Those of us who have kids and grandkids know that this is very difficult to deal with. You have our thoughts and prayers.
Thanks, James, and all the best.
With that, I'm again calling to order meeting number 51 of the Standing Committee on National Defence.
We adopted a motion on February 10 to get a briefing today on high-altitude surveillance balloons from the People's Republic of China. Of course, I anticipate that we'll go into subsequent events as well.
We have with us Lieutenant-General Alain Pelletier. It's good to see you again, sir. You're very familiar with the committee.
We also have Major-General Prévost. Again, I think we're going to start issuing frequent flyer points for your, sir. We appreciate your attendance here this morning.
With that, I'm going to ask Lieutenant-General Alain Pelletier—I'm assuming—for an opening five-minute statement.
Good afternoon, committee members.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
If I may, I would like to take 15 seconds to pass on our best wishes to Mr. Bezan and his family. Having lived similar circumstances, I can only empathize with what you're going through.
My name is Lieutenant-General Alain Pelletier and I'm the deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
As deputy commander of NORAD, I support the commander of NORAD, U.S. General Glen D. VanHerck, in the execution of NORAD missions, responsibilities and functions outlined in the NORAD Agreement and the NORAD Terms of Reference. More specifically, I oversee Aerospace Warning, Aerospace Control and Maritime Warning.
Joining me in today's virtual appearance is Major General Paul Prévost, director of staff — strategic joint staff.
Every day, NORAD monitors the approaches to North America across all domains. Over the past two weeks, we have detected, identified, monitored and engaged a PRC high-altitude surveillance balloon and other objects across North American airspace. These activities are well aligned with our mission of aerospace warning and aerospace control.
This balloon and the three following objects were not operating in accordance with standard aviation requirements. They were not transmitting their positions and were not in communication with air traffic control agencies. Following standard NORAD procedures, fighters and air-to-air refuelling aircraft were scrambled to locate, investigate, identify and characterize these radar contacts.
At the direction of national leadership, four objects have been taken down over U.S. and Canadian airspace within the respective sovereign airspaces and territorial waters in order to protect the population while maximizing the ability to recover the debris. These were the PRC high-altitude surveillance balloon taken down on February 4, an object over Alaska on February 10, a suspected balloon over the Yukon on February 11 and another object over Lake Huron on February 12.
Throughout these recent operations over North America, Canadian and American personnel from the Canadian, Alaskan and continental U.S. NORAD regions successfully detected, tracked, positively identified and monitored the high-altitude surveillance balloon and the subsequent three objects.
For each of these objects NORAD had further discussions with the U.S. and Canadian leadership on the risk the objects posed to national security, to civil aviation, to our civilian populations and to infrastructure on the ground/waters.
Once decisions were taken to take action and employ weapons, we also carried out risk assessments for potential collateral damages to boats and mariners and our infrastructure, as well as to people on the ground.
NORAD personnel planned and executed their mission exactly as we've been doing it over the last 65 years, and we worked collaboratively with inter-agency and intradepartment partners to ensure public safety throughout.
The detection, tracking and monitoring of these objects have highlighted some challenges for NORAD. Some of these objects have been small in size and slow in speed, with low radar cross-sections. This makes them difficult to detect and track on radar, challenging to locate with airborne assets and difficult to categorize. NORAD works every day to improve domain awareness by integrating intelligence and sensor data and reviewing previous data to improve and to help us see more.
While these objects may not have showcased hostile acts or hostile intent, their paths in proximity to aviation routes, populated areas and sensitive defence infrastructure have raised concerns.
There is much we do not know about the high-altitude surveillance balloon and more so about the three subsequent objects—that's why Canada and the United States are hard at work recovering the debris to better understand their nature and purpose.
Through intensive efforts in Canada and the United States, inter-agency teams are putting in intensive work to locate, find and collect debris for further investigation.
NORAD has a history of evolution. As we have seen during recent events, the threat to North America has rapidly evolved from northern approach long-range aviation to a 360° threat and from all domains.
I believe this is the first time in the history of NORAD that Canada or the U.S. has taken kinetic actions against an airborne object in Canadian and American airspace, and it is important that we maintain the necessary capabilities to continue to do so.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to address the committee. I look forward, with General Prévost, to addressing any questions.
