OTTAWA, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Canada is buying 15 Chinook military helicopters as it weighs its defense options amid a welter of events that have highlighted its vulnerabilities in the Western Hemisphere.
Deciding to purchase the F model Chinooks from Boeing for $1.15 billion has not been easy for Canada. The deal involved nearly three years of discussion and negotiation, while Canadian forces, except those active in Afghanistan, prepared to start working with the new model of the heavy lift aircraft again after a long break.
In August, Defense Minister Peter MacKay announced the $1.15 billion contract with Boeing, including a 20-year in-service support for the aircraft, designated in Canada as the CH-147.
The first delivery is set for July 2013 and the last for 2014, and the deal is touted as one of the major elements of the ruling Conservative Party government's Canada First defense strategy.
Under that policy, Canada aims to re-equip the military for the future. Plans for reviving Canadian shipyards and resuming large-scale shipbuilding were announced earlier.
MacKay said, "This contract is key in ensuring the Canadian forces are a first-class, modern, flexible force capable of defending Canada and the Canadian interest for years to come."
Events this year proved that was far from empty rhetoric.
Canada received uninvited visitors in its waters from Russia and struggled to have its arctic sovereignty recognized by other nations that also see the region's potential as a major source of oil and gas and, as arctic ice melts, a strategic shipping route. Canadian armed forces responded by increasing their military presence in the region.
As it launched the "Canada First" defense strategy the government also increased defense spending and set out plans to increase levels of regular armed forces and reserves.
The purchase of up to 100 Leopard II tanks, C-130J and C-17 transport and strategic lift aircraft formed part of that strategy.
The Chinook helicopters, too, will be built to meet Canadian needs, including environmental conditions and extended-range fuel tanks. The Chinooks will be in addition to six used Chinook D model helicopters bought from the U.S. military last year and deployed in Afghanistan.
The return of the Chinooks to Canadian service was significant because, back in the 1990s, the military sold its Chinooks to the Netherlands as part of a cost-cutting exercise at that time.
The new realities recognized in the "Canada First" defense strategy mean Canada may cut back on other elements of the national budget but leave defense spending untouched, or even increase it further.
Canadian attitudes toward defense spending changed quickly after the arctic setbacks, and the fact that both the United States and the European Union ignored Canadian sovereignty claims on the arctic.
"Securing Canada's arctic region has become an increasingly important security objective of the Canadian government," the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said in its Strategic Survey, released this week.
"As arctic ice continues to melt, the possibility of an ice-free arctic, which would make the region accessible to shipping vessels, grows. This situation would make Canada's northern sea routes more vulnerable to security and environmental threats," said the IISS.
"Given the U.S. and EU policy positions, and Russia's continued aggressive pursuit of arctic territory, Canada will likely face significant policy obstacles in its effort to assert its sovereignty in the region," the IISS said.