Canada plans new $1-billion radar to protect North American cities
The Canadian government will spend $1 billion for a new radar system to protect major population centres in North America, this newspaper has confirmed.
Defence industry officials were briefed about the project April 7 in Ottawa by Royal Canadian Air Force officers.
The radar system would be built in southern Canada, according to the briefing. But the system would keep watch on Arctic airspace to detect threats against major U.S. or Canadian cities.
The Arctic Over-the-Horizon Radar 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,” according to the briefing provided to this newspaper.
The radar would start operating in 2028. The preliminary cost estimate for the system is $1 billion, but military officials say that could go higher.
Defence Minister Anita Anand has been promising to announce a series of new projects to improve continental security in conjunction with the U.S. That includes modernizing the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) as well as the North Warning System radars in the Arctic.
“In the coming months, we will be bringing forward a robust package of investments to bolster our continental defence in close co-operation with the United States,” Anand said April 5 in a presentation to the Senate defence committee. Although she didn’t provide any specifics about those investments, some estimates have put the cost at as much as $20 billion.
The most immediate problem for both the U.S. and Canada is determining what to do about the North Warning System, which is estimated to be obsolete starting around 2025. The North Warning System radar sites were constructed between 1986 and 1992. The radars were mainly designed to track Russian bombers approaching North America.
Canada has come under pressure from the U.S. government to move forward on improvements to continental defence. But there have been questions inside the Department of National Defence (DND) about whether there would be enough funding for such a venture and whether the public would support such a large expense.
But the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February has provided Liberal government officials with the reasons to move forward on both the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter as well as NORAD modernization. Anand has noted the invasion in both her statements about the new fighter jet and NORAD improvements. “The current defence and security climate also has underscored that we need to do more to bolster our defences in Canada and North America at large,” Anand added in her presentation to the Senate.
When asked April 5 about the threat of a Russian attack, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau specifically referred to NORAD modernization, adding, “The Arctic is an area we’re going to look closely” in terms of defence spending.
In addition, defence analysts with ties to DND have raised warnings about the potential for the Russians to attack Canada’s Arctic or challenge its sovereignty in the North. That includes the suggestion the Russians might launch a missile attack on the Arctic to send a warning to Canada and the U.S.
DND insiders privately admit such a scenario is highly unlikely; for instance if Russia fired a missile at the Arctic, the U.S. would probably respond to that with their own nuclear-tipped missiles, setting off World War Three. But the insiders noted that such discussions are effective in convincing the Canadian public of the need to spend billions of dollars more on continental defence.
Research has been underway into new technologies to improve continental defences. In 2019, DND, through Public Services and Procurement Canada, awarded a contract to Raytheon Canada Limited for $31 million. That was for building equipment to study over-the-horizon radar detection at long range. The primary objective of that project was to demonstrate the feasibility of radar technology for the detection of air targets beyond the horizon. That would involve reflecting signals off of the ionosphere and back to a receiving station, according to the Department of National Defence. Once operational, the system could be used in conjunction with other systems to further understand the effect of the Aurora Borealis on target detection beyond the horizon.