I appreciate the kind words, General. It's good to see both General Pelletier and General Prévost back at committee.
First and foremost, I want to thank you, all of the Canadian Armed Forces and everyone at NORAD for their efforts over the past week and a half in dealing with these flying balloons and other objects that have been causing so much uproar within the media and in the general public as well.
We know that the last three balloons that were shot down looked to be more benign in nature, but we won't know that until recovery efforts have taken place.
In your professional opinion, what was the intended purpose of the first surveillance balloon, and will you confirm that it was launched from the People's Republic of China?
First, Mr. Bezan, our thoughts, prayers and courage go to your family, your grandson and you. You've always been a fan of the members of the Canadian Forces, and we'll keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers.
To answer the question, the high-altitude balloon was actually launched from China. It flew over Canada around January 30 and January 31. It came down pretty much from Alaska, down into Yukon and into central B.C., pretty much between the border of Alberta and the coast. There was no Canadian Forces infrastructure of significance along its path.
If you can picture a line straight down the middle of B.C., so far—
This is going to be a difficult operation. For the one over Lake Huron, which is the third of the small objects that were shot down, the U.S. Coast Guard was in charge of that operation, and they've ceased their recovery effort, given the small chance of finding anything there. The other ones in Alaska and Yukon are fairly up north in very difficult terrain, with lots of snow. The one in Yukon specifically landed in mountainous terrain with about a metre to a metre and a half of snow. Picture an object falling from 20,000 feet into that snow.
We're doing everything we can right now. I can tell you that we have about 130 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and right now, I'm answering for the RCMP. Unfortunately, they couldn't meet us today. It's their operation, but we're supporting the RCMP in this one. There are 130 members of the Canadian Armed Forces there, and we have multiple platforms. The first part is to find what we can by aerial search. We had a CP-140 on site, and we now have a Hercules, a Cormorant, a Cyclone and three Griffons. If we ever find something, we also have a task force of about 70 members, mainly from the special forces but also working with the Canadian Rangers, who would be able to find their way to what we call the “find area” to extract it.
It's still an important effort until we find one of those three objects, now two objects, one in Alaska and one in Yukon. Until we find them, we'll never be very sure of what those arrays were.
First, on behalf of all Quebecers, I'd like to say that we support Mr. Bezan and our thoughts are with him. I'm sure everything will go well. We are with you in spirit.
Major General Prévost and Lieutenant-General Pelletier, thank you for being here.
Your reports are always quite interesting. My father had a passion for the military and military operations. In turn, I took an interest in it from a very young age as well. So I feel privileged to be here this morning to talk with you.
Lieutenant-General Pelletier, you stated that this was the first time action was taken under circumstances like these.
Should we see this as a signal? Do we need to be better prepared for this type of operation or situation?
Thank you for the question.
Obviously, as General VanHerck often says, the global security environment is more and more challenging, not only for us, but also for our allies. We have watched the threat evolve. What I've been doing here in my consultations this week with my colleagues in Ottawa, as well as the organization, is assessing what that means. It's kind of like the evolution from the Cold War to 9/11, where we witnessed a paradigm shift in terms of a threat that could come from within.
This time around, we're talking about objects that present challenges to the Department of Defence and NORAD, not only due to the speed at which they travel, but because of the altitude at which some of them have entered our airspace and their small radar reflection area.
These are things we must consider. We're looking at this in terms of the rules governing our operations to determine if we need to change some of those rules to make our operations more agile and flexible.
Of course, one thing we're interested in right now is categorizing the objects, as I said earlier.
We intercepted the objects. We tried to capture some images of these objects, but given their very slow speed compared to the fast speed of the fighters at high altitude, we had very little time to observe them.
In addition, light conditions were not optimal, especially for objects 1 and 2 last week. What we saw in the Yukon appeared to be a balloon, but the other objects appeared to be structures. That's why we want to capture these objects, to use a military term, and analyze them to determine if they are balloons or other kinds of objects, like a drone, and to better understand their origin and what they can do.
As for whether 130 members is enough, my answer is yes, it is for now. As I mentioned earlier, the search effort is currently happening in the air. We have six aircraft on the site with various types of surveillance pods. The goal is to find something in the snow. We're talking about a needle in a snowbank rather than a needle in a haystack. So it will be hard to find.
