. Nevertheless, she said, much of Norad is in dire need of investment. The Canadian headquarters in Winnipeg is so overcrowded and so run down, she said, “it needs to be razed to the ground.”
Ms. Anand made her Norad announcement for perhaps the most controversial symbol of the political unrest surrounding major military spending in Canada: an aging CF-18 fighter jet.
In 2010, the Conservative government said it would spend 9 billion Canadian dollars to replace the CF-18s with a fleet of F-35 jets. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau canceled the plan when he took office in 2015. Now his government is in talks to buy F-35s.
The Conservatives’ criticism of Ms Anand’s announcement was mainly that it does not go far enough. The party has consistently called for a renewed commitment to Norad.
But there was little outrage from Canadians who think the government should spend that $5 billion elsewhere, such as on health care.
Professor Charron said it was most likely muted for two reasons. Outside of Christmas, Norad has a low public profile. The announcement was also made at a time when Canadians’ attention is elsewhere.
“We’re all kind of focused on hyperinflation, the cost of fuel, college degrees and everything,” she said. “There is no room for indignation here.”
The Vatican has released a detailed schedule for the Pope’s visit to Canada, in what is believed to be an effort to allay fears his health could lead to the cancellation of his trip. When he comes to Canada, Pope Francis is expected to offer indigenous peoples a historical excuse for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in residential schools.
Jon Caramanica, a pop music critic for The Times, writes that Drake’s new album, “Honestly, Nevermind,” may be “an indication that he’s leaving the old Drake — and everyone who followed him — behind. Like a great quarterback, he throws the ball where his recipients are already going, not where they’ve been.” And Joe Coscarelli, the pop music reporter for DailyExpertNews, and Lawrence Burney, arts and culture editor at The Baltimore Banner and the founder of True Laurels, discussed the album on the Popcast! podcasting.
Paul Haggis, the Canadian-born director who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning crime drama “Crash,” has been arrested in Italy and charged with assaulting a woman over the course of two days.
Gay pilot Mark Vanhoenacker reflects on his many years of traveling to Montreal and what traveling means to LGBTQ people.
François Billaut, a professor of exercise physiology at Laval University in Quebec City, explains the benefits of kayaking as low-impact aerobics for older people or anyone looking to relax.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for DailyExpertNews for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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