Russia began sending long-range bombers over the Arctic toward North American airspace after a brief hiatus during the first months of its war in Ukraine, according to a senior Canadian military official.
Russian submarines are also operating off both coasts as Moscow seeks to demonstrate its ability to attack Canada and the United States, the lieutenant general said. Alain Pelletier, deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
“We have seen a reduction this year, especially since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on February 24. However, some of those activities have now resumed,” Pelletier told the Senate defense committee on Monday.
“The activities are not just limited to long-range aviation. Russia is now using its submarines on both the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast to really demonstrate its strategic capabilities and present a threat to North America.”
While Pelletier did not provide more specific details, Norad officials announced last month that two Russian long-range bombers were intercepted by US warplanes after approaching Alaska. The bombers did not enter North American airspace before leaving.
Pelletier and other defense officials also confirmed that Canada and the US have begun work on modernizing Norad, the shared early warning system that comprises North America’s first line of defense against foreign air attack.
The Liberal government announced in June that Ottawa plans to invest $4.9 billion over six years and $40 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade the system in cooperation with Washington, DC
That includes replacing the 1980s-era series of radars in northern Canada that form the backbone of Canada’s contribution to Norad with more modern systems that can see farther and detect and track new types of weapons.
“We are in the early stages,” Defense Department official Jonathan Quinn said. “The announcement was in June, but we are setting up detailed plans with milestones, setting up project offices here at National Defense headquarters to advance specific initiatives.”
This comes as Russia and China, in particular, have begun to flex their muscles in the Arctic and to develop new weapons that can more easily attack North America, including cruise missiles and extremely fast-flying hypersonic weapons.
However, while research and development of new radars and other equipment to find and stop such weapons is progressing rapidly, Quinn told the committee it will be some time before they are in the field.
Canada and the US will be forced to rely on the threat of retaliation to prevent such attacks until then, Quinn added.
“During the gap period, we would probably rely on the penalty deterrence a little more than we would like until we bolster those North American defenses to bolster the denial defense deterrence,” he said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 21, 2022.