S ource: Canada
The Canadian Forces hope to save $90 million a year by pulling out of NATO programs operating unmanned aerial vehicles as well as airborne early warning planes, according to documents obtained by the Citizen.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay gave U.S. officials a heads-up last year about the withdrawal, pointing out that it will free up 142 Canadians assigned to NATO for new jobs, the documents show.
The shutdown of Canada’s contribution to NATO’s airborne warning aircraft, known as AWACS, will save about $50 million a year, according to the records obtained under the Access to Information law. Another $40 million a year will be saved as a result of Canada’s withdrawal from NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Program, which would see the purchase of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Canada has been involved in NATO’s AWACS program for more than 25 years and the aircraft were seen as key to the alliance’s success during the recent war in Libya.
U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs as they are known in military parlance, were also used to gather intelligence information during the Libyan conflict. NATO wants to ease the strain on the U.S. UAVs by having a pool of Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles at the alliance’s disposal.
Canada’s pull out from the UAV program will be done by the end of April, the Defence Department confirmed in a recent email. The withdrawal from the AWACS program is expected to take much longer.
The Canadian Forces contingent assigned to the AWACS aircraft is the last major Canadian military presence in Europe.
Canada’s bases and installations there were closed decades ago and troops returned home.
Some retired air force officers have written Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office to protest the decision to withdrawal from the AWACS program. During the Libyan war the AWACS directed fighter aircraft, co-ordinating both attacks and air-to-air refuelling operations.
The Canadian Forces newspaper Maple Leaf also highlighted the importance of AWACS in an article last year heralding how a Canadian frigate transmitted information about ground targets in Libya to a Canadian on-board a NATO AWACS. As a result, Canadian CF-18s then attacked the targets.
Others, such as York University strategic studies professor Martin Shadwick, point out that the withdrawal from both programs further distances Canada from NATO.
But a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay says Canada is considered a leader in NATO because of its role in the Libyan mission and in Afghanistan.
“In tough economic times, this government believes making action-oriented decisions in support of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are more essential to NATO member states’ security than any other initiative,” Jay Paxton noted in an email when news leaked out last year about the possible withdrawal from the AWACS program.
In a recent email commenting on Canada’s withdrawal from NATO’s unmanned aerial vehicle program, Paxton stated: “In difficult economic times, this government believes in making tough, action-oriented decisions that are more essential to NATO member-states’ security than any other initiative.”
That decision does not affect the Canadian military’s core capabilities, he added.
Canada temporarily leased unmanned aerial vehicles for the combat mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The military also hopes to purchase such equipment in the future, with such a program expected to start sometime in the summer. The Canadian Forces want to have such UAVs operating by 2017.