A Joint Media Availability with Peter MacKay, General Walt Natynczyk and General Gene Renuart to Discuss Canada and U.S. Military Relations

Date-Time/Date-Heure: 27 2009 0830

A Joint Media Availability with Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, Chief of the Defence Staff General Walt Natynczyk and Commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM General Gene Renuart to Discuss Canada and U.S. Military Relations.

Moderator: Hi, folks. Thanks very much for joining us here today. My name is Jay Paxton, the Press Secretary for the Minister of National Defence. We're joined here today by the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, General Renuart, U.S. Northern Command and Commander of NORAD and of course General Natyncyzk, Chief of the Defence Staff. Each person will be giving an opening address very, very quickly. We'll have time for about three or four questions, one of those questions in French. Unfortunately, we don't have time for follow-up questions. With that, I'll open up the floor to Minister MacKay.

Hon. Peter MacKay: Well, thank you very much. Merci beaucoup. As has been mentioned, I'm joined here this morning by General Walt Natynczyk, the Chief of the Defence Staff for Canada and also our guest General Gene Renuart who is the Commander of NORAD and NORTHCOM. We've had a very good discussion this morning. Coming on the heels of President Obama's visit, this was an ideal time to discuss the tremendous, strong working relationship that we have between our military and a common cause and purpose when it comes to the defence of the continent of North America.

NORAD is perhaps both symbolically and pragmatically the most important reflection of that close working relationship. We have Canadians serving in Colorado Springs as part of the Colorado Springs NORAD relationship. We obviously have a tremendous working relationship across the various branches of the Canadian Forces and with the 60th anniversary of NORAD and the expansion of NORAD to now include the Maritime surveillance aspect, this is again in keeping with the renewal and the constant modernization that occurs in this important working relationship and of course there are technical advances that are occurring quite regularly, whether it be the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, whether it be the upgrades that are occurring in various aspects of military technology and this is again symbolic of how this relationship will evolve.

When the President was here, clearly one of the signals that was sent is that the ongoing security relationship is one that will be a focal point for both countries. And so the visit of General Renuart is very timely. We're extremely appreciative of his time here in Canada and the opportunity to have these very important discussions among which of course is the cooperation that will occur in Vancouver in 2010 around the Olympics and because of the size and scope of the venue, the proximity to the United States, there is an obvious discussion around joint security and there has been an exercise recently that was completed that very much involved the participation of the United States and, again, this is clearly symbolic of the cooperation and the level of professionalism that we enjoy at all levels of the Canadian and American forces.

Je suis très heureux de bienvenue général Renuart qui est ici pour discussions dans le sujet de notre militaire et la coopération avec NORAD et les autres enjeux pour augmenter les relations et augmenter le niveau de coopération ici au Amérique du Nord. La sécurité maritime maintenant c'est une pièce très importante pour nous et pour protéger notre citoyen ici en Amérique du Nord. Donc je répète nous sommes très, très heureux d'avoir l'occasion pour une discussion aujourd'hui pour la continuation, une augmentation de relations de militaires au Canada et les États-Unis.

So thank you very much. I think perhaps I'll give General Renuart the opportunity to come to the mic and say a few words. General.

Gen. Gene Renuart: Minister, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Well, Mr. Minister, General Natynczyk it's great to be in many ways home in Canada. It's good to be with my two bosses and to have a chance to have some good discussions following the visit of President Obama and I know, Minister, you'll be in Washington next week to meet with my other boss. I have two bosses at the same time; it's hard some days. But both of you are so supportive and I look forward to the results of your meetings there as well. Great to be here to have some discussions about how NORAD continues to evolve and to be more relevant each day.

