The United States and Canada are beginning to study potential replacements for a jointly operated network of unmanned air defense radars at the top of North America. However, the re-emergence of great power competition could prompt the close allies to develop new missile warning capabilities.
The North Warning System consists of a series of 11 long-range AN/FPS-117 radars and 36 short-range AN/FPS-124 systems that together stretch nearly 3,000 miles long and over 14 miles wide from Canada's Newfoundland and Labrador province to Alaska. It was put in place and has been operated and maintained by the North American Aerospace Defense Command since the late 1980s, replacing the Distant Early Warning Line that had been built in the 1950s.
When the joint command was first established in 1958, its mission was to protect the continent against Soviet long-range aviation capabilities, said Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. Pierre St-Amand, deputy NORAD commander.
In 1975, the command's mandate expanded to include early warning against ballistic missiles, and later, the first generation of air-launched cruise missiles, "making us adjust our posture to take account of the ranges of these new weapons," he said at a recent event in Washington, D.C.
Now, the challenges NORAD faces have changed once again and the command must remain innovative and vigilant, he added.
"The weaponry that can reach out and touch North America now include cruise missiles with increased ranges that can be air-launched, but also launched from maritime platforms, opening avenues of approach that we're not used to seeing," St-Amand said. "Domains that did not exist in the '50s, such as space and cyber, are causing us to review our posture and plan for the future."
The United States and Canada have begun planning a replacement for the North Warning System, with the goal of awarding a new contract in the mid-2020s. The command is still in the early stage of examining options that could be incorporated into a future air-defense radar system in the Arctic, said a NORAD spokesperson.
Raytheon Canada, based in Ottawa, won a contract to operate and maintain the systems located in Canadian territory in 2014 for $261 million, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, the country's government arm responsible for internal servicing and administration. The initial five-year contract secures services until March 31, 2019, but it could be extended until 2024, according to a...