Canadian jets repelled Russian bombers: MacKay
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, July 30, 2010 5:33PM EDT
Two days after Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a pair of Russian bombers off the coast of Newfoundland, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says any future incursions can expect the same swift response.
Two CF-18 fighter jets were scrambled from CFB Bagotville in Quebec on Wednesday, after North American Aersopace Defence Command (Norad) detected two TU-95 long-range bombers flying approximately 463 kilometres east of Goose Bay, Newfoundland.
MacKay said the Canadian jets "scrambled very quickly."
"They were on the scene to repel these Russian bombers," he told CTV News Channel, noting the pair of Russian Bear aircraft came "closer than we have seen in recent times."
Russian officials denied the planes' flight path entered the bounds of Canadian territory that extends some 370 kilometres off the coast.
Citing Norad chief Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., MacKay acknowledged such flights have become relatively commonplace occurrences designed to "give the impression of greater power and greater assertiveness."
MacKay said the Canadian response has been, and will remain, unequivocal.
"This was a message, clearly, to them that we will have CF-18 fighter planes there to greet them every time."
But defence and foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis played down the incident, saying "there's much less to this than meets the eye."
"I think the government is over-hyping the event," he said from Washington. "It's nothing to get excited about."
"This is a little bit of saber-rattling from Ottawa to try and justify more arms budgets."
Critics charge the government's trumpeting of the incident relates to the announced sole source $16-billion purchase of 65 new F-35 fighter jets.
In mid-June, MacKay announced the government's decision to buy the fleet of stealth fighters from Lockheed-Martin at a cost of $9 billion. A 20-year maintenance package adds another $7 billion to the price tag. The air force is to take delivery of the first plane by 2016.
At a stop on his cross-country summer tour earlier this month, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff blasted the deal.
"The case has not been proved that Canada needs this fighter," Ignatieff told reporters in Orillia, Ontario.
"We're in the middle of a $54-billion deficit and we're just about to do $6 billion in corporate tax cuts. So they're buying their giant strike fighter, or they want to buy it, on borrowed money. And we think that's crazy."
In talking points released Friday, the ruling Conservatives said heeding Ignatieff's calls to reverse the deal would return the Canadian Armed Forces to a "Decade of Darkness."
This latest "incident demonstrates why it is vitally important for the Canadian Armed Forces to have the best technology and equipment available," the governing party wrote.
The Conservatives have said a competitive bidding process was unnecessary as the F-35 is the only plane that meets Canada's needs.
According to Margolis, however, protecting Canada's sovereignty in the Far North would require new long-range fighter jets instead of the F-35, "which was not at all designed for this role."
"Russia, on the ground and under the ocean, is asserting its sovereignty by doing all kinds of explorations and pipelines, and is claiming a huge chunk of the Canadian Arctic," he said.
"Canada unfortunately does not have the means to assert its sovereignty over the area. This means icebreakers, it means military bases in the region, and it means long-range aircraft that can stay up for long periods of time, perhaps pilotless drones, and submarines so that Canada knows what's going on.
"This is not what's happening now."