This binational relationship has flourished for many, many years and maybe is today more relevant than ever in the past. The minister mentioned preparations for Vancouver. For sure NORAD wants to be supportive of the Olympic Committee and the RCMP and others who are ensuring that it is a successful Olympics and we will continue to work. The exercise was very successful. A chance to talk with General Natynczyk about the future of Canadian Forces not just as they conduct missions around the world and have been great supporters, by the way in our joint fight against illicit trafficking in our hemisphere but also how we continue to develop our technologies in increasingly interoperable ways in the future as we conduct NORAD missions that may evolve. So great to be here and I really appreciate the chance to spend a few minutes with you today. General Natynczyk.

Gen. Walter Natynczyk: C'est un grand plaisir d'avoir général Renuart avec nous autres. Il a un lien canadien avec la famille vraiment de Manitoba et hier soir nous étions sur le Canal Rideau patiner un peu.
I tell you, the general is binational and he actually has some roots back from Manitoba. Great to have him here and we speak actually almost on a monthly basis. We were at the Iceland conference in January, NATO Conference on the Arctic and indeed learning about the issues in terms of security and sovereignty of the Arctic. It's great to have him here just a couple weeks after Exercise Silver that was run in Vancouver led by the RCMP, as the minister indicated. And we're going through lessons learned together.

And so, again, it's security today but it's also looking at what we're doing in terms of Canada Defence, Canada First Defence Strategy into the future, as the general indicated, to look at ways and means to ensure that what we're doing in terms of modernizing the Canadian Forces is relevant through our -- for our continental security.

Thank you very much.

Moderator: Thanks very much to you all. We'll begin with Bob Fife from CTV News.

(Questions off microphone.)
Question: Minister, I understand that 24 hours before the President arrived here, a Russian Bear (inaudible) Canadian airspace. (Inaudible) scrambled some F-18s. Can you confirm that and give us some background? And I also wonder if General Renuart can give us his sense of whether this is (inaudible) provocation or how serious the problem is with the Russians (inaudible).

Hon. Peter MacKay: Well, there's no question that we have seen increased activity and this has been going on for a relatively short time. It began just a few years ago and then President Putin had made some very public statements I think that indicated Russia was going to take a more active role in asserting itself and that apparently includes coming close to and up to Canadian air space. I want to be very clear on this: at no time did Russian planes enter Canadian air space. But within 24 hours of the President's visit here to Canada last week, we did scramble two F-18 fighter planes from NORAD and Canada Command. They met a Russian aircraft that was approaching Canadian airspace and, as they have done on previous occasions, they sent very clear signals that are understood that aircraft was to turn around, turn tail and head back to its own airspace, which it did. This is not, as I said -- it wouldn't be unusual because we have seen previous activities in the North but they have increased.

And for that reason it puts the emphasis back on the importance of NORAD, the importance of our being diligent in defending our airspace, exercising that sovereignty and the most obvious way to do that is by using the equipment at our availability, using the existing systems that are there are NORAD for this very purpose and it's an example of the utility and the timeliness of having this discussion about NORAD, how to modernize it, how to breathe even further interoperability into the organization and, again, for that I'm very grateful for the presence of General Renuart here today to have discussions along those lines.
Question: General Renuart (inaudible).

Moderator: We can take another one.

Gen. Gene Renuart: Just very quickly, the minister hits it exactly right. We have seen increased activity on the part of the Russians. They have been professional in the way they have conducted their aircraft operations but I think it's prudent for both countries to continue to maintain that solid, integrated air defence posture that we have to ensure that any aircraft that approaches our airspace that is not on a flight plan, that is unidentified, whose intentions we're not sure of is identified and allow us to gage whether there is a real threat or not and we continue to do that on a routine basis. You may know a little while ago Canadian fighters actually helped the United States when our F-18s were grounded for a period of time because of an aircraft accident. So we work this relationship transparently back and forth to ensure that the airspace around both of our countries is maintained sovereign as it should be.

Moderator: Allan Woods, Toronto Star.

