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NORAD upgrade a ‘good move’ for northern security, Nunavut MP says


The member for Nunavut applauds the federal government’s plan to spend $4.9 billion over the next six years to modernize continental defence. And Lori Idlout says northerners should have a say in how the money is spent.

“It’s a good move,” the NDP MP said in response to Defense Minister Anita Anand’s announcement this week.

“It is very important for Arctic sovereignty and for northerners to know that there is work to be done to protect the Arctic,” Idlout said.

Anand made the long-awaited announcement on North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) upgrades on Monday at the Canadian Army’s main air base in Trenton, Ont. She called the investment the start of NORAD’s “next chapter.”

The NORAD overhaul will include replacing the North Warning System, a chain of radar stations in the three territories. The North Warning System evolved in the 1980s from the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, originally built in the 1950s to monitor any Soviet missile threat.

Anand said two new radar systems will be developed – at the Canada-US border and in the Arctic Archipelago – to “significantly improve our situational awareness of what is entering Canadian airspace from the north”.

Defense Minister Anita Anand speaks to military personnel at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in April. On Monday, she announced that $4.9 billion would be spent over the next 6 years to modernize NORAD. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

She also said the North Warning System – currently managed and operated by Inuit company Nassituq Corp. – will be maintained until the new systems are in place.

Idlout says she’s glad that part of the federal commitment is to ensure Indigenous communities benefit from the defense overhaul.

“It looks like some of the benefits will be making sure that Inuit companies are able to do some of the work that will be needed to upgrade the system in the Arctic,” Idlout said.

Idlut agrees that continental security is important in light of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, but said other infrastructure is just as vital to northern sovereignty.

NORAD upgrade a ‘good move’ for northern security, Nunavut MP says
Canada has been under pressure to upgrade the aging radar network in the Arctic, the Canada-US North Warning System. Seen here: Site BAF-3 is located on Brevoort Island, Nunavut, established in 1988. (forces.gc.ca)

“I think it’s equally important to also invest in the people of the Arctic. I think investing in housing, in addition to ensuring that Nunavummiut have adequate health care, is just as important as investing in protecting the Arctic,” she added. said.

“It is important that the federal government also consult with northerners on how these funds will be spent.”

“The devil is always in the details”

Anand’s announcement didn’t provide many details on exactly how the $4.9 billion would be spent, or when.

However, Jim Fergusson, deputy director of the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, expects most of that money to be spent in the North.

“People are talking about space communications for the Arctic, potentially also the development of fiber optic lines from north to south, new infrastructure for forward operating sites. There will also be investments in terms of cleaning up the system. ‘North Alert, once it’s dismantled,” Fergusson said.

“So a significant part of the investment will go to the Arctic. How much, we don’t know yet.”

Fergusson also agrees that Canada is “on the right track.”

“Again, the devil is always in the details,” he said.

Rob Huebert, a northern defense analyst at the University of Calgary, points out that Anand explicitly said that northern and indigenous communities would be involved from the start.

“So in other words, it’s really a priority,” he said.

NORAD upgrade a ‘good move’ for northern security, Nunavut MP says
Children play hockey in front of the North Warning System site in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (Jane George/CBC)

Huebert said a promised over-the-horizon polar radar system would rely on some of Canada’s northernmost communities, either to store equipment or serve as a “starting point,” meaning the infrastructure should be improved.

The problem, he said, is that it’s not clear when that work might start.

“Are they going to act quickly or are we going to see more delays, as in the case, for example, of the construction of the deep water refueling site in Nanisivik?” Hubert said.

“And I hope that, given the dangerous nature of the threat, we will act quickly, which therefore means that the local communities and the indigenous people of the North must be brought in very quickly.

“But again, the track record isn’t great on that.”

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