The Canadian government revealed this morning that Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian bombers approaching Canadian airspace near its Northwest Territories on Tuesday. The Canadian jets returned to base without incident once the Russian planes turned around. The announcement comes on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to northern Canada to observe military exercises over the Arctic.
The Russian TU-95 Bear jet bombers flew within 30 miles (50 km.) of Canadian soil after having first been spotted nearly 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Canada has linked the Russian flights over the arctic and near Canadian airspace to competition between Canada, the United States, Russia, and others to secure arctic resources as polar ice caps melt and reveal new potential sources of oil, natural gas and minerals resources.
A similar incident involving Russian bombers occurred last month off Canada’s east coast and again in February 2009. In both cases, Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that their planes never encroached on Canadian airspace.
Canada’s naval prowess may soon be undermined by its aging oil tanker supply ships, compromising its maritime ability to act independently around the world, a report released yesterday in Ottawa warns. According to the leaked document, the 40-year-old ships could be barred from both European and American ports by 2015 due to their outdated, single-hull design, which violates standards adopted to prevent major oil spills.
Without being able to send out supply ships, Canada will not be able maintain an independent navy, says Ken Bowering, a retired navy commander: “The support ships, the tankers, provide that ability to stay at sea for extended periods with fuel, with spare parts, food, ammunition.”
Canadian naval capabilities have come under growing scrutiny in recent years as the naval forces of Russia and northern European shipping fleets have increased their Arctic presence in anticipation of global warming. In July, prior to the public release of yesterday’s report, the Conservative government in Canada announced in that it will spend $2.6 billion to replace the navy’s two auxiliary oil replenishment vessels.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper conducted a five-day-long tour of his country’s Arctic regions last week in a trip that has provoked a serious debate on the federal government’s future policies toward the far-northern territories. Some critics have called the trip a pre-election publicity stunt designed to drum up support for Mr. Harper’s Conservative party. However, The Economist reports that the Harper government has “allocated more funds to the Arctic territories than the two previous Liberal governments managed during a dozen years in power.”
Efforts to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic have long been a priority for Mr. Harper's government, particularly in light of growing global competition for control of the region. Governments see one of the effects of global warming as allowing for now-hidden natural resources to be accessible in the future.
In addition to visits to public works projects and groups of constituents, Mr. Harper visited Canada’s ground and naval forces and pledged to increase the military’s presence in the region. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia all have considerably more forces stationed in the Arctic than Canada. Those countries, along with the United States, dispute Canada’s sovereign claims to vast stretches of territory in the region.