Question: (Inaudible)

Hon. Peter MacKay: Well, it's close to that. I'm going to let a pilot answer that question but, Allan, the reality is we don't receive any kind of notice. There is no heads-up given by the Russians when they're going to undertake this type of activity. They simply show up on a radar screen and this is -- we're thankful for the technology that we have, the capability that exists at NORAD and at Canada Com to allow us to prepare for this. We scramble planes. We have extremely able Canadian Air Force and U.S. Air Force pilots who perform these tasks. In fact, I can tell you that one of the very first pilots that we had come into contact with a Russian aircraft in recent years, and it has been on an upward scale, but a Canadian Air Force pilot Riel Erickson, who is a female CF-18 fighter pilot, came in contact with a Russian Bear, indicated clearly that this was not a welcome encroachment and that aircraft, that Russian Bear aircraft was escorted back in the direction towards Russia.

Question: So it's a game.

Hon. Peter MacKay: It's not a game. It's not a game at all. These aircraft coming into Canadian -- approaching Canadian or U.S. airspace are viewed very seriously. We have asked on a number of occasions and I've personally asked both the Russian Ambassador and my counterpart that we are given a heads-up when this type of air traffic is to occur. And to date we have not received that kind of notice that would be preferable. But there are other -- obviously other activities that we're vigilant in keeping an eye open on and that now includes a maritime approaches.

One of the issues that we have not touched on here is the -- and I'm sure that both generals may want to say a word about the response time in times of natural disaster. When we've had ice storms in Canada, when we have seen tremendous violent storms in the Caribbean and throughout the Americas including those that touched the United States, Canadian Forces and U.S. Forces have deployed and we have a formal relationship now that allows for a quick response time to help people in need. But to your question of the actual escort of airspace, I'll perhaps turn that over to a pilot.

Gen. Gene Renuart: But me on the spot, Minister. Actually, there are -- there are internationally-recognized visual signals. They're published in the international flight guidelines that we use as the principal means of communicating since we are not on the same radio frequencies. We do broadcast on a common frequency that you're approaching Canadian or U.S. airspace and you must turn to avoid entering that airspace but there are also visual signals from as simple as wagging wings to making turns to kind of lead that aircraft off in another direction that while we do not speak the common language they are trained in those common signals just as we are and to date those have been effective in deviating or deterring those aircraft from entering into either Canadian or U.S. airspace.

Minister, I'll just follow up just very quickly on your comment and I apologize for not making the comment in my opening remarks but it should not be -- it was not lost on the citizens of our country and should not be lost on the citizens of Canada that the last medical patients that we evacuated out of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Gustav making landfall left on a Canadian C-17 and we have a wonderful picture that was taken of an elderly woman in very poor health giving a big hug to a Canadian aeromedical evacuation technician on your C-17 as she was being evacuated out of harm's way. And that is a great depiction of the partnership that we have -- that we have built not just in the NORAD world but in the area of assistance during disasters and we were really proud to have that support.

Gen. Walter Natynczyk: Can I just say that that is part again of the civilian assistance plan that Canada Command on my behalf working with NORAD, NORTHCOM has put together that plan. And I am reminded that when we had the ice storm in this area that it was U.S. aircraft that flew up to Edmonton, C-17s, picked up the brigade of soldiers, flew them down to Montreal to assist in that area. So this really does go both ways.

Moderator: Raymond Filion, TVA.

Question: (Inaudible) c'est quoi exactement? Est-ce que c'est de la provocation ou bien est-ce que les Canadiens devraient s'inquiéter (inaudible).
L'hon. Peter MacKay: C'est une bonne question. C'est difficile de dire. Je crois que c'est un autre signal à la Russe à la retourne la capabilité militaire peut-être. C'est -- je crois que c'est un exemple des efforts des Russes d'avoir une démonstration de capacité militaire peut-être mais plus sérieux c'est la question de souveraineté dans l'Arctique au Canada. Donc c'est nécessaire pour nous d'avoir la viligeance (ph) et les efforts d'avoir une présence vraie dans l'Arctique dans tout l'espace, l'air spatial, de terrain, sur la marine, d'avoir une présence très vraie et à le même temps d'avoir la capabilité vraie et c'est tout facile d'avoir notre armée, notre Rangers et les autres exemples et Op Nanook c'est un effort des Forces canadiennes d'avoir une présence dans tout l'Arctique pour démontrer notre capabilité, de démontrer notre présence au Arctique maintenant et au futur.