Every effort is being made, however. We have every piece of equipment at the site to find, from the air first and foremost, something that might remain. It could be the structure of the object or electronic components to determine first what it can do and then its origin. We also have a 70-person team on the ground who will be ready to react once the object has been found and go recover it. The conditions are difficult. It's very cold in the Yukon. The snow cover in the mountains is currently about 150 centimetres. This is also wooded terrain. More snow is expected, which is a concern. The more snow there is, the more the remaining components will get buried.
We're making every effort and proceeding quickly, given the challenge of the snow forecast for early next week.
Thank you to both of the witnesses for being with us today and for your service.
Just for clarity's sake, Lieutenant-General Pelletier, you mentioned that the reason these objects were suspect or potentially an issue was that they weren't communicating in standard formats. They weren't acting regularly. Can you better explain or go into a bit more detail as to what you meant by that?
Also, my curiosity is sort of around.... It seems like all of a sudden we have these four objects. When you say that they weren't using regular techniques or regular communications, nor were they acting regularly, what other types of regular communications and typical objects do we often see? What is more of a typical thing?
Can you explain a bit more about that?
I can definitely amplify here.
As I mentioned, our task is to detect, track, identify and characterize, and from there to assess the threat related to any unknown tracks coming across the NORAD airspace and within the NORAD areas of operation.
As part of that, our folks on the ground are using sensors—mostly radar sensors—to detect anything that may be on the approaches of North America, as well as leveraging sensors for what may be in the airspace.
The reality is that the size of Canada and the U.S. doesn't allow for full coverage of the airspace. We have a huge land mass. In this case, normally we're going to have the ability to detect the standard air traffic, which would normally communicate with the air traffic controls. They would be “squawking”, or transmitting a code that would be picked up by air traffic control to identify the aircraft itself.
In the case of general aviation, that is what we call a “1200 squawk”, which is saying that it's a general small aircraft operating in the vicinity of the location.
I haven't actually gone into the book to look at the specific Transport Canada or U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulation, but I know that balloons or other objects ought to be transmitting a position and an altitude location so that we can actually distinguish between them and potential air traffic and enhance safety as well.
In this case, those objects and the high-altitude surveillance balloon of the PRC were not in communication—were not squawking—and therefore were unknown to us. That's why we first of all took action to identify them. Then, because of the threat they posed to civil aviation, which was a concern to both governments, we actually took them down under the direction of both governments.
Thank you, and good morning to everyone.
Certainly over the last several weeks we have learned and confirmed that there are potential security threats to Canada and we've learned that they are of major interest and concern to Canadians. There is no doubt these events have created a tremendous amount of buzz and many questions.
Thank you for being with us here today to provide some insight.
Allow me to move forward.
Major General Prévost, during the briefing you said, “At this time, we were not asked to use CF-18s on any of those objects just because of where they were and where our resources in Canada were at the time. But there are capabilities on the CF-18 that will be able to take care of some of those objects, depending on where the are and what they are.”
My first question is this: Did the RCAF receive an order from NORAD or the CDS to shoot down any of the objects that violated Canadian airspace?
Maybe I can clarify what I said in the previous session.
On the object that was in Yukon, F-18s had been scrambled from Cold Lake to go and execute the order that both governments had made about this object. This object first transited from Alaska, where the decision had been made to engage that object, and then was transiting from Alaska to Yukon.
At the time, we were in transition between the U.S. fighters and the Canadian fighters that took off from Cold Lake. The F-18s from Cold Lake were minutes from being on site when we were able to take action with the American F-22 fighters, but this was about to be a handover between the U.S. fighters and the Canadian fighters. NORAD, because of the way we work, is very binational in nature. You can see that the deputy commander of NORAD is a Canadian. All assets are always at the disposition of both governments, be it U.S. or Canadian fighters, tankers or surveillance airplanes.
On the one in Yukon, the F-18s had been scrambled. The F-18s had a good chance of taking an engagement there, but we elected to go with the first opportunity, which was the F-22, just as the object crossed the border.
Thank you, gentlemen, for being here today.
I think of the phrase we used to hear all the time: “Inquiring minds want to know.” Since these incidents, so many people are asking questions, and we don't really have answers.
