Arctic Sovereignty, Russian Jets, and the PM’s Northern Tour

By Matthew Little
Matthew Little
Matthew Little
Matthew Little is a multi-media reporter for The Epoch Times.
August 26, 2010 Updated: August 26, 2010
Prime Minister Stephen Harper watches as a pair of CF-18 Hornets and a CC-150 Polaris fly past during Operation NANOOK 10. Operation Nanook is an annual joint exercise between the Canadian Maritime Command and Coast Guard in the Arctic. (Courtesy of the PMO)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper watches as a pair of CF-18 Hornets and a CC-150 Polaris fly past during Operation NANOOK 10. Operation Nanook is an annual joint exercise between the Canadian Maritime Command and Coast Guard in the Arctic. (Courtesy of the PMO)

Russian fighter jets caused a stir near Canadian air space as Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued on his annual tour of the North, which includes various photo ops and announcements, such as funding for critical space surveillance satellites.

On Tuesday, two CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft were launched to meet and shadow two Russian bombers, both TU-95 Bears, approximately 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

The Russians reached 30 nautical miles from Canadian soil. The CF-18s launched from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, and followed the bombers until they turned around and flew back to Russia.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) suggested the fighter jets kept the Russian bombers from entering Canadian airspace. NORAD has said such manoeuvres are routine and was conducting its own test exercises the same day over Central California, a possible trigger for the Russian manoeuvres.

The PMO has used the incident as an example of why it has moved forward with a single-source contract for 65 F-35 fighter jets worth billions—$9 billion to purchase and as much to maintain.

“The Harper Government has ensured our Forces have the tools, the readiness and the personnel to continue to meet any challenges to Canadian sovereignty with a robust response,” said a statement from the PMO.

“This is true today, it will be true tomorrow and it will be true well into the future.”

The statement describes the CF-18 as an “incredible aircraft” that will be replaced by the “highly capable and technologically-advanced” F-35 fifth-generation fighter jet, a plan that has attracted criticism from the opposition parties that wanted the purchase subject to a competitive bidding process.

The Standing Committee on National Defence met on Wednesday to discuss the opposition’s request to undertake a study of the purchase.

Canada is one among nine nations participating in the program, and by doing so the government says Canadian companies will be able to bid on parts of the project.

“It is the best plane our government could provide our Forces, and when you are a pilot staring down Russian long range bombers, that’s an important fact to remember,” read the statement.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris says the government’s attempt to use the incident to support their purchase of the F-35s is fear-mongering and could spark an arms race. Ottawa says the purchase is necessary if it is going to keep up its military alliance commitments with NORAD and NATO.

Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert, vice-chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence, has said that if the government really wants to protect its claim to the North, it needs to follow through on the recommendations of the committee’s June report on Arctic sovereignty.

Matthew Little is a multi-media reporter for The Epoch Times.