Maybe I'll just repeat that in English quickly. Our intention is very much to demonstrate our sovereignty, our capability to protect our territory, our airspace, our water, our people in the Arctic and that includes our resources. And so this has been a major priority of our government and one of the major reasons why we have gone to great lengths to up our game both militarily and in terms of our presence with deep water refuelling stations in the Arctic, with an Arctic research station, with putting more resources behind the Arctic Rangers and increasing their presence and capability throughout the Arctic. We know that the waters are opening up. We know that other countries have expressed interest in the Arctic and that we intend to have a very real and current activity and presence in the Arctic. Operation Nanook was an example of that. It's an ongoing exercise that happens each year.

C'est un effort annuel d'avoir les coopérations avec tous les ministères au Arctique pour démontrer notre capabilité dans le Nord.

Moderator: Final question will go to David Ljunggren from Reuters.

Question: (Inaudible) you're saying that this plane approached within 24 hours before ---

Hon. Peter MacKay: Twenty-four hours before, that's correct.

Question: (Inaudible) was there any link (inaudible). The Russians cannot not have been aware that the President was coming.

Hon. Peter MacKay: No, clearly it was a well-kept secret that President Obama was coming to Canada. It's difficult to say whether this was a coincidence or it was an effort on the part of the Russians to simply perhaps be up to some mischief or cause a bit of a diversion. Clearly, it's a coincidence that it happened at a time when, you know, our security focus would be Ottawa. It's not to say that our resources were stretched or put to the test in any way because we had ample capability during that time as we have in previous visits, as we have on previous occasions when we've hosted summits or when there has been international events. Canada is ready. Canada will always be able to meet any encroachment and with this partnership in NORAD that only enhances our capability to conduct that type of response. But I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit but it was a strong coincidence which we met with a presence, as we always do, of F-18 fighter planes and very -- world class pilots that know their business and send a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our airspace.

Moderator: Thanks very much, folks. Thanks very much. The minister will be speaking at the Conference of Defence Associations. Thanks very much.

Notes from the Hurricane Planning Workshop

As I mentioned last week on my blog, I had the opportunity to participate in the first many joint hurricane planning workshops. This workshop gave us an opportunity to pull together the National Guard Bureau, U.S. Northern Command, civilian first responders, state emergency managers, and a variety of federal agency partners as we prepare for the upcoming season.

Planning workshops like this are important because we don't want to repeat the lessons we learned from the Hurricane Katrina response. The only way to ensure that we don’t repeat those lessons is to pull together all of the players and to pre-plan the kinds of responses that’ll be necessary. Clearly the governors, the state emergency managers, the adjutants general will have the lead. But federal partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency have additional capability and planning early allows us to integrate all of our efforts ahead of time so that the total response can be more appropriate, effective and certainly more timely.

In the aftermath of a hurricane, each agency brings unique capabilities. Some of the unique tools that USNORTHCOM brings include pre-incident aeromedical evacuation, post-incident airlift support, search and rescue capabilities, and incident assessment capabilities.
We at USNORTHCOM recognize each state has unique capabilities and needs, and it’s important to know what those are ahead of a disaster.

