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Norad needs an upgrade: U.S. analysts

The Canadian Press

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Norad commander U.S. Gen. Glen VanHerck confirmed late on Feb. 12 that part of the escalation for all of the sudden sightings is that Norad has recalibrated to better detect smaller, slower-moving objects.

Canada and the United States are eyeing the sky with suspicion these days — as well as the shared continental defence system that’s supposed to be watching it for them.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, appeared to lose track of the mysterious object that was eventually shot down Sunday over Lake Huron.

Jamil Jaffer, executive director of the National Security Institute at George Mason University in Virginia, says that’s just one example of why Norad needs an overhaul.

Jaffer says it’s unclear if the challenges posed by the recent flurry of overhead encounters represent a lack of capability, a lack of attention or a combination of both.


Three separate objects were blown out of the sky in as many days after what U.S. officials say was a Chinese surveillance balloon floated across the continent two weeks ago.

U.S. and Canadian recovery teams are battling difficult conditions to retrieve the debris from three locations: the frozen Arctic Ocean, a remote stretch of Yukon and the depths of the Great Lakes.

Military officials believe that the object downed over Lake Huron was first detected Saturday above southern Alberta before radar operators lost contact somewhere over Montana.

“That alone, I think, bespeaks something of a collection, ingestion or analytic gap — or all three,” Jaffer said in an interview.

“As a result, Norad modernization has to be in play, as do the overall collection and identification capabilities of the collective U.S. and Canadian defences.”

Canada and the U.S. have been talking publicly about — and working privately on — upgrading Norad, which military commanders and lawmakers on both sides of the border have long acknowledged is a badly outdated system.

It was top of mind on Feb. 10 in D.C., when Defence Minister Anita Anand and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in person at the Pentagon — the same day U.S. fighter jets engaged a flying object off the north Alaska coast.

But neither Austin nor Anand have said much publicly about how those efforts are going, when they might be complete or whether a more modern Norad would be better equipped to detect unmanned, slow-moving, high-altitude interlopers.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel was dispatched on Feb. 13 to assist in the Lake Huron search, along with a drone team and RCMP investigators. Canadian Armed Forces personnel are also engaged in the search in Yukon, where weather conditions and difficult terrain are posing challenges.

The Royal Canadian Air Force has deployed a CC-130H Hercules, two CC-138 Twin Otters, a CH-148 Cyclone, and a CH-149 Cormorant aircraft to support efforts to recover the debris over what officials described as a 3,000-square-kilometre area.

“It is unfortunately very rugged and mountainous terrain,” said Sean McGillis, executive director of federal policing strategic management at the RCMP, which is leading the two searches.

“The weather conditions are not great. There’s a very high level of snowpack in the region. So, our efforts are going to be difficult, they will be challenging, they will take us some time.”

Norad commander U.S. Gen. Glen VanHerck confirmed late on Feb. 12 that part of the escalation for all of the sudden sightings is that Norad — a system originally designed to spot foreign aircraft and missiles — has recalibrated to better detect smaller, slower-moving objects.


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