May 2, 2022
The Canadian military has started the process to purchase a new high-tech system worth up to $1 billion that will be capable of shooting down enemy aircraft, missiles and drones.
Government procurement specialists will request ideas from industry sometime this year as the Canadian Army works out the specifics of what it wants in such a system.
Defence analysts and retired generals have pointed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as evidence of the need for such equipment.
The Liberal government originally outlined the proposed purchase in its 2018 defence capability plan. At that point, the government stated such a ground-based air defence system would cost between $250 million and $499 million.
But, even before the procurement process has begun in earnest, that price tag has increased. During an April 5 briefing in Ottawa, army officials told defence industry representatives the cost would now be between $500 million and $1 billion.
A contact would be awarded in 2026 and the first systems would be in place a year later, industry officials were told.
“The majority of items to be acquired by this project will be fielded, commercial-off-the-shelf technology,” Department of National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier explained in an email to this newspaper. “The target threats are rocket, artillery and mortar munitions, air to surface missiles and bombs, and remotely piloted aircraft systems.”
During the April 5 briefing, industry officials were informed the system would also be able to target cruise missiles, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The new system wouldn’t be capable of tackling larger weapons, such as theatre ballistic missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The new system could be outfitted with guns or missiles or both.
The Canadian military will have to examine whether it wants the air defence system mounted on light armoured vehicles or something smaller, such as trucks.
A number of defence firms have already started marketing their systems in Canada as the project ramps up.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown the value of air defence systems, according to defence analysts. Ukraine has been able to stop Russia’s air force from controlling the skies over the battlefield using a variety of anti-aircraft missiles and weapons. Ukraine claims to have destroyed 121 Russian helicopters and 97 fixed-wing aircraft. In addition, Russian drones have also been shot down.
The war has highlighted a gap in the Canadian military’s capabilities as it has been without an air defence system for the past decade.
The Canadian Army was outfitted in 1989 with a state-of-the art air defence anti-tank system known as ADATS. It was purchased to protect bases in Germany against attack by the Russians, but, shortly after ADATS was delivered, the Cold War ended and the systems were shipped back to Canada. ADATS was occasionally used for domestic security, including to provide protection from potential air threats during the G8 summit in Alberta in 2002.
But, faced with budget cuts ordered by the Conservative government, the army announced it was removing ADATS from service in 2012.
The move left the Canadian Forces without a primary air defence system. Army officers acknowledged at the time that decision was risky, but the service had determined it was acceptable in the short term. The army had plans to introduce a new air defence system around 2017, but that project never went forward.
In 2020, then army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre told Esprit de Corps military magazine that ground-based air defence was a priority for the service. “We see the evolving threat from drones, from rockets, and other forms of indirect fire,” said Eyre, who has since been promoted to chief of the defence staff. “We have to be able to protect ourselves.”
He noted that sophisticated sensors capable of identifying the location of enemy positions as well as detecting incoming warheads would be particularly important for ground-based air defence.