There are doubts about Canada’s donation of an air defense system to Ukraine a year later


Ukraine’s president says bringing air defense systems to the battlefield is the top priority in the new year, but the system Canada promised a year ago has not yet been delivered and it is unclear when it will be.

Ottawa announced plans to donate a $406 million surface-to-air missile defense system, known by the acronym NASAMS, on Jan. 10, 2023. Nearly a year later, one of the two companies involved in building the NASAMS system says yes. I do not have a contract for the Canadian donation.

The plan is for Canada to pay the U.S. government the full cost and for the United States to enter into a foreign military sales agreement directly with Ukraine.

Such an agreement allows Canada to avoid asking the US government for further approval to ship the system to Ukraine, something that is needed whenever US military technology is sold outside the country.

Ukraine says medium-range missile systems are critical to defending its territory from Russian bombing. They are capable of shooting down planes, drones and cruise missiles.

While Canada paid for the NASAMS system last March, it is still unclear exactly when it will arrive in Ukraine. It’s not even clear if the Defense Department itself knows when that will happen. A spokesperson said the department was working with its U.S. partners to determine the timeline.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is increasing pressure for this to happen quickly as he speaks to world leaders earlier this year.

In a Jan. 4 post on additional air defense and ammunition.”

This followed a post he made after a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the New Year.

“I thank Prime Minister Trudeau for his willingness to help us protect the Ukrainian sky, in particular by providing us with additional NASAMS systems and missiles,” Zelenskyy wrote.

It’s unclear if Zelenskyy was referring to the system Canada agreed to pay for last year, or if the two discussed a new donation. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to answer questions.

The Department of Defense did not confirm whether Canada intends to provide more NASAMS systems.

“We remain in close contact with Ukrainian officials about Ukraine’s most pressing defense needs, and Canada will continue to step up and address those needs by providing comprehensive military assistance,” Defense Department spokesperson Andree-Anne Poulin wrote in a response sent by email to questions.

Poulin said the US government signed a contract with weapons manufacturer Raytheon for the NASAMS system.

The system is jointly manufactured by US-based Raytheon and Norway-based Kongsberg. A Kongsberg spokesperson said in an email last week that the company does not have a contract with the United States for the Canadian donation.

“The procurement authority is still processing the acquisition of the Canadian donation,” wrote Ivar Simensen. He did not answer questions about how long production would take once authorized.

The U.S. Department of Defense signed a $1.2 billion contract with Raytheon for NASAMS systems destined for Ukraine in November 2022, and a public notice of that contract lists the expected completion date as November 2025.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not answer questions about whether the system is included in that contract or when it will be delivered, instead referring questions to Canadian officials.

Canada’s Defense Department does not know or will not say when it expects delivery of the system. Raytheon did not respond to questions.

The US State Department approved the potential foreign military sale to the Ukrainian government in late May, when it notified Congress of the acquisition, which it estimated would cost $285 million.

Since then there have been no public updates on the progress of the donation from either government.

However, the acquisition process can take months or years.

The United States Congress reviews foreign military sales and its committees may suspend the sale during that review period.

While Congress has the power to block a gun sale through legislation, it has never succeeded in doing so. The Congressional Research Service noted that it has at times affected the timing and composition of some sales and may have deterred the president from formally proposing others.

The Biden administration can completely bypass Congress by holding emergency arms sales, as it has done twice in the past two months to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons and ammunition to Israel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a similar emergency declaration to provide ammunition to Ukraine in April 2022, but has not done so since.

The Norwegian government announced last month that it planned to donate another eight NASAMS systems to Ukraine from its own stocks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024.

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