MND returns from Charm Offensive
Less than two months on the job, Defence Minister Bill Blair has returned from a brief transatlantic “charm offensive” as Canada continues its campaign for relevance in NATO despite continuing to fall short of the alliance’s stated targets for members’ military budgets.
Blair began his visit September 17 with a stopover in Prestwick, Scotland, where he and General Wayne Ayre, Chief of the defence Staff met with RCAF personnel operating three Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130 Lockheed Martin Hercules transports tasked with delivering Canadian and allied military aid donated to Ukraine – more than 5,000 tonnes to date.
Then it was off to London for a meeting the next day with Britain's Grant Shapps, who is even newer to the defence role, having been appointed Secretary of State for Defence only 17 days earlier.
According to a DND readout, Blair told Shapps that he looked forward to continuing an “excellent defence relationship” and they discussed their mutual support for Ukraine in its counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion, now in its 19th month.
In addition to briefing Shapps on Canada’s planned defence policy update, Blair highlighted several relatively new examples of close collaboration. They included a $1.168-billion contract with defence contractor Leonardo United Kingdom to upgrade the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 15 Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopters which first entered service in 2001.
There’s also the fact that Canada’s planned fleet of 15 Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) warships is based on BAE Systems’ Type 26 frigate, which was designed for the British and Australian navies and which are expected to improve the Royal Canadian Navy’s international interoperability.
(There apparently was no discussion of the estimated cost of building the CSCs, a replacement for the RCN’s current destroyers and frigates announced in the government’s last policy paper, Strong, Secure, Engaged, in 2017. The latest estimate, expected to increase, is $56 billion, and Irving Shipbuilding has yet to begin construction at its Halifax shipyard.)
Blair and Shapps also noted current joint exercises. More than 140 RCAF personnel have been supporting seven CF-188 Hornets from 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Bagotville, Quebec. They have been deployed to Cobra Warrior 23-2, a biennial multinational exercise scheduled to wind up September 22 at Royal Air Force Station Waddington in Lincolnshire.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Pond, the RAF has been participating off Nova Scotia in Exercise Cutlass Fury, which began September 10 and also ends September 22. Some 1,400 military personnel, eight warships from Canada, France, Germany and the U.S. and sundry aircraft types have been involved.
Waddington was where Blair announced September 18 that Canada had committed $33 million to underwrite Canadian Armed Forces’ training of Ukrainians at Camp Lydd in Kent. Funded through a $500-million assistance package announced by Prime Minister Trudeau in June, it pays for short- and medium-range air defence missiles and associated systems.
Blair highlighted that since February 2022, Canada has committed over $1.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine. It includes armoured combat support vehicles, Leopard 2 tanks, M777 howitzers and associated ammunition as well as small arms, demining equipment, high-resolution cameras and an air defence system. About 170 Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed in Britain through Operation Unifier. have trained 2,600 Ukrainians in collaboration with Britain’s Operation Interflex. Canadian-led courses lasting several weeks cover such items as weapons handling, battlefield first aid, fieldcraft, patrol tactics and the Law of Armed Conflict.
Camp Lydd, where Britain has trained troops for more than 150 years, was an opportunity for Blair to see how the two forces work together. He also held a town hall with Canadians, and observed the Canadian-led training courses mentioned above.
Blair wound up his visit at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, participating in the 15th U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting of officials from dozens of allied and friendly countries where he reaffirmed Canada’s “ironclad” commitment to NATO. Among others, he met U.S. Army General Christopher Cavioli, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and with Latvia’s new Minister of Defence, Andris Sprūds, appointed only a couple of days earlier.
Speaking to his Swedish counterpart, Pål Jonson, he reiterated Canada’s support for Sweden’s membership in NATO. He also spoke with Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark’s Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
“Canada is working with its allies and partners to respond as quickly as possible to Ukraine’s defence needs,” Blair said in a statement from Ramstein. “Russia’s war on Ukraine is also an attack on the international rules that keep all of us safe – and we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”