NORAD Commander puts Hypersonic and North Warning System Cats amongst Trudeau Government’s Pigeons

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Gen. Glen VanHerck said he gave a candid risk assessment to senior Canadian military and government leaders on Tuesday [Nov. 30] regarding hypersonics. (Corporal Jeff Smith, Canadian Forces Support Group Ottawa-Gatineau Imaging Services)”–from this CBC story.)

Further to this post,

NORAD Chief Wants Defence (of what sort?) “Left of Launch” Focus, Russian Cruise Missiles (air- and sub-launched) Big Threat

US Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck (dual-hatted as commander of US NORTHCOM, responsible for missile defence, amongst other things) goes to Ottawa to, it seems to me, lay down some markers for the prime minister’s government. That government has dithered for several years over committing definitely to necessary–and costly–actions to contribute to the renewal of NORAD that is badly needed and that the US government badly wants.

From a Canadian Press story:

Norad modernization awaiting political direction as China, Russia develop new threats

By Lee Berthiaume

The commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command says China and Russia are developing new ways to attack the continent as he waits for political direction to modernize Norad’s outdated early-warning system.U.S.

Gen. Glen VanHerck made the comment to reporters Tuesday during his first visit to Ottawa since taking over in August 2020 as commander of Norad, the joint American-Canadian command responsible for continental defence [in other words unilaterally getting his points our to the Canadian public].

VanHerck’s visit coincided with growing concerns about the development and deployment of long-range cruise missiles and so-called hypersonic weapons by Russia and China that are capable of striking North America.

Military officials have been warning for years that the string of 1980s-era radars responsible for detecting an attack on North America is unable to detect such modern threats, a message VanHerck says he repeated to Canadian officials while in Ottawa.

“The North Warning System is designed for a threat from 50 years ago,” VanHerck said. “A bomber that has to fly over the North Pole to drop gravity weapons, has to fly over Canada and North America into the United States to drop any of those weapons [emphasis added].”

Canada and the U.S. have committed for years to upgrade the entire system, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden most recently issuing a joint statement to that effect on the eve of the federal election this past August [see this post: “Canada/US Statement on Way Forward for NORAD–Very Little There There“].

Yet those efforts are still very much in their infancy, VanHerck said, adding he is hoping for direction soon from Defence Minister Anita Anand and her American counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, so work on meeting those threats can begin in earnest [emphasis added–this is telling Canada to get its ass in gear; the mention of the US defence secretary is diplomatic politisesse, as one is sure that Gen. VanHerck has already got the direction he needs from the US government].

“North America is only going to become more vulnerable to future capabilities being developed by potential adversaries,” he said. “And decisions need to be made in the not-too-distant future. So I’d love to see those happen sooner than later.”..

There have been questions about how much the entire effort will cost. Most experts predict the price tag will be in the billions, with Canada on the hook for 40 per cent of the total {emphasis added].

VanHerck admitted to having some preliminary cost estimates, but would not reveal any numbers until a decision is made on a specific modernization plan.

Political direction is needed to establish a framework in which each country will lay out its requirements and boundaries for a new system, such as whether the new system will include actual defensive measures to intercept incoming attacks [i.e. will Canada take part in defensive systems aimed at hypersonics as well as cruise missiles].

Such discussions have previously carried significant political sensitivity, notably when Canada opted in 2005 not to join the U.S. in developing and deploying a ballistic-missile defence system…

Much of the attention in recent weeks and months has focused on China’s rapidly growing military might, which includes dizzying technological advances that have included reports of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile test in August [see this post: “US Joint Chiefs Chairman over-hyper over PRC’s FOBS Hypersonics? (note UPDATE)”]…

Yet VanHerck noted China has yet to actually field hypersonic weapons while Russia has had them in its arsenal for years. To that end, he said, “Russia’s the primary military threat to North America. China’s about a decade behind [emphasis added, good on the general for downplaying the hypersonics hype].”

While Ottawa and Washington have yet to provide specific directions on what the next iteration of Norad should look like, VanHerck said his priority is to build a system that will provide military and political officials time to detect a threat and decide the appropriate response.

That will involve collecting data and intelligence from numerous sources not only in North America but around the world, and using artificial intelligence and other automated systems to analyze it faster, though he insisted people will still be in charge [see this post from March: “US NORTHCOM Thinking pre-emptively vs Russian Cruise Missiles, Leaving NORAD a Backwater?“].

“I’m not talking about machines making decisions,” he said. “Humans are still making decisions.”

NORAD has issued a press release about the visit. Only the NORAD commander’s “quote” contains any substance, another diplomatic US shot across our bow:

…With competitors now capable of striking discrete military targets and critical infrastructure in both Canada and the United States, the need for continued collaboration and support is key to the ongoing success of NORAD and the security of North America.

The Biden Administration is plainly losing its patience with PM Trudeau’s government’s unwillingness to take defence seriously. They have also just called them out over their failure to live up to UN peacekeeping promises made several years ago. Another Canadian Press story:

U.S. presses Canada to make good on promised 200-soldier peacekeeping force

An earlier post on our government and peacekeeping:

UN Peacekeeping: PM Trudeau and Liberals too Fearful to Meet their Pledges when they Realized the Realities of “Killer Peacekeeping”

And our government expects the U.S. to cut us some slack on trade issues when we won’t do our defence bit. Adolescents in the bilateral biz.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

5 thoughts on “NORAD Commander puts Hypersonic and North Warning System Cats amongst Trudeau Government’s Pigeons”

  1. And a nice little pressure tweet from NORAD itself:

    Plus some substantive detail:

    Mark Collins


  2. Empty words on NORAD/North Warning System in PM Trudeau’s “Mandate Letter” to new defmin Anand:

    Mark Collins


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