DND News

Canada's Atlantic and Pacific outreach

Potentially expecting further criticism from within NATO about its defence spending at the July 11-12 NATO summit in Lithuania, Canada is reaching across both oceans this week with an array of Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy assets.

On the Pacific front, the RCAF is participating in Mobility Guardian 23, a July 5-21 U.S. Air Force-led exercise involving some 70 aircraft, including assets from Australia, Britain, France, Japan and New Zealand.

The RCAF platforms, all from 8 Wing in Trenton, Ontario, are two Lockheed Martin CC-130J Hercules transports from 436 Transport Squadron, and an Airbus a CC-150T Polaris tanker from 437 Transport Squadron, as well as more than 100 RCAF personnel.

The RCAF Expeditionary Air Traffic Management Unit, comprising personnel from 8 Air Communications and Control Squadron based at 2 Wing Bagotville, Quebec, but operating out of Trenton), will be supporting coalition flying operations out of Guam and Palau. RCAF aeromedical evacuation personnel also are involved.

“Through combined exercises […] we not only showcase the RCAF as a mission-ready and combat-capable force, we also build and strengthen alliances with our partner-nation air forces,” says RCAF Commander Lieutenant-General Eric Kenny. “These relationships help maintain stability and ensure free access to common domains in the Pacific in accordance with international law.”

Mobility Guardian is seen by Major-General Iain Huddleston, Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division, the RCAF’s the operational-level command and control arm headquartered in Winnipeg, as “an excellent opportunity to deepen connections with regional allies and partners, while enhancing our awareness and proficiency in this important region in which our members and aircraft are increasingly operating.”

On the European Front, Two RCN coastal defence ships, HMCS Shawinigan and HMCS Summerside, each with a crew of about 45, left Halifax July 3 on four-month deployments to the Baltic. They are scheduled to join Operational Reassurance, the Canadian element of NATO’s deterrence against Russian regional aggression.

In addition to their Baltic operations, Shawinigan, on its first full-length deployment, and Summerside, on its second, will work with allied ships on mine-hunting and disposal in the North Atlantic Reassurance.

“Even if NATO is not directly involved in what's happening in Ukraine with Russia, the fact that we are positioning the alliance to be ready to react […] is very important,” Rear Admiral Josée Kurtz, commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic, told reporters at dockside when the two ships had slipped their mooring lines.

In addition to the Maritime Task Force role, Canada also provides Air Task Force logistical support out of Prestwick, Scotland, as well as being the “framework” country in a Land Task Force, including enhanced Forward Presence Latvia, a key component of NATO’s deterrence through multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia as well as Latvia.

In the background, however, despite ongoing Canadian direct and indirect support for multinational operations, there’s the looming NATO Summit in Vilnius. There are some expectations that an ongoing budget review could yield more defence spending, but the question is whether it will relieve the political pressure.

At 1.29% of gross domestic product in 2022, Canada’s military budget was essentially unchanged from the late 1990s and, for many of its NATO allies – particularly the European ones who see Russia as an existential threat – it remains frustratingly below the alliance’s preferred goal of at least 2%. Last year’s average for NATO overall was 2.58% of GDP.

To meet the NATO threshold, Canada would have to spend an additional $13 billion currently and then even more over the next five years, according to Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux. A career public servant who was appointed PBO in September 2018, he has been closely involved in the federal budget process for more than two decades and is an acknowledge expert on government spending.

For now, however, at least until the Vilnius summit, a spokesman for Defence Minister Anita Anand has been quoted as saying that Canada has the sixth largest defence budget within NATO and would “continue to make landmark investments to equip our Armed Forces.”