And when a state and the emergency management assistance compacts have exceeded their capacity, the Department of Defense can be helpful.
Although the workshop focused on hurricanes, much of the discussion can be applied to other incidents such as earthquakes, wildfires or terrorism. We have to be realistic in recognizing that hurricanes are not the only natural disaster that can affect citizens of our nation, our families, our communities, our homes. It is a no-fail responsibility.
Cheers -- Gene

Hurricanes and fires

While we are in the early months of the year, folks here and those at the National Guard Bureau have already started to think about the upcoming 2009 hurricane season. Although the National Weather Service and its Hurricane Center have yet to make any predictions about this coming season, one thing I can tell you from being at NORAD and U.S. Northern Command for the past two years, each hurricane season brings its own set of unique challenges and unpredictability.
To improve our overall preparedness efforts, I have the honor next week in participating with the State National Guard and the National Guard Bureau leadership at a hurricane planning conference in South Carolina where we will be looking at ways to better integrate state and federal response efforts. I look forward to the conference and reporting back to you on what was discussed, what I learned and what I had to offer.
Last year, our commands assisted the States of Texas and Louisiana with Search and Rescue, movement of supplies, air transportation, and a host of other efforts to affected citizens in the aftermath of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. For our collective efforts, U.S. Northern Command was recognized Feb. 10 by the National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue and humbly accept the Eagle Award from the institute after being nominated by Ed Brickley, Search and Rescue Coordinator for Texas Engineering Extension Service. In essence, the award is being given for the multi-agency coordination of helicopter air support to local and state government that rescued 400 Galveston citizens after Ike hit the Texas gulf coast in September 2008.
I am honored that we have been recognized by the State of Texas for the significant national contributions made by individual, self-sacrificing men and women within the Department of Defense. In my mind, this is not an award so much for our commands, but for the significant contributions made by the men and women of our Armed Forces who helped support our nation's first responders, many of whom risk their lives daily to help citizens in their states, counties and cities.
It is also important to note that the support of men and women from the National Guard units from states around the country provide the bulk of the follow-on response when our nation's first responders are overwhelmed. I am truly amazed at how often and how significant an impact these Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines as well as our Coast Guard partners have in supporting civil authorities. The plans and planning we have in place should make Americans feel comfortable that we have the right response matrix and personnel in place.
As I watched the news of fires in Australia, I am also very aware that, once again in 2009, we as a nation are faced with the dual threat of fires and flooding in the very near future. Let us hope the hurricane and fire seasons will be kind to all Americans. And if not, I want assure you that personnel from our commands are prepared to respond in support of our mission partners.
Cheers, Gene

Commander's comments on MAFFS II fielding

On Jan 30, with well-deserved fanfare at McClellan Air Park, Calif., the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing rolled out an upgrade to the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) that will be used to battle the nation's wildfires this season.

The MAFFS II capability was approved for use in the wing's C-130J Hercules cargo aircraft and allows the California Air National Guard to provide significant aerial fire fighting capability around the country for the 2009 wildland firefighting season.

MAFFS are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, managed by the National Interagency Firefighting Center and flown on Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130 aircraft.

U.S. Northern Command, the National Guard and Air Force Reserve wings, the governors, and firefighting and federal agencies team up to operate MAFFS nationwide during wildfire responses. The aircraft and air crews are always ready to deploy in anticipation of a state emergency, which is very heartening to me as a commander responsible for assisting local and state first responders during a wildland firefighting emergency.

According to officials who operate these systems, the MAFFS II is capable of dropping a more effective wildfire retardant line and is thus more efficient. And the addition of these assets for airborne firefighting is especially good news in light of recent predictions coming out of California, where officials believe the state is in for its worst drought in modern history (USA Today, Jan. 30, 2009) and water is expected to be in short supply due to an almost 40-percent drop in the State's normal snowpack this winter (San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 29, 2009).

To clarify our role, military (DoD) support for wildfires is provided when requested by the National Interagency Firefighting Center (NIFC) for wildfire support and approved (by the Secretary of Defense). USNORTHCOM then provides operations coordination of these MAFFS-capable aircraft.

In addition to the C-130Js in California, there are two C-130s available from the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., two with the 153rd Wyoming Air National Guard and two with the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing available for fighting wildfires around the nation should DoD support be necessary.

With the 2009 wildfire season officially starting in spring and continuing through the fall, I am grateful to the men and women who worked so hard to bring the new MAFFS II capability on line ahead of the wildland firefighting season's start.