A few years ago, I spent most of a day with six men huddled over a bank of computers and green-glowing radar screens deep within Cheyenne Mountain, 500 meters below a rough-hewn granite peak near Colorado Springs, Colorado. At one point, a buzzer sounded, a bell rang, and a wall light flashed red. An unidentified blip had popped onto a screen in the missile warning centre, a 10m by 10m low-ceilinged room at North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad).
The duty officer snatched a beige phone from its cradle and was instantly linked to Norad command post, another nearby room within the mountain’s hardened core. “Missile initiating,” he said. “Secure com[munications] in progress.” Within sixty seconds, seven officials in the military chain of command were on the line, waiting on every word.
The deputy commander of Norad was a Canadian, as is the case today. They quickly concluded that the missile was just another test, one of more than two hundred fired by the Russians that year. Whether it’s an unknown missile, a friendly launch from Cape Canaveral, or debris tumbling out of orbit and headed for earth, Norad sees every sparrow fall.
Norad was created in 1957 to centralize continental defence against Russian bombers. Recently, Norad has been tracking an increasing number of unknown objects floating across North America. Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter to say, “I ordered the takedown of an unidentified object that violated Canadian air space.” After that bit of bravado, it was made clear that Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden had conferred by phone. The announcement was made that both leaders had ordered the takedown over Yukon.
But just how collective is our activity? In 2010, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper talked about buying sixty-four F-35 fighter jets for $9 billion to replace our four-decade-old CF-18s but then did nothing. When Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump met in 2017 they issued a joint statement saying that Norad “illustrates the strength of our mutual commitment.” The statement also said that the U.S. welcomed Canada’s plan to immediately acquire eighteen new Super Hornet aircraft to supplement the CF-18s. That has not yet happened, either.
In 2022, the Trudeau government promised $40 billion over the next twenty years to upgrade Norad. If the past is prologue, most of that money will never get spent as we continue to rely totally on the United States for our defence. Oh, Canada!