As tensions rise between NATO and Russia, North America’s air defence is notifying the public about a training operation that will lead to increased military personnel in Whitehorse and Yellowknife.
North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) announced that from March 14 to 17 it would be completing an Arctic air defence operation called Noble Defender. This will involve about 350 military personnel, 250 of which will be Canadians and the remaining 100 who are American.
Maj.-Gen Eric Kenny is the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and commander of the Canadian NORAD region.
“What we’re looking to do is confirm our ability to respond to threat aircraft as well as cruise missile type threats that would come within the Canada NORAD region,” he said.
“So NORAD is very focused, as it should be, on the air defence of North America.”
A press release said the majority of the operation’s flights will be conducted over sparsely populated Arctic areas at high altitudes where the public is not likely to see or hear aircraft.
However, the release said there will be an increase in military presence and flying activity in Whitehorse, Yellowknife and 5 Wing Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Planned before the invasion of Ukraine
Kenny said the operation was planned before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
“We’re monitoring very closely, of course, what’s going on within Europe,” Kenny said.
“So although, you know, there could be linkages made to what’s going on within Europe, it was not planned that way. And I think it showcases the need and the relevance of what we do within NORAD.”
Kenny said the operation is not out of the ordinary, as NORAD regularly runs training missions like this in the Arctic. March was chosen because the weather can be particularly challenging, which serves as a good training opportunity, he said.
“In the past couple of years, we have worked up to make sure that we can operate, somewhat seamlessly, throughout the Arctic region, which is of course so important in today’s context of global security,” Kenny said.
Sending a message
Kenny said the public service announcement, which NORAD issued on Feb. 15, was sent out early “recognizing the context of what’s going on, on the world stage.”
He said it wasn’t designed as a message to Russia, but added NORAD does “recognize that we do have adversaries that threaten global security.”
“There is always an important context to why we have a military,” he said.
Rob Huebert is an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
He said the NORAD operation is nothing new, but the messaging is.
“The fact it’s being publicized, the fact that NORAD is going out of its way to make sure that you have an awareness of it, that that is being shared is obviously part of the signaling that we are giving to the Russians right now to show that we continue to be prepared for any possibilities,” he said.
Huebert said another aspect of this that is unique is that other Arctic operations by allied countries — including the U.S., U.K. and Norway — are happening around the same time.
“The fact that they’re all occurring at the same time probably has a little bit to do with the Ukrainian crisis once again, to send a message to the Russians that this is a capability we have,” he said.
Huebert said he doesn’t believe there is a risk of a Russian land invasion into North America through the Arctic.
He said the risk comes from airspace and underwater capabilities, but the response of showing Russia that North America and Europe can respond to those threats, can deter escalation.
Interviews by Juanita Taylor
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Finland’s NATO membership decision needs more time, says PM, Yle News
Norway: Nordic countries halt all regional cooperation with Russia, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Russia’s Arctic LNG project might come to halt, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Finland and Sweden to “strengthen interaction with NATO”, Radio Sweden