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Published January 9, 2024

Questions surround Canada's donation of air defence system for Ukraine one year on

Zelenskyy - CP

 By Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa

Ukraine's president says getting air defence systems onto the battlefield is the top priority in the new year, but the system Canada promised a year ago still hasn't been delivered and it is not clear when it will be. 

Ottawa announced plans to donate a $406-million surface-to-air missile defence system, known by the acronym NASAMS, on Jan. 10, 2023. Nearly a year later, one of the two companies involved in building the NASAMS system says it does not have a contract for the Canadian donation.

The plan is for Canada to pay the United States government the total cost, and the U.S. to enter into a foreign military sales agreement with Ukraine directly. 

Such an arrangement allows Canada to avoid applying to the U.S. government for further approval to send the system on to Ukraine, which is needed anytime American military technology is sold outside the country.

Ukraine says the medium-range missile systems are critical to defending its territory from Russian bombardment. They're capable of taking down aircraft, drones and cruise missiles. 

While Canada paid for the NASAMS system last March, it remains unclear exactly when it will get to Ukraine. It's not even clear if the Defence Department itself knows when that will happen. A spokesperson said the department was working with its U.S. partners to determine the timeline.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is ramping up the pressure to make it happen quickly as he speaks with world leaders early in the year. 

In a Jan. 4 post on X, formerly known as Twitter, he said, "Our entire diplomatic team, everyone in charge of communicating with partners, and all Ukrainian representatives around the world are fully committed to ensuring the delivery of additional air defence systems and ammunition."

That followed a post he made after a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on New Year's. 

"I am grateful to Prime Minister Trudeau for his willingness to assist us in protecting the Ukrainian sky, particularly by providing additional NASAMS systems and missiles," Zelenskyy wrote. 

It is not clear whether Zelenskyy was referring to the system Canada agreed to pay for last year, or if the two spoke about a new donation. The Prime Minister's Office refused to answer questions.

The Defence Department did not confirm whether Canada intends to provide more NASAMS systems.

"We remain in close contact with Ukrainian officials about Ukraine’s most pressing defence needs, and Canada will continue to step up and address those needs by providing comprehensive military aid," Defence Department spokesperson Andrée-Anne Poulin wrote in an emailed response to questions.

Poulin said the U.S. government has signed a contract with arms maker Raytheon for the NASAMS system. 

The system is made jointly by U.S.-based Raytheon and the Norwegian-based Kongsberg. A spokesperson for Kongsberg said in an email last week that the company does not have a contract with the U.S. for the Canadian donation. 

"The acquisition authority is still processing the procurement of the Canadian donation," wrote Ivar Simensen. He did not respond to questions about how long the production would take once it was authorized. 

The U.S. Defense Department did sign a US$1.2 billion contract with Raytheon for NASAMS systems intended for Ukraine in November 2022 and a public notice of that contract states the expected completion date is November 2025. 

A Pentagon spokesperson did not answer questions about whether the system falls under that contract or when it will be delivered, instead referring questions to Canadian officials. 

Canada's Defence Department either does not know or will not say when it expects delivery of the system. Raytheon did not respond to questions.

The U.S. State Department approved the possible foreign military sale to the Ukrainian government in late May, when it notified Congress of the procurement, which it estimated would cost US$285 million. 

There have been no public updates about the progress of the donation since then from either government. 

The procurement process, though, can take months or years.

U.S. Congress reviews foreign military sales and its committees can place a hold on the sale during that review period.

While Congress has the power to block an arms sale through legislation, it has never successfully done so. The Congressional Research Service noted that it has at times affected the timing and composition of some sales and may have dissuaded the president from formally proposing others. 

The Biden administration can bypass Congress altogether by making emergency weapons sales, as it has done twice in the last two months to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons and ammunition to Israel. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a similar emergency declaration to provide ammunition to Ukraine in April 2022, but has not done so since. 

The Norwegian government announced last month that it planned to donate another eight NASAMS systems to Ukraine from its own stocks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024

Banner image via The Canadian Press

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