North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)
In 1958, against the backdrop of the Cold War and threat of Soviet air attack, Canada and the United States (U.S.) formally established the world’s only binational military command – the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is responsible for the shared monitoring and defence of North American aerospace, and therefore, NATO’s Western flank.
Over the years, the strength of NORAD has rested in its ability to evolve in response to the changing threat environment. For example, in 1985, Canada and the US agreed to modernize NORAD by replacing the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line with the North Warning System (NWS). In the aftermath of 9/11, NORAD implemented Operation NOBLE EAGLE to address air security threats. By 2006, our countries had renewed the NORAD Agreement in perpetuity and added maritime warning to the overall mission.
Today, NORAD remains the model of a successful defence partnership and a symbol of our enduring and mutually beneficial cross-border relationship with the U.S. NORAD has evolved to keep North America safe from modern aerospace and maritime threats, and with additional investments announced in 2022, will continue to uphold its mandate well into the future.
NORAD Today and Canada’s Current Contributions
The Canadian NORAD Region (CANR) is headquartered with 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In total, Canada contributes approximately 1,000 personnel to various NORAD missions, along with physical and financial resources. This includes the operation and maintenance of the Canadian portion of the NWS — a series of remote radar sites that provide surveillance and early warning across northern Canada and Alaska. Canada also provides fighter aircraft and other assets to support NORAD requirements, in addition to three forward operating locations in Inuvik and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and Iqaluit, Nunavut, to support fighter operations in the North.
In the context of a significantly changing global security environment, further demonstrated by Russia’s unprovoked, unjustifiable and illegal invasion of Ukraine, and with climate change increasingly impacting our defence and security, as well as the rapid development of new weapons technology such as hypersonic weapons and advanced cruise missiles, there is a pressing need to modernize Canada’s NORAD capabilities.
Canada’s commitment to modernize NORAD is outlined in Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged. Our commitment was reaffirmed by political leaders on both sides of the border in 2021, through the Roadmap for a Renewed Canada-U.S. Partnership and the Joint Statement on NORAD Modernization. It was also supported in the last two federal budgets, with initial funding to sustain existing continental defence capabilities. These early investments set the groundwork to modernize NORAD in light of the renewed importance of its existing missions and the evolving strategic environment. These investments also deliver on the shared strategic priorities identified by the Minister of National Defence and the US Secretary of Defense in the joint statement:
- situational awareness, especially in northern and maritime approaches to the continent;
- modernized Command and Control systems;
- capabilities to detect, deter and defend against evolving aerospace threats to North America, including investments to upgrade and modernize infrastructure to support NORAD operations, especially in Canada’s northern and Arctic region; and,
- research and development, and innovation.
Maintaining and bolstering our defences against new and emerging threats to Canada and North America requires renewed investment for NORAD and more resilient domestic capabilities, particularly to safeguard Canada’s vast northern and Arctic region.
The Government of Canada is investing $3.0 billion dollars over six years, starting in 2022-23, with $1.9 billion in remaining amortization (or $4.9 billion on a cash basis), into this continental defence modernization plan. With total funding of $38.6 billion dollars over the next twenty years, this is the most significant upgrade to Canadian NORAD capabilities in almost four decades. Funding over six years was allocated in Budget 2022 – Canada’s fiscal framework remains as previously reported. This investment will help ensure that our Canadian Armed Forces and NORAD can detect, deter and defend Canadians against threats well into the future.
These capabilities fall under five, inter-related areas of investment that will:
Bolster our ability to detect threats earlier, and more precisely, by modernizing our surveillance systems by:
- laying the foundation of a new Northern Approaches Surveillance system that will significantly expand the CAF and NORAD’s situational awareness of who and what is entering Canadian airspace from the North. This system will represent a dramatic improvement over Canada’s existing 30-year old North Warning System, which was not designed to detect modern weapons and delivery systems, such as long-range cruise and hypersonic missiles. It will include:
- An Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar system to provide early warning radar coverage and threat tracking from the Canada-U.S. border to the Arctic circle; and,
- A Polar Over-the-Horizon Radar system to provide early warning radar coverage over and beyond the northernmost approaches to North America, including the Canadian Arctic archipelago, and
- Working with the US to develop a complementary system called Crossbow – a network of sensors with classified capabilities, distributed across Northern Canada, as another layer of detection.
- Strengthening the Canadian Armed Forces’ current space-based surveillance abilities, including of Canadian territory and maritime approaches, by investing in the new state-of-the-art, space-based surveillance project announced in Canada’s 2017 defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged.
Improve our ability to understand and communicate threats to those who need it, when they need it, through investments in modern technology:
- Modernizing key Canadian Armed Forces’ command, control and communications capabilities and systems;
- Modernizing the Canadian Combined Air Operations Centre;
- Renewing the Canadian Armed Forces’ high and low-frequency radio capability;
- Enhancing satellite communications in the Arctic – which are central to the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to conduct all northern operations, including emergency responses and search and rescue, and
- Procuring and installing new digital radios and network equipment.
Canada will also work with the US to expand support for the NORAD Pathfinder initiative to take advantage of cloud-based computing and machine learning to ensure that NORAD commanders can make informed, rapid decisions, and advance work on a new Positioning, Navigation, and Timing capability to assist with air navigation in remote areas.
Strengthen our ability to deter and defeat aerospace threats by modernizing our air weapons systems through:
- The procurement of new, advanced air-to-air missiles with the capability to engage threats from short, medium and long-ranges; and
- Continuing to move forward with the procurement of Canada’s modern future fighter fleet, with which these advanced air-to-air missiles will be compatible.
Ensure our Canadian Armed Forces can launch and sustain a strong military presence across the country, including in Canada’s North, through investments in new infrastructure and support capabilities. We will do this by:
- Acquiring additional air-to-air refuelling aircraft;
- Upgrading Canadian Armed Forces’ infrastructure at four locations in Canada’s North;
- Upgrading fighter infrastructure and NORAD Quick Reaction Alert capabilities at bases across Canada; and,
- Modernizing the Canadian Armed Forces’ air operational training infrastructure.
To ensure that new infrastructure fulfills the needs of our military and maximizes broader benefits for Canadians, we will deliver these initiatives in partnership with Indigenous communities, and our provincial and territorial partners.
Future-proof our capabilities to defend North America through investments in science and technology.
- Funding to Defence Research and Development Canada to create a science and technology program that will assess new and emerging threats, and access and co-develop technological solutions to address them, alongside the United States.
Moving ahead with this new plan will span a multi-decade time horizon and require ongoing engagement with our closest ally, the U.S., as well as with the provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, industry, academia, and all Canadians. We look forward to continuing our ongoing dialogue to explore potential opportunities for collaboration.
In addition, we will be conducting a Defence Policy Review, through which the Government will further examine the resources, roles and responsibilities of the Canadian Armed Forces, to reflect our changing world.
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