Defence policy

Strong, Secure, Engaged progress

  • Since 2017, National Defence has made significant progress in advancing initiatives in Strong, Secure, Engaged.
  • 71% of the policy’s projects are in the implementation phase, near completion, or completed.
  • For example, we are delivering on a number of major procurement projects, including:
    • Six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships for the Royal Canadian Navy, the first of which is undergoing sea trials;
    • 1587 Standard Military Pattern trucks, which were recently delivered to the Canadian Army and are now in operations;
    • Acceptance of the first of 16 new fixed wing search and rescue aircraft, and;
    • Awarding a build contract to Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards for the full construction of two joint support ships.
  • As outlined in this policy, we are also working to expand the Defence Team to meet 21st century defence challenges.
  • As part of this effort, in the last year, we grew the Reserve Force by 2,540 members and the Regular Force by 451 members.
  • As we grow, we remain all the more committed to ensuring that Canadian Armed Forces members and their families are well-supported through initiatives such as:
    • the Total Health and Wellness Strategy, which includes mental health support and a Suicide Prevention Strategy;
    • Diversity Champions appointed to oversee the implementation of the Diversity Strategy and Action Plan; and,
    • Bill C-77, which, once in force, will enshrine important rights for victims in the military justice system.
  • Looking ahead, we will continue to move forward with the full range of initiatives outlined in Strong, Secure, Engaged.

If pressed on Strong, Secure, Engaged implementation audit:

  • Since 2017, National Defence has made significant progress in advancing initiatives in Strong, Secure, Engaged, and we have adjusted our internal processes.
  • 71% of the policy’s projects are in the implementation phase, near completion, or completed.
  • There is still more to do, and we welcome reviews of this nature.
  • These reviews help determine where adjustments and improvements can be made to ensure the continued efficient progress and oversight of the policy.
  • All of the review’s recommendations have been addressed and the action plans fully implemented.

Key Facts

Defence Spending:

  • Through Strong, Secure, Engaged, National Defence committed to increasing defence spending by 70% over ten years.
  • Canada’s defence spending for 2018-19 was 1.31% of GDP.
  • National Defence forecasts that total defence spending as a percentage of GDP will increase to 1.48% by 2024-25.


  • In fiscal year 2018-2019, 10,016 individuals joined the Canadian Armed Forces.
    • 5,122 joined the Regular Force for a net growth of 130
    • 4,894 joined the Reserve Force for a net growth of 2,115


  • Received 5 out of 18 fighter aircraft from Australia.
  • Launched an open and transparent competition to acquire 88 new advanced aircraft.
  • Procured 10 Medium Range Radar Systems for the Canadian Army
  • Awarded a contract for the design of the 15 new Canadian Surface Combatants.

Transparency, Results, and Accountability:

  • National Defence published the Defence Investment Plan 2018.
  • National Defence also published the 2019 annual update.


  • On June 7, 2017, the Government unveiled Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada’s Defence Policy, which presented a new vision and approach to defence.
  • This policy was informed by an open and transparent review process and places Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members at its core by ensuring that they have the equipment and support they need to deliver what we ask of them.
  • The policy also provides clear direction on defence priorities over the next 20 years and matches that guidance with long-term investments. It sets out 111 initiatives, laid-out in 6 major areas of Defence:
    • Vision for Defence: Provide Canada with an agile, multi-purpose combat-ready military, operated by highly trained, well-equipped women and men, secure in the knowledge that they have the full support of their government and their fellow Canadians.
    • Well-supported, diverse, resilient people and families: Support our people by improving the assistance, services, and care we provide Canadian Armed Forces members and their families.
    • Investments to enhance capability and capacity: Targeted and strategic investment in capabilities and equipment that can be used on domestic and international military operations.
    • Defence innovation: Compete for the best ideas to take advantage of the most creative concepts and unique approaches that academics, universities, and the private sector can generate.
    • Modernizing the business of Defence: Streamline defence procurement, improve the timely acquisition of much needed military capabilities, and increase economic benefits and create jobs for Canadians.
    • Stable, predictable, realistic funding: Improve the financial transparency of the defence budget, clarifying how funds are managed and spent.

Version 5 – 2020-06-17 – Source: Committee of the Whole Note, 2019-12-07

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Future security environment

  • Throughout this pandemic, National Defence has heeded the call to help Canadians at every step.
  • We are also acutely aware – and have begun planning for – the challenges that lie ahead.
  • Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, serves as a guide, identifying and addressing key trends in the national and global security environment.
  • These include:
    • Great power competition;
    • Increasingly rapid advances in technology; and
    • The changing nature of conflict – as a result of issues such as climate change and natural disasters, evolving peace operations, the role of national security agencies.
  • COVID-19 has accelerated these trends, including the need for sustained global cooperation to respond to pandemics.
  • We will continue to collaborate with NATO Allies, Five Eyes Members, as well as key partners so that – together – we can better understand, adjust, and plan for a post-COVID world.    