I know that NORAD, CAF, the Canadian government and the U.S. government keep holding briefings, but it just seems that there are so many unanswered questions. I've listened to all the conversations going on here today, and it still seems that there are so many unanswered questions.
My apologies if what I'm asking touches on some of the things that were already asked.
I think General Pelletier talked about the first balloon. We kind of know what they can do and what they can't do, but can you fill us in on what we don't know? What kinds of challenges are facing us in finding out and getting the answers to some of these questions?
I picture an update on finding what's left of that first Chinese surveillance balloon, and I think you might even have touched on an update on the rubble. Maybe you could touch on an update of what's left to accomplish and what questions you folks have and NORAD has that we're still trying to find out about.
Okay. I'll start, and then I'll pass it over to General Prévost.
The first unknown for us during the actual intercept phase of the objects was, again, characterization. Where is the object coming from? For the objects, we could not discern or didn't have a visual on any form of registration on the objects. Normally, even an air balloon or a commercial or civilian aircraft would have a registration to actually demonstrate the country of origin.
Obviously, as I pointed out, the rate of closure of the fighters made identification of those registration marks very difficult. This was combined with low light conditions for two out of the three object intercepts. Also, the capability of the payloads that may have been carried by the objects is an element of high interest, in order to actually assess not only surveillance capability and collection capability but potential threat capability as well.
General Prévost, do you want to add something?
Maybe what I'll add is that there are many unanswered questions, as the member mentioned. The one thing we know is that those four objects were unauthorized and unwanted. That we know. We had to take action on them. It is true that we don't know exactly what the last three objects were, but they were unauthorized and unwanted. We're still searching for those objects on which we have more questions, the ones in Yukon and Alaska. Hopefully, we'll find them so that we can link or corroborate what these were.
With regard to the one that was shot down over the coast of South Carolina, we had a very good idea of what that was, because this had been observed in the Pacific before, but these things evolve. It's scaffolding that China can put a lot of arrays on. Many of those have been recovered, but they're still searching the water. Two naval ships and I think a U.S. Coast Guard ship are still trying to find the rest of it at the bottom of the ocean. They've recovered parts of it already. Some of it we already knew and some of it will be under analysis. We'll let the U.S. disclose what that is when they're ready.
Mr. Chair, I thank the member for the question.
The possibilities are endless. In terms of sensors and effectors, fighter aircraft or tankers and so forth, we have needs everywhere.
We do the work with the tools we've been given, and we send a list of our requirements to the Canadian and U.S. governments every year. As I mentioned earlier, those needs change as the threat changes.
After 9/11, we had to adapt to a new internal threat, that of terrorist groups using commercial aircraft. We're currently transitioning to be able to detect cruise missiles and respond to the threat, as I mentioned earlier.
As part of the modernization of NORAD, the Canadian government is going to give us additional tools that will improve our ability to respond to the mission.
I mentioned the Canadian government, but the U.S. government also announced support in its most recent budget for the purchase of four over-the-horizon radars, similar to the ones Canada will procure after NORAD modernization.
We continue to communicate our needs to both governments to ensure we're able to respond to a current or future threat.
I appreciate the interest in the F-35s. Having worked on the project for a number of years, I can speak a little bit to that. I will see if Major-General Prévost wants to add.
Again, it's the usage of the right tool for the right unknown or object that may be in both our airspaces. At the end of the day, it's not only about the aircraft; it's also about the aircraft, its sensors and its weapon package, so that we're able to actually tackle different threats being presented.
For high altitude, with the sensors on board the F-22, F-35, F-16 or CF-18, we're probably in a position to detect the high-altitude surveillance balloon or the objects that we've seen. The small radar cross-section makes it challenging, but the multitude of sensors onboard the aircraft now allow for cross-queuing on the specific threat or on the specific object that we're trying to intercept.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here to answer some of our questions on something that has been a big question mark for many people. As my colleagues mentioned, I think this is top of mind for Canadians right now.
There are still a lot of questions marks, because we don't necessarily know what we're dealing with or where they're coming from. You mentioned how difficult it has been, and it will be, to recover the wreckage, especially because of the location and the fact that it fell over Yukon and is now buried in snow. It's possible we won't be able to recover some of the parts, if at all.
If that's the case, is there another way of learning about the origin, the capabilities and the purpose of the object? Is there any other way, or do we really need to find this piece in order to answer some of these other questions?
