Canada’s new defence policy will mean new ships, planes, and staff over the next decade, as the Trudeau government works to modernize the aging military.
Unveiled by Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan in Ottawa on Wednesday, the new defence policy comes after more than a year of consultation across the country, and stiff criticisms from the opposition Conservatives — and American President Donald Trump — that Canada isn’t spending enough on defence.
Sajjan called it “a new course.”
All-in, the new plan means $62 billion in new defence spending over the next twenty years.
One of the big-ticket items that many were looking for in the new defence policy is Canada’s plan for its fighter jets.
Over the past year, Sajjan has rebooted the government’s acquisition of its next-generation fighter jet, reneging on an agreement to purchase the Lockheed-Martin F-35 jets, and launching a new tendering process for the jets. In the interim, Sajjan has opened the door to buying Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets as a temporary measure.
Whatever it buys, Ottawa will be buying more of them — the spending plan commits Canada to 88 new planes, not 65 as was originally announced. Acquiring that many jets could cost up to $19 billion.
The plan says Canada will continue studying the possibility of buying or leasing the Hornets, and military officials added that “we are studying that with the Americans.”
The government is committing to acquire armed drones capable of both surveillance and “precision strikes.” Senior officials told VICE News that they are still studying the type and number it is planning to buy — but they did say that there will buy a long-range, medium-altitude drone that would be used for foreign operations, as well as domestic surveillance. That could involve something similar to the Reaper, a favoured armed drone employed by the U.S. military.
Ottawa will also be replacing most of its existing fleet of non-fighter aircraft. Most notably, Ottawa is moving forward on acquiring the next generation of surveillance aircraft to replace its CP-140s, several of which are currently conducting missions above Iraq, to help conduct reconnaissance for coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State; and Eastern Europe, to bolster NATO presence in the face of Russian expansionism.
Under the new plan, staffing for the Canadian military is set to rise, with the regular forces increasing by 3,500 personnel and the reserves jumping by 1,500.
After years of being plagued with accusations of sexual harassment and assault within the Canadian Armed Forces, the new defence plan will adopt a slew of recommendations on how to combat sexism, and make new space for female personnel.
The new initiatives are meant to amount to a “culture change” within the military, by streamlining the harassment reporting system
One of the Liberals’ signature initiatives, government-wide, has been to boost gender diversity in leadership roles. That initiative was on display in the defence review, with the blueprint committing to up female representation in the Canadian Armed Forces by 1 percent every year, with a goal of ensuring that one-quarter of its membership are women by 2027. The Department of National Defence will also be required to conduct gender-based analysis of its decisions going forward.
The diversity initiatives will also extend recruitment to Indigenous and non-white Canadians.
“We need a military that looks like Canada,” proclaims the document.
The new plan also commitments to a suicide prevention strategy for veterans that boosts mental health support.
One of the sore spots for the navy has been Canada’s aging fleet of submarines, which have previously caught fire and been out of commission for long stretches. The defence review offers nothing new in that regard, with a commitment to “operate and modernize” the current fleet of four Victoria-class submarines.
Beyond that, there’s little news for Canada’s navy, given that Ottawa has already announced a list of very expensive new acquisitions for its support and patrol ships, as well as its frigates. That effort has been plagued by delays in recent years, including a series of high-profile leaks that led to a criminal investigation into the head of the Canadian navy and vice-chief of defence staff.
Special forces, cyber, and intelligence
After a busy number of years for Canada’s special forces units, which have been deployed to Ukraine and Iraq to train allied forces, the Trudeau government is bolstering their capacity by allocating more than 600 new special forces personnel and purchasing a suite of equipment and vehicles for the highly-trained units — including drones.
The review goes into expanding intelligence, especially in conjunction with the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership, but makes no mention of the Communication Security Establishment, which conducts online surveillance abroad, as well as at home.
After months of quietly signalling that it would look into the possibility of offensive cyber capabilities, Ottawa is finally letting the secret out. The review promises to develop “active cyber capabilities” with an eye to “employ them against potential adversaries” on military missions. “A purely defensive cyber posture is no longer sufficient,” the review concludes — it, however, adds that any cyber offensive operations will need to be subject to the same approval process as normal military operations.
A government official told VICE News that power could be used to attack drones and radios operated by the Islamic State in Iraq.
The military will also be launching a plan to improve its advanced satellite system, which allows it to do incredibly high resolution imaging world-wide — from the Arctic, to Canada’s coasts, to, more recently, the eastern region of Ukraine where Kyiv has been fighting Russian-backed militants.
But what remains to be seen is whether that technology can be effectively deployed for international missions, given that the Ukraine project had to be scrapped thanks to bureaucratic tangles.