Key Facts

  • On June 17 and 18 2020, the Minister of National Defence attended the Meeting of NATO Defence Ministers.
    • The Minister attended the NATO Defence Ministers’ Meeting held in a virtual format on 17 and 18 June.
    • During a session on NATO’s Response to COVID-19 on 18 June, NATO Defence Ministers discussed the geostrategic effects of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as NATO’s resilience and ongoing efforts to adapt to the new reality brought about by COVID-19.
  • On April 2, 2020, Canada participated in NATO’s first-ever Foreign Minister’s meeting via video-conference. Issues discussed included:
    • Combating disinformation;
    • Providing support the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the European Union;
    • Performing its core tasks of collective defence, crisis management, and co-operative security;
  • Defence Research and Development Canada is also exchanging results and lessons learned on COVID-19 related research with partners in government and close allies.
    • This includes allies such as: the US, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.


  • COVID-19 has accelerated the ongoing evolution of key trends in the global security environment such that trust in multilateral institutions is eroding; tensions between the United States and China are intensifying, isolationist approaches to global issues are proliferating, and opportunities for malicious actors to engage in non-traditional warfare, including through disinformation campaigns and cyber activities, are multiplying.
  • As a result of these accelerating trends, Great Power competition has become the defining characteristic of the global security environment, with the rules-based international order under threat and grey zone warfare becoming the norm.
  • As an example of National Defence’s research and development in response to COVID-19, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) pivoted existing chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear (CBRN) program activities to focus on the pandemic, and leveraged internal capacity in mathematical modelling and detecting/attributing disinformation to assist DND/CAF in their response to this crisis.
  • The DRDC program is constantly evolving to address priority concerns for the future security environment and will be informed by lessons learned from supporting the COVID-19 response.
  • More broadly, DND/CAF continually examine key trends to ensure that its activities remain aligned with the defence challenges and opportunities facing Canada.
  • To continue progressing on implementing the initiatives committed to in Strong, Secure, Engaged, and to respond to accelerating trends in the security environment, DND/CAF will require the sustained investments identified over the 20-year horizon of our defence policy.

Version 2020-06-10

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Continental Defence and NORAD

  • Canada’s Defence Policy sets out a vision in which Canada is strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world.
  • Since its release, the security challenges outlined in this policy – including great power competition, and advances to weapons technology – have only accelerated and evolved.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated some of these trends.
  • These realities increase the need for Canada to strengthen its approach to continental defence across all-domains, and to modernize NORAD, in collaboration with our US partners.
  • Some of this work is already underway through the significant investments in personnel, equipment, and infrastructure, as outlined in our defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged.
  • New capabilities and approaches will also be required to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces has the ability to detect, deter, and respond to threats against Canada and North America.
  • As we develop a plan to strengthen continental defence, we will consult Canadians and Parliamentarians.
  • We will seek solutions that contribute to Canada’s economic recovery and maximize benefits for Canadians, including Indigenous and Northern communities, and industry.

Key Facts

  • 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces members support NORAD missions in aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning missions in defence of North America.
  • Strong, Secure, Engaged made several large investments contributing to continental defence, including commitments to acquire:
    • 15 new Canadian Surface Combatants for the Navy;
    • a fleet of 88 new fighters for the Air Force;
    • a fleet of six Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels to provide enhanced naval presence in the North;
    • Remotely piloted systems to enhance surveillance of Canadian territory.
    • Space capabilities to improve Arctic surveillance and communications.
  • Other initiatives, such as the All Domain Situational Awareness Program ($133M worth of investments over the last five years), are also supporting these efforts.


  • The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has a duty to monitor and control all of Canada’s territory. The CAF execute these missions unilaterally, bilaterally with the US; and binationally through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
  • NORAD is a bi-national military organization established in 1958 by Canada and the US to conduct aerospace warning and control in the defence of North America. The NORAD Agreement was renewed in perpetuity in 2006 and a maritime warning function was added.
  • It has been over 30 years since the last NORAD modernization effort, which resulted in the creation of the North Warning System, amongst other initiatives.
  • Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE) directed Canada to “work with the US to ensure that NORAD is modernized to meet existing and future challenges” and to look broadly at emerging threats to North America across all domains.
  • In this context, the Minister of National Defence’s mandate letter stresses the need to modernize NORAD and work with interdepartmental partners to develop better surveillance, defence, and rapid response capabilities, particularly in the North and Canada’s approaches.
  • Efforts to renew commitments to NORAD will support and complement potential contributions to strengthening broader continental defence, including defence and security in Canada’s Arctic.
  • The development of a proposed plan to strengthen continental defence and modernize NORAD continues despite the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, additional consideration will be given to how these efforts could potentially contribute to Canada’s economic recovery.