In terms of the capabilities, certainly when this story was first progressing through the media and we were learning about it in semi-real time, probably, there was some commentary that Canada wasn't able to handle something like this on its own. We've even heard a bit of that here today, with questions as to what the CF-18s can do and what they are not capable of doing.
Again, for the benefit of any Canadian who is watching this, the benefit of NORAD and the reason it exists is to have a partnership in order to not have duplication in some respects. Obviously each nation has to be able to defend its own sovereignty, but the whole purpose of NORAD is to be able to offer that North American alliance and that assistance. As was noted, the CF-18s could probably have handled this, but an operational decision to go in a different direction was made.
Could you perhaps elaborate on why that NORAD partnership exists and how Canada does not lack capabilities, and how, in fact, this NORAD partnership is precisely why we are capable of handling any such threat or instance such as these flying objects and these high-altitude balloons?
I couldn't agree more with the member's statement. I've been in the air force, and I've lived through NORAD since pretty much when I started flying the CF-18 during my career. During NORAD's 65 years of activity, it has always been seen as an ecosystem of capabilities, where the strength of both nations is brought together in order to actually achieve mission success.
In this case, I don't see a Canadian capability to conduct aerospace warning, aerospace control; I see a NORAD capability to conduct aerospace warning and aerospace control—and maritime warning, as a matter of fact, as an additional mission that we have in defence of Canada and the U.S. The collaboration that exists in NORAD is what has made us successful.
We're attempting still to this day, with NORAD modernization activities by both countries, to be as complementary as possible so that we don't end up pulling additional resources from each of the respective countries when we can actually be complementary and interoperable.
The people here at NORAD wear either the Canadian or the U.S. uniform. As I always say, I'm agnostic to the flag. I care about the output and achieving mission success for both of our countries.
Thank you for the question.
Obviously, NORAD is always in a state of vigilance. Our motto is “We have the watch”. We're watching 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long.
Intercepting Russian strategic aircraft is a common occurrence at NORAD. We regularly see these incursions into the identification zone, not into the airspace. Obviously, if they were to enter our airspace, that would be different. On average, we do about seven intercepts a year involving these types of aircraft, primarily in the Alaska area, sometimes in the Arctic, and more rarely on the Atlantic coast. Some years we've had as many as 15 intercepts and other years we've had none at all.
We are on high vigilance, especially at this time of crisis in Europe. We see these as routine sorties, training exercises for Russian strategic aviation.
I'll start, and General Prévost may want to add something with regard to our CFINTCOM capability.
I can tell you that we're fortunate that Canada is part of the consortium of Five Eyes countries that contribute to the intelligence community. Here at NORAD I get briefed on a regular basis by the staff within the intelligence directorate on upcoming events, elements to be aware of, capabilities that are forthcoming and the like at the different levels of classification.
In this case, in terms of surveillance, obviously we monitor when there's an element that pops up that could be of concern or pose a threat to North American airspace. At that point I am made aware, just as the commander is made aware.
General Prévost, is there anything from a CFINTCOM perspective?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I will be sharing my time with you, the honourable chair.
Gentleman, thank you, first of all, for being here with us this morning. Thank you for the work you're doing and continue to do.
I'm going to shift gears a little bit, because I think we've exhausted this topic to a certain extent. I really want to focus in on NORAD modernization.
Obviously, we made the announcement in June to commit the better part of $40 billion to NORAD modernization over the next 20 years. I'm wondering, sir, if you could elaborate on what we have done in recent months or years to modernize NORAD and specifically what is coming. What capabilities do we need to invest in?
First of all, I'm going to say that the modernization of NORAD starts not necessarily with capabilities but rather with the personnel. They are the ones here at NORAD across all three regions, whether Canadian or American, who really make NORAD relevant to our competitors and adversaries, because they're the ones who always go above and beyond their own skill sets in order to do the mission that I talked about earlier.
I truly appreciate the Canadian government's announcement as it relates to NORAD modernization to get after the number one priority of General VanHerck, which is domain awareness. What do we mean by domain awareness? It's having a better understanding of what is in the Canadian-U.S. airspace or on the approaches to that Canadian-U.S. airspace, as well as within the maritime domain from where threats may originate, given the ability of submarines and surface vessels to launch cruise missiles as well. NORAD modernization is going to do just that.
