Canada's Armed Forces has purchased radar technology that is part of Israel's famous Iron Dome, the missile system tasked with shooting down Hamas and Hezbollah rockets — and it plans to deploy it within Canada.
The system will be produced in Canada by Rheinmetall Canada, a domestic arms company and subsidiary of the German military and car technology enterprise, in conjunction with the Israeli firm that first developed the technology.
"Our troops deserve the best — that's why we're purchasing the Israeli radar technology behind the Iron Dome," Defense Minister Jason Kenney tweeted on Wednesday.
When asked if the powerful radar would see service in the Arctic, an increasingly important geopolitical hotspot between nations vying for new international borders, a CAF spokesperson told VICE News that Canada will station the missile defense system domestically and, potentially, within its Arctic territory.
Given recent diplomatic and geopolitical hostilities between Russia and Canada, any planned deployment of these systems to the Arctic is significant, and may raise questions in Moscow.
News of the Canadian Iron Dome has already reached Russian state media, with English language Sputnik reporting on the DND purchase before most popular Canadian outlets had run the story. While the state-run news outlet usually does not cover Canadian military news, it does occasionally pick up stories about the armed forces if they can fit into a pro-Kremlin lens.
With an expected delivery date of 2017, Canada may see these systems as counteracting recent Russian militarization in the Far North. President Vladimir Putin has announced a massive defense spending program to modernize the Russian military by 2020. Part of that plan involves upgrading Arctic military infrastructure: New missile systems, icebreakers, drone fleets, and more have all put northern nations on high alert.
Many in defense circles see the vast expanse of melting Arctic ice and the potential for lucrative natural resource extraction within those debated borders, as a potential theatre of conflict. Moreover, since the crisis in Ukraine NORAD has reported an increase in Russian aircraft approaching its Arctic airspace — typical during old Cold War hostilities with the Soviet Union.
The Iron Dome is primarily used to intercept short and medium-range rockets fired from just beyond Israel's borders, which makes it an odd pick for Canada, which is bereft of any immediate threats of missile fire from hostile nations.
According to the Department of National Defense, Canada's systems will be flexible and highly mobile with the ability to be air transported at a moment's notice. Extreme cold and long nights will not inhibit the system either, with officials claiming the radar system can operate "under all weather conditions to generate a real-time understanding of air traffic above a battlefield."
Rheinmetall will produce 10 Medium Range Radar systems in a combined project with ELTA Systems — a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries that helped develop the original Iron Dome — worth over $240 million. The radars will eventually allow soldiers to track multiple incoming weapons, while giving defensive missiles the opportunity to strike a hostile projectile from the sky as in the case of Iron Dome.
Currently, the Canadian military is engaged in training the Ukrainian military for combat against Russian-backed forces in Eastern Ukraine and an ongoing bombing mission against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Neither mission involves Canadian ground forces engaging in the sort of warfare that requires missile defense systems.
"Much like Israel's successful Iron Dome radar technology, the Medium Ranger Radar system will be able to instantly track enemy fire aimed at Canadian Armed Forces personnel and help keep them safe during operations," said Kenney in a statement. "We're moving forward with providing the men and women of the military with the equipment they need to do their jobs in the service of their country."
The DND release announcing the purchase was quick to point out the close relationship between Canada and Israel, noting that "this represents another example of significant transfer of Israeli defense technology to Canada."
The Harper government has been a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline Israeli government, backing it during last year's controversial Gaza conflict and most recently denouncing the Iranian nuclear deal touted by the Obama administration and seen by Israel as a betrayal from the West.
Follow Ben Makuch on Twitter: @bMakuch
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