Defending Arctic waters [CS19D2]

30 May 2019

Canada is “absolutely” committed to equipping its armed forces to deal with growing challenges to control of its northern waterways.

“Sovereignty is extremely important to our government,” Harjit Sajjan, its minister of national defence, told national media yesterday. “Our defence policy reflects this.”

Sajjan cited several measures being implemented to increase Canada’s presence in the region.

These include the recently announced purchase of two Canadian Coast Guard Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). These will top off the six already on order for the Royal Canadian Navy. Sea trials for the first AOPS vessel are expected to be held this summer.

Three Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites slated to be launched during the coming months will increase Canada’s ability to monitor its northern approaches. The government is also planning future satellite initiatives, innovation measures stemming from its IDEAS programme and to build up northern infrastructure.

China and Russia have both been increasing their presence in the Arctic. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently described Canada’s claims to a water route through its northern islands as “illegitimate”.

Sajjan made the comments following a keynote address on the opening day at CANSEC, the country’s largest annual defence exhibition.

Sajjan used the presentation, his fourth and last at CANSEC prior to the elections slated to be held later this year, to outline progress made during the government’s current mandate.

These include the release of a multi-decade defence policy in which the government committed to recapitalise the country’s land, sea and air forces. A formal request for proposals related to Canada’s Future Fighter Capability Project will be released in July, Sajjan said. The government hopes to begin to review bids from aerospace contractors as early as the winter of 2020. Earlier this year, the 15‑ship Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) received a major boost when prime contractor Irving Shipbuilding announced a winning design approach.

Purchases of other more mundane yet important equipment – ranging from trucks, to gas masks and uniforms – are also progressing, Sajjan said, adding that the 330 projects listed in the Strong, Secure, Engaged defence policy are all fully funded and that more than 60 per cent are under way.

(358 words)