We believe that the arrival of over-the-horizon radar will give us the ability to not only better sense inside the domestic airspace but also on the approaches, and not only on the polar or Arctic avenue of approach but in a 360-degree range. NORAD modernization, combined with the announcement that the U.S. will acquire four over-the-horizon radars, will give us close to a 360-degree picture in order to better characterize elements that may be on the approaches, including over the Arctic Ocean. It will give us not only that radius or azimuth but also range. That's one of the elements.
The other piece is getting after modernizing our command and control system, which the Americans are doing across all of their services, and moving forward with new modernized command and control that will enable NORAD not only to sense what's approaching but also to make sense of the data that we've captured so that we're able to better make decisions as military and give our decision-makers in both governments the required time to make those decisions.
In the few seconds that my colleague has provided, as I sit here and listen, I wonder whether we've looked at this from the wrong end. This seems to me to be a treasure trove of intelligence for the Communist Chinese government. They've watched NORAD scramble. They know where you scrambled from, what assets you put in play, the time at which it became public, etc. Although I doubt you can share this, I rather hope that there will be some reflections on the extent of your domain awareness and whether you have to tweak the current radar systems, as well as some reflection that this may influence how you look at domain awareness in the future.
I appreciate that I'm asking a question that probably can't be answered in a public sphere, but it strikes me that the Chinese got a really good look at North American defences, and they got it really cheap. For the price of a balloon in the airspace, they watched how we scramble.
I'll leave it at that, because I'm already over time, and if I'm going to discipline colleagues, I have to discipline myself.
Colleagues, I think that we could go for one more six-minute round and then we'll call it a day. Is that acceptable?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: With that, I'll call on Mr. Bezan for six minutes.
Let's switch gears and follow up on Mr. May's question about NORAD modernization.
We've technically always been worried about Russian air incursions, but now, with the People's Liberation Army in China becoming more aggressive, and now a new platform that we have to deal with, how are we going to deal with changing our focus on the multiple levels of potential aerial threats and maritime threats that North America is facing?
When we talk about continental security and NORAD modernization, how are we going to change installing our over-the-horizon radar systems, updating our North Warning System, dealing with our RADARSAT and installing more low-earth orbit satellites to ensure we can detect all of these threats, whether it's high-altitude balloons that have potential to carry weapons, or fighter aircraft or bombs or hypersonic missiles that we're starting to witness being used more?
No, I'll take it, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Okay, Mr. May.
Mr. Bryan May: I'll try to leave you a little more time in which to elaborate on your earlier question, Mr. Chair.
I was just saying to Mr. Sousa that Mr. Bezan stole my question, so this is perfect. My question was going to be that given the NORAD modernization strategy and the events of the last couple of weeks, what has changed, if anything, in that assessment of what we need? Obviously, if you want to answer Mr. Bezan's direct question as well....
Okay. Thanks for the question. Actually, I'll roll all the questions from the chairman and the two members into an answer, hopefully.
First of all, General VanHerck expressed that Russia and China have been monitoring our activities for the last 20 years while Canada and the U.S. have been focused abroad on counter-VEO, on countering violent extremist organizations. They've developed capabilities that challenge NORAD right now. We haven't talked about hypersonic vehicles and the advancement in cruise missiles, let alone...and that's only of the threat; it's also the same thing with the delivery vehicles.
NORAD is monitoring closely, with the intelligence community, the evolution of capabilities so that we're positioned to actually face that threat. NORAD has done the pivot to focus on not only the north-south and over-the-Arctic Russian potential threats; we're also including Russia in our cross-checking and in our planning as well, so that our plans are relevant to the threats of today and tomorrow. General VanHerck has mentioned that Russia is the threat we face right now, and China is only five to seven years behind with capabilities that will threaten North America in the near future.
That pivot has happened in our planning. We're looking at not only our pure capabilities—that is, fighters, missiles, tankers, and airborne early warning capability—but also sensors and basing as well so that we're postured in the future to be able to actually counter the threat, whether it comes from Russia or from China, through a lens of not only north or west but rather through a lens of 360° and across all domains.
