Canada can be a “leader” among the NATO military alliance in providing Ukraine with armoured vehicles as its war with Russia continues, the national defence minister says.
Since the full-scale war began on Feb. 24, Ottawa has committed more than $600 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including equipment like drone cameras, artillery rounds and satellite communications.
With western nations vowing to continuously arm Ukraine as the conflict drags on, Canada can become a major provider of armoured vehicles by turning to its domestic manufacturing sector for assistance, Anita Anand said, pointing to two Canadian firms providing them so far.
“In terms of vehicles, I’ve asked my colleagues across the NATO alliance to think about Canada as a leader in this area because what we are providing to Ukraine are brand-new vehicles fresh off the line to make sure that Ukraine has best-in-class technology,” Anand said in an interview for The New Reality, Global News’ current affairs program.
Over the last several Ramstein-style defence meetings, Anand said Ukraine’s allies have agreed military aid to the country needs to be divided among allies according to their unique capabilities.
Anand told Global News that she has had conversations with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about Canada’s armoured-vehicle manufacturing industry.
“In terms of military aid going forward, we will continue to be that leader. We are recognized as such by Minister Reznikov, by Jens Stoltenberg, and what Ukraine needs now is an all-hands-on-deck moment.”
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However, whether Canada is up to the task of becoming such a leader in providing those armoured vehicles remains a key question, some Canadian defence experts suggest.
“Armoured vehicles, land vehicles are a key focus of the defence industrial base in Canada. So it’s no accident that’s what one of the things we ended up sending to Ukraine, a country that needs virtually everything for its military,” said David Perry, president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Perry described the technology as “one of the few final assembly weapon systems that are actually produced in this country.”
“There’s certainly, I think, opportunity for that segment of the Canadian industry to be more present in Ukraine or across Europe even,” he added. “But there’s a lot of things would have to happen in a very competitive market landscape for that to happen.“
Lt.-Col Mark Popov, a former armour officer who commanded a Canadian combat team in Afghanistan, said Anand had offered “a very ambitious statement,” but one lacking details.
“There’s no timeline or context,” he said.
“Canada simply does not have the ability to manufacture massive amounts of armoured vehicles and become a world leader in this compared to our own NATO allies, and some other non-allied countries out there that manufacture military equipment.”
Canadian armoured vehicles being sent to Ukraine
Earlier this year, Anand made two announcements on armoured vehicles for Ukraine: the first, on April 26, was with Mississauga, Ont.-based manufacturer Roshel to send eight armoured-personnel carriers overseas. The second came on July 7 at General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) in London, Ont., which is supplying a shipment of 39 armoured combat support vehicles for Ukraine.
When Anand met with Stoltenberg and other NATO defence ministers earlier this month, she announced a $47-million, new military aid package that included $15.2 million in equipment from the Canadian Armed Forces’ inventory, including 155-mm NATO-standard artillery rounds.
When the NATO defence ministers meeting wrapped up earlier this month, Stoltenberg said NATO will continue to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” but weapons shortages among many NATO allies have strained already depleted arms stockpiles.
Ottawa has previously dipped into the Canadian Armed Forces inventory to provide military equipment to the Ukrainian military, and has vowed to replenish it; the Liberal government has faced calls to boost defence spending to meet NATO’s target of spending two per cent of GDP on the military.
The Liberal government spent an estimated 1.36 per cent of Canada’s GDP on the military last year, with only four other NATO members having spent less: Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Spain. Canada’s defence spending increased 67 per cent between 2014 and 2021, with about half of that spent on personnel, according to a June 9 parliamentary budget office report.
“Canada has lagged on so many commitments of capability, not just raw spending for the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Popov said.
“It’s not the people: the sailor, soldiers and aviators of the Canadian Forces do an amazing job with what they have, but they have not been properly equipped or supported with the right capabilities that this world requires that we’re seeing are needed in real-time on the news every day coming from Ukraine.”
An added challenge is the upcoming winter season in Ukraine, where the conditions can be very rough, said Richard Shimooka, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
Armoured combat support vehicles are “not going to be as effective” in that weather, which is notorious for its amount of mud, he said.
“We’re not really giving them as much as we could, or we should, so to speak, and it’s far less ideal than what’s required,” Shimooka said.
Popov believes Canada should focus on providing equipment that is “necessary to keep soldiers and sailors and aviators alive” during the cold.
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The gear includes sleeping bags, parkas, windproof/waterproof outer garments and space heaters, he said. In fact, as part of Ottawa’s recent aid announcement, it said it would be shipping winter clothing to Ukrainian troops.
At the end of the day, Popov wants Ottawa to be “realistic in its outlook and for our citizens to be realistic in theirs.”
“Canada leading armoured vehicle purchase provision to Ukraine is ludicrous, quite honestly,” he said.
“We need to get off the fence and be serious about this as Canadians and our government needs to start being realistic, providing not only Ukraine, but also domestically its own armed forces with the capabilities required.”
— with files from Mercedes Stephenson