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

Until 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.

Current Developments

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 (ACS),
  • 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 (CEC),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.”

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) 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 Canada, the station sites are owned or leased by the Government of Canada, which also owns most of the infrastructure. The radars and tactical radios are owned by the United States Air Force.

In April 2022 Canada announced that its new vision is for the 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 on the re-emergence of great power competition and the threat of hypersonic missiles. The Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar 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

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