Version 1 – 2020-06-12 – Source: NORAD Modernization Supps B Note 2020-02-27 and other materials

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  • In Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada articulated its unwavering support to multilateralism and reaffirmed NATO as a cornerstone of Canada’s defence and security policy. 
  • That is why we have increased defence spending and invested in the equipment needed to ensure our forces remain agile and ready to contribute to global peace and security.
  • We also remain steadfast in our commitment to our Allies and partners by providing credible, value-added contributions to missions around the world. For example:
    • We are contributing to NATO deterrence measures by leading a battlegroup in Latvia, deploying ships in European waters, and supporting air policing activities;
    • We are providing Ukraine’s security forces with specialized military training to help them maintain stability and security;
    • We are promoting stability in the Middle East as we lead the NATO mission in Iraq for a second year in a row; and,
    • We are engaged in UN peace support operations in Africa, and have helped implement UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea.
  • We cannot be strong at home unless we are engaged in the world, and being secure in North America is essential to both our confidence at home and our effectiveness abroad.
  • This is why we have committed to strengthening Canada’s approach to continental defence across all-domains, and we are modernizing NORAD, in collaboration with our US partners.
  • While COVID-19 has forced us to pause or alter some of our operations and activities to ensure the safety of our personnel, it has not diminished our leadership on the international stage.
  • We are in constant communication with our partners and Allies to determine when we can return to a normal posture and continue Canada’s important commitments at home and abroad.

Key Facts

  • Canada’s defence spending for 2018-19 was 1.31% of GDP.
  • National Defence forecasts that total defence spending as a percentage of GDP will increase to 1.48% by 2024-25.
  • Canada is the 6th largest contributor to NATO common-funded budgets.
  • National Defence forecasts that total military equipment spending will exceed the 20% NATO guideline, reaching approximately 32% by 2024-25.
  • We continue to provide the equipment the Canadian Armed Forces members need to succeed in their missions at home and abroad. For example, we are procuring:
    • Space: Two ground stations that will download and exploit data from the RADARSAT Constellation Mission
    • Air: 88 Fighter aircraft, 16 CC-295 aircraft
    • Sea: 15 Surface Combatant Ships, two Joint Support Ships, six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships
    • Land: 360 armoured combat support vehicles


Media and parliamentary interest in burden-sharing

  • There continues to be sustained media and parliamentary interest focused on how Canada is not meeting the NATO 2% target, while also drawing attention to Canada’s contribution to burden-sharing.

Defence spending as a share OF GDP (NATO 2%)

  • During the NATO Wales Summit in 2014, member nations established the guidance to move spending on defence towards 2% of their GDP.
  • Starting in 2015, Canada aligned its accounting of defence spending with criteria established by NATO. This resulted in the inclusion of new spending related to federal Departments beyond DND, which were not previously accounted for. 
  • Canada’s defence spending for 2019-20 was forecasted to be 1.31% of GDP which ranked 20th out of 29 Allies. Canada’s progress towards meeting spending goals does not yet include future expenditures on continental defence, including modernization of NORAD.

NATO operations

  • Canada actively contributes to several NATO missions:
    • Commanding the NATO battlegroup in Latvia;
    • Commanding the NATO training mission in Iraq;
    • Contributing to the NATO maritime task force in the Mediterranean;
    • Contributing to NATO’s air policing mission through episodic deployments to Romania; and
    • Contributing to the NATO-led peace-support operation in Kosovo.

Operation IMPACT: Iraq

  • Canada works with partners in the region to set the conditions for stability and security in Iraq. Under Operation IMPACT’s three areas of focus, the CAF supports: (1) the Global Coalition to degrade and defeat Daesh, (2) contributes to NMI, and (3) conducts bilateral training and capacity building with Jordan and Lebanon.
  • On June 26, 2019, Canada announced the extension of its command of the NATO training mission in Iraq until November 30, 2020. Following completion of its command, the Canadian Armed Forces will continue contributing military assets to the NATO training mission in Iraq.

Operation REASURRANCE: Central AND Eastern Europe

  • The CAF supports assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe through Operation REASSURANCE by contributing to NATO land, maritime, and air measures.
  • Canada is leading a NATO Battlegroup in Latvia of approximately 1500 soldiers with military members from eight other nations: Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

Operation UNIFIER: Ukraine

  • In 2015, Canada launched Operation UNIFIER in response to requests from the Government of Ukraine. The CAF provide Ukrainian security forces with specialized training to help improve their capability and capacity. On March 18, 2019, Canada renewed Operation UNIFIER until March 31, 2022.

United Nations Peace Support Operations

  • Canada continues to provide high value equipment and expertise to fill capability gaps that that are critical to sustaining UN peacekeeping operations.
  • Through Operation NEON Canada’s is also contributing to a coordinated multinational effort to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions imposed against North Korea. During 2019, 2020, and into 2021, Canada will periodically deploy military ships, aircraft, and personnel to conduct surveillance operations to identify suspected maritime sanctions evasion activities, in particular ship-to-ship transfers of fuel, coal, and other commodities limited by the UNSC resolutions.

Version 3.3 – 2020-06-12 – Source: QP Note 2020-01-27

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