(Ottawa) The federal Liberal government’s decision to purchase a surface-to-air missile system and then donate it to Ukraine raises questions about why such armament is not available to the Canadian Army as well.
The “army” has been without specific weapons to defend Canadian soldiers against enemy aircraft, rockets and drones since the last of its anti-aircraft weapons were removed from arsenal in 2012. Efforts to acquire more news have remained in limbo for years.
Several army commanders have described the lack of such weapons as a major shortcoming, including the current Chief of Staff, General Wayne Eyre, when in 2019 he was in charge of the Canadian Army — l ‘” Land Force “.
Last December, Mr. Eyre still declared that the restoration of anti-aircraft defense was one of his main priorities.
A spokesperson for Defense Minister Anita Anand said on Tuesday that supplying Ukraine with an American-made surface-to-air missile system, at a cost of 406 million each, would help the country protect itself from air attacks against cities, infrastructure and military sites.
“Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine is also an attack on the international rules that protect us all,” Daniel Minden wrote in an email. In other words, Ukraine’s security is Europe’s security and the security of the world — including Canada’s. »
” Why not us ? »
The decision to buy a surface-to-air missile system for Ukraine was welcomed by former military officers interviewed by The Canadian Press. But these retired officers also wondered why the Canadian government was not doing the same for its own army.
Former Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, who had previously served as commander of the Canadian Army, for example, said he was initially pleased to learn that his government was giving an air-to-ground system to Ukraine. But he immediately wondered, “Why the hell don’t you buy it for Canada too?” “.
The need for air defense is particularly relevant now that the Canadian military is preparing to deploy more soldiers and equipment to Latvia, where Canada leads a NATO battle group tasked with defending Eastern Europe against Russia.
In the minister’s office, Mr. Minden did not explain why Canada was buying what is called the “National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System” (NASAMS) for the Ukrainian army, but not for its own army. Instead, he pointed to an acquisition project launched by the Liberal government in 2018 to obtain a variety of air defense systems.
This billion-dollar “ground-based air defense system” project is expected to provide a variety of capabilities to defend against different threats. However, there are no plans to deliver anything to the military until at least 2027.
In the meantime, Mr. Minden said, “Canada continues to operate alongside allied nations that have that capability.”
Nothing since 2012
Retired Lieutenant General Marquis Hainse said the need for what is known as a ground-based air defense system was identified in 2013 when he took over as commander of the Canadian Army.
“We certainly made it a priority for the military in my time, and we never got there,” he said in an email.
Analysts have already pointed out that when the Canadian Army put away the last of its anti-aircraft weapons in 2012, it did so on the assumption that Canada and its allies would have air superiority in any battle — and any would therefore not have to worry about air attacks.
But Mr. Hainse points out that the war in Ukraine has exposed a number of different gaps in the Canadian Army’s capabilities, including the need for air defences.
The two retired officers admit that the surface-to-air missile system, designed to intercept short-to-medium range threats, may not be perfect, but is still a start. “Is it state-of-the-art technology? No. But we have nothing yet. »
Retired Lieutenant-General Guy Thibault, who previously served as Deputy Chief of the Defense Staff, believes there may be legitimate reasons why the government took its time before buying a ground-based air defense system for the military.
These include the lack of a clear threat, other priorities on the cards, and Ottawa’s focus on Canadian content and economic benefits to Canada, which have guided Canada’s military procurement system in the course of the last decade.
“But I think things have changed in people’s minds when they look at what’s happening in Europe and think about our soldiers who are on the front lines there,” he said.
“And as an important NATO partner, I think it’s rather embarrassing that we can’t provide that kind of capability, or that we’re not able to provide more capability to contribute to the mission of defense and deterrence of the alliance in Europe. »