March 2022


As one of our top trade partners and northern neighbor, Canada is a key ally on topics from security to the environment.

As of 2012, the Canadian military has not prioritized the construction of an integrated air and missile defense architecture. Rather, Canada has taken the route of pairing Canadian units with allied forces that have effective air and missile defense and has continued to do so.

The solution of utilizing allies for air and missile defense is expected to change in the coming decade as the Minister of National Defence published a defence paper entitled Strong, Secure and Engaged in 2017. The report outlines a commitment to spend between $250 million to $499 million on a Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) that can provide air defense to expeditionary operations and domestic installations. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre, stated that “restoring an anti-aircarft defence is one of my top priorites” when speaking about plans to acquire ground-based air defence systems and associated munitions.

Air Defense Capabilities

The government of Canada first issued Blowpipe air defense units to Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group that was stationed in Germany in the 60’s and 70’s. Upon leaving Europe, the Canadian Army no longer needed to operate air defense units and placed the Blowpipes in storage. As Canada agreed to contribute forces to the 1991 Gulf War, the need to upgrade the Blowpipe was filled by FGM-178 Javelin Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).

By the early 2000’s, the Canadian Armed Forces air defense unites comprised of Javelins, Oerlikon GDF-005 Twin-35mm anti-aircraft guns, and the Air Defence Anti-Tank System (ADATS). The ADATS unit was considered top-of-the-line when its entered service in 1989 with the purchase of 34 systems. The ADATS was retired from service in 2012, leaving Canada with limited air defense capabilities.

Canada has started the process to purchase up to $1 billion of new, advanced air defense systems. Government procurement specialists are expected to request ideas from industry before the end of the year, as the Canadian Army is determining the specifics of the systems it needs. Department of Defence spokesman, Dan Le Bouthillier, explained that the vast majority of systems acquired through this project will be fielded, “commercial-off-the-shelf technology” that can targets the specific threats of rockets, artillery, mortar munitions, air to surface missiles and bombs, and remotely piloted aircraft systems.

This effort is being led through the Ground Based Air Defence program started in 2018. The program is set to deliver an air defence system that will possess an effector platform using guns, missiles, directed energy weapons systems, EW or a combination of the before-mentioned variants. The program will also deliver the necessary munitions, sensor suite, fire control software and an integrated networked C4ISR system. The anticipate timeline entails the following 2019/2020 start options analysis, 2020/2021 start definition, 2023/2024 start implementation, 2026/2027 initial delivery and 2029/2030 final delivery.

Missile Defense Capabilities

In 2004, the Government of Canada expressed interest in joining the ballistic missile defense (BMD) of the United States. However, in 2005 the House of Commons decided that Canada would not participate in the United States BMD program. In 2014, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, published a report that assessed the impact of the changing threat environment and whether the decision to remain out of the US BMD program still serves Canada’s national interest as well as its commitment to NATO. The report unanimously recommended that Canada should “enter into an agreement with the United States to participate as a partner in ballistic missile defense.” The report citied multiple reasons for this recommendation including the increasing missile threat coming from North Korea and Iran, NATO’s commitment to BMD through its New Strategic Concept, and Canada’s limited role in BMD decision-making within USNORTHCOM. Without a BMD system, Canada is reliant on the existing US BMD systems to protect its homeland in the instance of incoming ballistic missile threats. Further complicating the issue, in the situation that Canada faces a ballistic missile threat, the Canadian military officials within NORAD are concerned that they may be asked to “leave the room,” while US military officials in USNORTHCOM will make decisions on how to address incoming ballistic missiles.

As of May 2022, Canadian Defence Minister, Anita Anand, revealed a possible reversal in BMD defense policy during a speech to the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. She noted that, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Canada is conducting a continental defense review that is “leaving no stone unturned.” Specifically, Anand mentioned strengthening Canada’s defense through its relationships in NORAD and NATO to countering emerging threats such as hypersonic weaponry.

Missile Warning Capabilities

Distant Early Warning Line and North Warning System

The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was a system of radar stations in the northern Arctic region of Canada with additional stations in Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland. It was established to detect incoming bombers of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and to provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion. It was active from 1957 to 1993 and evolved into today’s North Warning System (NWS).

Most Canadian DEW Line stations were the joint responsibility of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Air Force. In 1958, the line became a cornerstone of newly established North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The main radar for Canadian DEW Line stations was initially the AN/FPS-19 search radar. After decades of operation the AN/FPS-19 systems proved ineffective against the evolving technology of ICBMs and radars were upgraded to the AN/FPS-117 passive electronically scanned array radar systems by 1994. In 1994 on completion of upgrades, the line was then renamed the North Warning System.

The North Warning System (NWS) has been operational since 1994, and now consists of a series of 11 long-range AN/FPS-117 radars and 36 short-range AN/FPS-124 systems that together stretch nearly 3,000 miles long and over 14 miles wide from Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador province to Alaska, operated and maintained by NORAD.

In April 2022 Canada announced a plan to invest in an Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar, which would “provide long-range surveillance of northern approaches to the major population centers in North America by establishing a northward-aimed high frequency over-the-horizon radar system in southern Canada.” This need for this new system was driven by a 2018 study that considered the re-emergence of great power competition and the threat of hypersonic missiles. The Arctic OTHR is planned to become operationally capable in 2028.

The North Warning System, a part of the NORAD defense, as envisioned
by Canada and the US in 1987. Credit: Ministry of Defence of Canada

Current Developments

In 2021 Canada’s Minister of Defense Anita Anand listed four areas of concern where Canada would likely support NORAD modernization: awareness, command & control, deterrence, and research & development.

Purchase of Aegis for Canadian Surface Combatant Ships

In May 2021 the U.S. State Department approved the sale of four Aegis missile defense systems at an estimated total cost is $1.7 billion. This purchase tentatively includes the following:

  • four (4) Shipsets of the AEGIS Combat System,
  • one (1) AEGIS Combat System Computer Program,
  • four (4) Shipsets of AN/SPY-7 Solid State Radar Components,
  • four (4) Shipsets of Cooperative Engagement Capability, and
  • three (3) Shipsets of the MK 41 Vertical Launch System.

Aegis will be outfitted on four of the planned fifteen Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) ships, which will replace Canada’s legacy Iroquois and Halifax-class warships. This proposed sale will increase Canadian maritime forces’ interoperability with the United States and other allied forces, as well as their ability to contribute to the missile defense mission.

While few recent updates on the program are publicly available, the Canadian government has stated “in FY 2022-23, the CSC project will achieve the following: The Preliminary Design Review … to complete in mid-2022. CSC ship design work will continue …, AEGIS design and integration work will advance, and other preparations to enable the start of ship construction in FY 2023-24.”

Next Generation Fighter Aircraft

To support deterrence, in March 2022 Canada announced that it would purchase 88 fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets, a portion of which would likely support the NORAD mission.

Next Generation Early Warning Command and Control Systems

To support awareness and command & control, Canada as a partner in NORAD is considering replacement of the 40-year-old E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS). The most likely replacement for many NATO nations is the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail.

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