Conservatives call on Canada to donate rockets to Ukraine — but not all are battle-ready

The federal Conservatives are demanding that the Liberal government donate to Ukraine tens of thousands of surplus air-to-ground rockets that are slated for disposal. But the weapons may not be ready for the field.

A defence official says Canada doesn't have warheads for all the weapons

A Ukrainian serviceman prepares a Partyzan small multiple rocket launch system for firing toward Russian troops near a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine November 7, 2023.
A Ukrainian serviceman prepares a small multiple rocket launch system for firing on November 7, 2023. Canada is looking at donating surplus air-to-ground rockets to Ukraine. (Reuters)

The federal Conservatives are demanding that the Liberal government donate to Ukraine tens of thousands of surplus air-to-ground rockets that are slated for disposal.

Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre issued the call Friday during the House of Commons debate on legislation to update the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement.

The Canadian Armed Forces has a stockpile of 83,303 CRV7 rockets, a 1980s-vintage weapon that was taken out of service in the early 2000s.

Three years ago, the federal government signed a contract to dispose of the rockets over several years.

Poilievre said he understands Ukraine has asked Canada to donate the CRV7s instead of destroying them.

"It's time for less talk and more action," Poilievre said in a media statement.

"Instead of making Canadians pay millions of dollars to decommission these weapons," he said, the weapons should be given "to Ukraine who can use them in the defence of sovereignty."

A man rises in the House and is buttoning up his blazer over his paunch.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has called on the federal government to donate surplus rockets in storage to Ukraine. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Department of National Defence (DND) acknowledged Friday that it still has the rockets and they're being considered as part of a possible future military donation package.

The problem — according to a defence official who spoke on background — is that while Canada still has tens of thousands of the rockets and their motors, not all of them have warheads.

A spokesperson for Defence Minister Bill Blair confirmed the government is considering donating the rockets.

"Before sending equipment to Ukraine, we coordinate closely with Ukraine to ensure that any donation would meet its military needs, and we examine the operational effectiveness of the equipment," said Daniel Minden in a media statement.

"We are following this same process for the CAF's stock of CRV7 rockets, purchased decades ago. In particular, we are pursuing testing to ensure that this equipment is operationally effective and safe to transport to Ukraine before any potential donation."

The lack of warheads is a problem.

Cold War weaponry

Supporters of Ukraine have been campaigning online for the donation of the CRV7s and 12 retired army Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) defence systems.

Those supporters have been told that as many as 8,000 of the rockets still have warheads in good condition and could be donated immediately, while the rest could be used for spare parts.

Designed during the Cold War and produced by Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg, Man., the CRV7 was considered one of the most powerful air-to-ground attack rockets of its time and was still in service with allied nations during the Afghan war.

They can be fired from both fixed-wing warplanes and attack helicopters and come with different kinds of warhead — one of which, the 7.3 kilogram type, is capable of piercing armoured or heavily reinforced targets.

Minden said the rocket donation proposal was an attempt to distract from the fact the Conservatives voted against the updated free trade legislation last year.

The Conservatives objected to a "carbon tax" provision in the text, even though there's no obligation on the part of the Ukrainian government to impose such a levy.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.