The AUKUS Deal and What it Means for Canada

AUKUS pact

Situated as we are between a friendly neighbor and the Arctic, there can be a tendency at times to become complacent about our own defence, even in the realm of machining for defence technologies.  We do, after all, glean some benefit from some of the US defence spending.

But it is a changing world.  Americans often seem to be at loggerheads with each other to the South. Then climate change is bringing dramatic shifts to our northern borders.  The Russians recently planted a flag on the sea floor at the North Pole.  It’s nothing more than a symbolic gesture, but it does illustrate that they have interests in the polar regions which are heightened as sea ice continues to retreat.

Russia seems to be resurrecting at least three remote polar military installations, going so far as to reopen and expand airstrips.  There are both known and unknown petroleum and mineral reserves in polar regions, and Russia has no intention of being denied access.

The AUKUS Pact

So Canada watched with interest last September when the AUKUS Pact was announced.  This agreement between the US, UK, and Australia was noticed around the world, as it effectively cut France out of an existing agreement to provide submarines to replace Australia’s current subs.

When the deal was first signed in 2016, Australia wanted conventionally fueled subs.  That meant France needed to retrofit their nuclear subs.  They also had to outfit them with US-made weapons systems.  Problems with the project and changing conditions in the South Pacific led Australia to cancel the contract in 2021 and announced the AUKUS Pact.

Some Canadians watching Australia become the seventh global navy with nuclear sub capability wondered if we shouldn’t be on that list as well.  Ottawa, however, has been clear for years that it’s not interested in nuclear subs at this time.  Without the ability to refine uranium to the 93% level, the nation would be saddling itself with dependence on another nation.  That would limit the nation’s options for decades to come.  Australia has already received some blowback from neighboring countries worried about the provocative nature of AUKUS as perceived by China.

Given the recent positions of Russia, it’s reasonable to expect they wouldn’t welcome Canada’s defence industry rolling out nuclear submarines along a border they currently feel they dominate.  Ottawa has in recent years established a refueling port in the far North and has begun taking delivery of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.

Britain last year offered to partner with Canada to patrol the Arctic region with their nuclear subs, but the offer was declined.  Canada’s sovereignty claims to some areas of the Far North remain contested.  Some believe that situation –along with the provocative nature of such a partnership with any ally– would muddy the waters, so to speak, even for the defence machining industry.

National Defence Takes Many Forms

There was talk of upgrading Canada’s submarines to nuclear power back in the 1980s, but that idea was shelved with the end of the Cold War.  There is certainly a contingent that believes the time to spend that “peace dividend” has come.

But Ottawa has been pretty consistent over the years in shaping national security to emerging concerns.  Current agreements like Five Eyes establish Canada as a central player in the most advanced national defence initiatives in the world, including the CNC machining space.  Recently announced renovations to NORAD actually take place largely on Canadian territory and extend beyond simply watching for incoming missiles.

Between radio, radar, digital, satellite technologies and defence machining technologies, national defence means something far different than it did 40 years ago.  It’s hard to put a finger on a specific defence capability that Ottawa has left exposed.  Not only that, but they have worked to keep innovation and investment within the Canadian economy.  That has brought Canadian defence contractors opportunities and advancements that add further to our defence position.


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