The Hamilton Spectator
Airborne incursions offer clear evidence Norad needs upgrade
Canada and the United States are eyeing the sky with suspicion these days — as well as the shared continental defence system that’s supposed to be watching it for them.
The North American Aerospace Defence Command, or Norad, lost track of the mysterious object that was eventually shot down Sunday over Lake Huron, which some experts say offers proof positive that the system needs an overhaul.
“That alone, I think, bespeaks something of a collection, ingestion or analytic gap — or all three,” said Jamil Jaffer, executive director of the National Security Institute at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. “As a result, Norad modernization has to be in play, as do the overall collection and identification capabilities of the collective U.S. and Canadian defences.”
Three separate objects were blown out of the sky in as many days over the weekend, a flurry of close encounters that followed what U.S. officials say was a Chinese surveillance balloon that floated across the continent two weeks ago.
U.S. and Canadian recovery teams are battling difficult terrain and harsh conditions to retrieve whatever debris remains at three separate locations: the frozen Arctic Ocean, a remote stretch of Yukon and the depths of the Great Lakes.
Military officials believe that the object downed over Lake Huron was first detected Saturday above southern Alberta before radar operators lost contact somewhere over Montana. They picked up a fresh signal as the object neared Wisconsin.
All of the evidence points to a new challenge that neither country, whether separately or working together, is adequately equipped to confront, Jaffer said.
“There’s almost no question in my mind that we’re going to need to develop new capabilities — and whether those capabilities are to deal with an old threat or a less modern threat or a more modern threat, it’s hard to know,” he said. “There’s no doubt that we need to really do a retrospective and figure out what’s going on here. But our systems aren’t oriented — at least it appears — towards balloons and potentially drones or whatever these other vehicles are.”
After days of shooting down unidentified “objects,” fighter jets from Canada and the United States were scrambled Monday night to intercept four Russian military aircraft as they buzzed North American airspace. Norad, which detected the group comprised of Russian long-range bombers and fighter escorts as it approached Alaska, painted the incident as a normal occurrence that did not pose any threat and said it was unrelated to the string of suspected balloons shot down in the skies over North America
For years, Canada and the U.S. have been publicly talking about and privately working on upgrading Norad, which military commanders and lawmakers on both sides of the border have long acknowledged is a badly outdated system. It was top of mind Friday in D.C., when Defence Minister Anita Anand and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in person at the Pentagon — the same day U.S. fighter jets engaged a flying object off the north Alaska coast.
But neither Austin nor Anand have said much about how those efforts are going, when they might be complete or whether a more modern Norad would be better equipped to detect unmanned, slow-moving, high-altitude interlopers.