Cold War era defense system to be upgraded to counter Russia and China

ITAR-TASS 01: KRASNODAR REGION, RUSSIA. APRIL 8, 2009. An officer seen at a control center of the next generation Voronezh-DM radar station, a missile warning system. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Igor Zhuravlev). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TORONTO, Feb 28, 2021, WSJ. The United States and Canada plan to modernize an arctic defense satellite and radar network, in a bid to counter a growing military presence in northern Russia and China, The Wall Street Journal reported.

President Biden called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to increase Canada’s defense spending, including an upgrade to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, commonly known as Norad, during a bilateral meeting between the two leaders on Tuesday, according to an official familiar with the discussions.

The Norad was a central part of the US and Canadian military’s Cold War deterrence strategy against the former Soviet Union. Comprised of satellites, ground-based radars and air bases located primarily in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, the surveillance system was designed to notify military allies of any impending attack from the north.

The once state-of-the-art system has since become obsolete. The new missiles deployed by Russia and China can travel at more than five times the speed of sound and fly much farther than their predecessors, which would overwhelm the existing surveillance network, said Michael Dawson, who has served as Canada’s political adviser. in command of Norad in Colorado. from 2010 to 2014.

In addition, the melting polar ice cap leaves the once impassable Arctic Ocean ice-free for longer periods, creating new vulnerabilities for the United States and Canada, current and former military officials say.

“The Arctic is no longer a fortress wall and our oceans are no longer protective moats; they are now avenues of approach for advanced conventional weapons, ”said retired US General Terrence O’Shaugnessy during his testimony last March before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Biden made a pointed reference to Norad in his public comments after Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Biden’s first bilateral deal with a foreign leader since his election. He said the countries had agreed to modernize the system, which is jointly controlled by the two governments.

Biden also said he expected NATO members, including Canada, to devote at least 2% of their economic output to defense, as stated in a 2014 pledge by the United Nations. members of the transatlantic alliance. Canada’s annual defense spending is around 1.5%, according to the latest NATO figures.

The White House and a Pentagon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Friday, the US State Department made the defense system a priority for bilateral relations between the United States and Canada, ahead of a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Trudeau with other senior officials. officials.

“We welcome Canada’s enhanced commitment to Norad as we modernize the command to meet new global security challenges,” the department said in a backgrounder released Friday ahead of Blinken’s meeting, by videoconference, with Canadian officials.

Norad also intervened in a call between leaders on January 22, stressing the importance the United States places on upgrading a surveillance system that was first developed in the 1950s.

U.S. military and political leaders like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Oklahoma), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, see the arctic warning system as an important tool for keeping abreast of the growing military presence of China and Russia in the Arctic. . Russia has developed ports along the Northern Sea Route, a shipping route that winds along the Siberian coast. President Vladimir Putin has also embarked on military reinforcement in the region, adding new airfields, air defense installations and bases.

China, which sees the Arctic as an important shipping route, according to government documents, and has tried to invest in northern mines that give the country access to minerals like zinc, nickel and gold, has established partnerships with several countries bordering the Arctic. It has deployed icebreakers in the region and declared itself a “near arctic state”.

Although Canada pledged in 2017 to increase defense spending by 70% over a decade, Trudeau’s government has not set aside any money specifically to update the Arctic warning system. , a project that could cost the country $ 6 billion, or about 40% of an estimated cost of $ 15 billion, said James Fergusson, deputy director of the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba.

This money would represent a major commitment for Canada, whose total annual defense budget of US $ 19 billion is less than 3%. 100 of the US $ 700 billion defense budget.

Canadian officials have publicly acknowledged the importance of the upgrades.

“Now is the time to really speed things up,” Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said in an interview at the end of January. Mr Sajjan also discussed the modernization with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during a phone call in January.

Mr Sajjan said Canada has started some of the work, citing new offshore and arctic patrol vessels that started arriving last year, with five more underway, and the deployment of new satellite technology to improve surveillance of the Arctic and maritime activities.

Since taking office, Mr. Trudeau has focused on the threat of climate change to Indigenous communities in the Arctic. A broad plan for the Arctic, released by Mr. Trudeau’s government at the end of 2019, called for investments in new infrastructure and health care improvements to serve local Indigenous communities.

Among the major initiatives mentioned by the Canadian government was an upgrade to the North Warning System, or NWS, a chain of nearly 50 unmanned radar stations in the Arctic and Alaska. Canadian government documents indicate the system will reach the end of its operational life by 2025 and the technology will need to be replaced.

Behind the scenes, officials from both countries worked on projects to best update the technology required to protect the continent’s airspace, said John McKay, a Canadian lawmaker and co-chair of the Standing Joint Commission on Defense, a Canada-United States group that advises the country’s leaders on North American defense. The problem in recent years, McKay said, has been Washington’s lack of political leadership.

“The previous administration was not as interested as it should have been in Norad matters, so it was difficult to get American attention,” McKay said.

Yet a former senior national security official in the Trump administration responded that Arctic security was a defense priority for the former president’s team, noting that the Defense Department had issued a review of the Arctic Strategy in June 2019, re-established its Second Fleet for North Atlantic and Arctic operations. , and repeatedly called for more funding for missile defense.

Michael R. Gordon contributed to this article.

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