Politics

Canada to acquire Swedish-made anti-aircraft system to protect troops in Latvia

Canadian troops in Latvia will soon be protected by a $227 million Swedish-designed short-range anti-aircraft system, Defence Minister Bill Blair announced Thursday in Brussels as NATO allies met to assess both the war in Ukraine and perceived threatening moves by Russia.

New portable anti-aircraft system and counter-drone equipment to arrive later this year

Unidentified soldiers carrying out a test of a Swedish designed RBS 70 NG portable air defence system in this undated handout. Canada will acquire a number of the systems to deploy with troops serving in Latvia.
Unidentified soldiers carrying out a teat of a Swedish designed RBS 70 NG portable air defence system in this undated handout. Canada will acquire a number of the systems to deploy with troops serving in Latvia. (Saab India/Handout)

Canadian troops in Latvia will soon be protected by a $227 million Swedish-designed short-range anti-aircraft system, Defence Minister Bill Blair announced Thursday in Brussels as NATO allies met to assess both the war in Ukraine and perceived threatening moves by Russia.

The Canadian Army has been without a dedicated air defence to protect ground troops from attack helicopters and fast-moving jets for more than a dozen years.

The Liberal government last year ordered a new system be purchased on an urgent operational basis, an avenue to fast-track large equipment purchases.

Ahead of a meeting with his NATO counterparts, Blair announced the deal to buy the RBS 70 NG short-range Air Defence System from Saab Canada.

The portable system will begin arriving later this year, he said.

$46 million for anti-drone system

Separately, the defence department is still working to acquire a broader, more sophisticated air defence system that will tackle incoming air to surface missiles and rocket-based artillery.

Also on Thursday, Blair announced that the Canadian government will spend $46 million on the first phase of a ground-based system intended to counter the threat of small drones, which have become a sophisticated and deadly feature of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The anti-drone contracts will be shared among TRD Systems of Singapore, which builds the ORION-H9 dismounted drone gun; CACI Inc., from Reston, Va., which produces omni-directional scanners; and Leonardo UK Ltd., which builds fixed-site systems.

All of the equipment will be deployed with the Canadian-led NATO brigade in Latvia and the purchases — when they arrive — will complete the Liberal government's pledge to close major equipment gaps for troops in the field, whose mission is to deter potential Russian aggression in the Baltic states.

A photo from the Canadian Armed Forces shows soldiers at Camp Adazi in Latvia on July 26, 2022. Canadian soldiers are in Latvia as part of Canada's military contribution to NATO's deterrence mission, known as Operation Reassurance.
A photo from the Canadian Armed Forces shows soldiers at Camp Adazi in Latvia on July 26, 2022. Canadian soldiers are in Latvia as part of Canada's military contribution to NATO's deterrence mission, known as Operation Reassurance. (Submitted by Canadian Armed Forces)

In December, Blair announced Canada would spend $32 million with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to acquire a modern anti-tank system, which is also expected to arrive in Latvia midway through this year.

The short-range, laser-guided RBS 70 and the counter-drone system will protect not only Canadian troops, but others participating in the multinational brigade, the minister said. 

"By investing in air defence and anti- drone capabilities for Canadian troops, we are also bolstering the defensive capabilities of the NATO battle group in Latvia as a whole," Blair said.

The equipment holes that are now being plugged are long-standing.

More than a decade ago, as Canada's war in Afghanistan came to conclusion, the army drew up a plan to reconstitute and replace worn-out equipment. The list included modern air defences for ground troops and better anti-tank weapons. 

The plan withered and died over several years — a victim of deficit reductions schemes, changing defence fashions, inter-service and inter-departmental bureaucratic warfare and political indifference.

The Defence Department has been scrambling for more than a year and a half to buy the equipment while Canadian troops in Latvia have been staring across the border at a wounded Russian army that has learned many bloody lessons fighting the Ukrainians.

The gaps in Canadian capability have been — to this point — covered by allies serving with the multinational battle group.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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