Even though our mission is focused on airspace warning, airspace control and maritime warning, we're dependent on all domain information sources to better understand and characterize our potential adversaries' activities.
Gentlemen, I assume you may both be from Quebec based on your family names, your first names and the quality of your French. We are very proud to have you with us and to know that you are perhaps from Quebec.
With that in mind, for the Quebecers watching us, you mentioned earlier that you quite regularly—seven, 10 or even 15 times a year—observe and intercept foreign aircraft in neighbouring airspace, mostly along the West Coast.
What about the East Coast? Have you made the same type of intercepts in Quebec or along the East Coast of North America, for example?
My next question is for Major General Prévost or Lieutenant-General Pelletier.
As elected officials, we sometimes get the opportunity to ask the government about its intentions, plans or how much it wants to invest in the future to secure our territory.
After this two-hour meeting, what would you recommend to the members here in the room?
What could we do to support you, to carry your message further?
Do you have any specific requests or pressing needs that are more urgent, which we could rally around and make sure your message is heard?
I know you're able to get your message out very directly, but we too have a job to do as parliamentarians.
I'd like to thank the member for the question.
We had the privilege of welcoming the senators here to NORAD Headquarters last week. First, I'm going to tell you the same thing I told them. I'm grateful for the committee members' interest in national defence and defence in general.
What's important to us is that the Canadian public and committee members understand our mission and our desire to be transparent. Canadians need to understand that the threat continues to evolve. We're in a very complex operating environment around the world, and we owe it to ourselves to continue to monitor that environment in terms of the threat that it may pose not only to Canada directly, but to the democratic system we live in and value.
To do that, we need to continue to assess the needs of the Canadian Armed Forces and NORAD so that they can fulfill their mission, which is precisely what the Canadian government did in the NORAD announcement. That information is intended to ensure that people understand the mission and the limitations, but also the improvements for which we are advocating so that the Canadians and Americans involved in the mission can continue to meet the Canadian people's expectations.
A lot of my questions were actually brought up by the chair and my other colleagues, in fact, about testing by the Chinese government about how they're watching our speed of reaction, the processes we use and how we communicate.
If this is the thought process that we have to be aware of and careful of, how do we ensure that we continually remain transparent to the Canadian public? I know there's a lot of information going back and forth. There was a lot of confusion. It's led to the confusion here in our many questions. How do we ensure that transparency and clarity are maintained?
I'd also like to throw this in there. In terms of our reaction, the Chinese government has responded by saying these are not hostile balloons. What does our seemingly somewhat hostile reaction do to the overall level between both of our...well, the NORAD group, but the Chinese government? Is it seen as as hostile reaction?
How do we factor NORAD and the decisions that are made into the risk assessments that you talked about earlier?
You referenced that tolerance test for what we're willing to see or how we're willing to deal with these unknown objects.
In the press conference yesterday, I believe President Biden said that they are reviewing these processes. General Pelletier, you mentioned consistently reviewing the processes for how we deal with them going forward from the very first incident.
Biden suggested that potentially there are other avenues we could take. Could you explain a bit more? Is our only opportunity for stopping these unknown objects to shoot them down because of the threat and that level of risk? Are there alternatives?
I consider that in terms of the fact that when NORAD, or our allies, did shoot down the unknown object over Lake Huron, the first missile missed.
What are the other opportunities that we have to stop them?
Thank you, Ms. Mathyssen.
On behalf of the committee, I want to thank you, General Pelletier and General Prévost, for your appearance before this committee and for the thoroughness of your answers within the limitations under which you operate. I particularly appreciate your putting facts into the public realm so that discourse in the public realm is informed by fact, as opposed to fantasy and conspiracy theories, etc. These two hours alone have been useful for informing public dialogue, and we appreciate it.
I anticipate that we will likely see you again before the committee, but, again, we can't thank you enough for your appearance here.
Colleagues, before we adjourn, we need to do a little bit of housekeeping. We need to pass the budget for the conspiracy theory—
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair:No, I mean the study on cyber. I get all my news from a certain television station.
You've all received this electronically.
It's about $9,000. Is that correct?
For that study, I need a motion.
Thank you, Mr. May. I need a seconder.
Thank you, Mr. Kelly.
Is there any debate?
I see none, so the motion passes.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Colleagues, have a good two weeks. The meeting is adjourned.