Canada, U.S. lost edge over Russia in Arctic
OTTAWA • The head of the North American Aerospace Defence Command underscored the need to modernize the aging early-warning system Thursday, while cautioning that the U.S. and Canada have lost their long-standing military advantage in the Arctic to Russia.
In written remarks to the U.S. Senate committee on armed services, U.S. Gen. Terrence O’shaughnessy said Russia has been steadily expanding its military presence in the North by upgrading its long-range bombers and developing warships capable of carrying cruise missiles.
Those weapons, as well as new land-based cruise missile launchers inside Russian territory, pose a new and direct threat to North America because of their range and ability to operate in the Arctic, the Norad commander said, representing a significant change from previous decades.
“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 and the platforms that carry them,” O’shaughnessy said.
“Russia has steadily expanded its military presence in the region and, by fielding advanced, long-range cruise missiles ... Russia has left us with no choice but to improve our homeland defence capability and capacity.”
Nearly two weeks ago, a pair of Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear and cruise missiles buzzed Canadian airspace in the Arctic.
O’shaughnessy also highlighted concerns with China’s increasing interest in the Arctic, which includes what he described as “signs of a nascent but growing strategic co-operation” with Russia that included a combined bomber patrol last July.
O’shaughnessy’s warnings about Russia and China — as well as ongoing concerns about North Korea and Iran obtaining ballistic missiles capable of striking North America — came as he made the case for upgrading the Norad system.
Created in the 1950s in response to the threat of a Soviet attack by bombers or ballistic missiles over the Arctic, Norad is unique as a joint operation between the U.S. and Canada. Its technology was last upgraded in the 1980s, before the end of the Cold War, though the U.S. did incorporate the ability to shoot down incoming missiles in the mid-2000s. Canada famously decided in 2005 against joining a ballistic-missile defence.
The Liberal government’s 2017 defence policy included plans to upgrade or modernize Norad but talks with the U.S. have been minimal and no money has been set aside for what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar project.
O’shaughnessy said some progress has been made in testing new technologies, including a long-range radar that defence officials hope will be able to detect incoming aircraft and cruise missiles in the Arctic long before they reach North America.