In June 2017, the Trudeau government released Strong, SecureEngaged (SSE), superseding the Canada First Defence Strategy as Canada’s defence policy. The document was the result of internal assessments from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), Department of National Defence (DND) as well as external advisors. SSE was released under the context of an evolving global security environment. First and foremost was the re-emergence of great power competition, as tensions between the United States and China have been simmering over a variety of issues in the Indo-Pacific region, while Russia had undertaken a proxy war in Ukraine. By 2017 Canada had moved on from its Afghanistan War deployment but was committed to join the military coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Climate change had emerged as an ever-present threat to human security, affecting every global region. In Washington, the Trump Administration’s “America First” philosophy had disrupted relations with long time allies who were then pressured to reassess how they engaged with the world in terms of foreign and defence policies. Underpinning these interrelated trends has been the emergence of a new generation of technologies which hold the potential to significantly affect how defence policy is developed and operationalized for Canada, its allies, as well as its global adversaries.i

In April 2024, Canada released a new defence policy update which aims to adjust the DND and CAF to meet rapidly evolving international threats.ii Further, there has also been a host of documents released since 2017, each of which aiming to shape different elements of defence policy. This presents an ideal opportunity to explore the influence of SSE on emerging technologies and the current state of Canadian defence. This analysis begins with an overview of the emerging technologies discussed in SSE. Second, it reviews the follow-on engagement from the CAF and DND for emerging technology from 2017-2024. The analysis concludes with an assessment of the next steps for Canada in terms of defence and technology.

Strong Secure Engaged and Emerging Technology

SSE presents a long-term vision of defence that requires investment in multiple new advanced technologies that were identified as having the potential to help Canada be “strong at home, secure in North America and engaged with the world.”iii The CAF’s core missions will all be affected by emerging technologies to different extents.iv The technologies discussed in SSE range from the procurement of larger platforms such as new fighter jets and warships to smaller scale digital systems for different elements of the CAF (for a list of technologies mentioned in Canadian defence documents, see Annex 1).  Underpinning much of SSE is a desire to modernize the force so that it has the capabilities to complete all its core missions while allowing it to access and operate in new domains such as the information domain, cyberspace, and outer space.v

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) primary technological acquisition outlined in SSE was the commitment to replace the current fleet of F-18 fighter jets with 88 advanced aircraft, as well as investing in modernizing its air-to-air missile systems. The new fighter aircraft are linked to a variety of CAF missions from continental defence to supporting overseas NATO Another major RCAF investment identified by SSE was enhancing space-based capabilities. The primary driver of this investment was to enhance the situational awareness and targeting capabilities for the RCAF and for joint operations; one of the major new space platforms will be the replacement of the current RADARSAT satellite system. The RCAF will also finally significantly invest in the development of remotely piloted systems (RPS), and will allow the RCAF to enhance its targeting, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The remaining technological procurement pledges in the document are focused on enhancing the RCAF’s computerized command and control capabilities (C4) and modernizing legacy aircraft systems such as replacing the P-140 Aurora and the CC-150 Polaris platforms.vii

SSE focused the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) on maintaining blue water naval capabilities for global expeditionary operations, along with maintaining its prominent role in continental defence missions. The largest RCN investment project outlined in SSE is the proposed acquisition of a new generation of 15 Surface Combatant Vessels to serve as the primary fleet platform, along with two new Joint Support Ships, and five to six Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels. Aside from the new ship procurements, SSE also committed the RCN to developing new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and modernizing torpedo and missile armament capabilities.viii

The Army was not set to receive any major new combat platforms like the RCAF and RCN. Rather, SSE outlines a variety of smaller technological modernization efforts in order to enhance the Army’s ability to conduct a broad range of mission types, including warfighting. SSE outlines a number of modernization vehicle procurements such as new armoured combat support vehicles, and upgrades to the light armored vehicle fleet. SSE also commits the Army to enhancing the organization’s digital capacity for ISR; as well, improving air defence capabilities.ix

Canadian Special Operations Forces (SOF) were also identified by SSE as needing a number of new technological investments. First and foremost was that Canadian SOF require a new generation of airborne ISR platforms, access to a variety of digital defence networks; and there was a considerable need for modernized digital networks among different SOF capabilities such as land, maritime, and airborne material platforms.x

The various elements of the CAF are slated to receive investments enhancing joint ISR capabilities as part of developing a ‘system of systems’ that interlinks a number of different technological platforms and capabilities such as aircraft, sensors, satellites, unmanned vehicles, ships, and personnel. Joint ISR capabilities are described as being essential to a wide range of military operations, including enhancing interoperability with allies and continental defence, as ISR allows leadership to leverage superior data accumulation and processing for swifter and more accurate decision making. A significant component of enhancing joint ISR capabilities is to support North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) modernization, which is part of a longer-term project focused on enhancing joint Canada-U.S. continental defence. This includes recapitalizing the Northern Warning System by upgrading sensors, and procuring a Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue satellite capability. Part of the technological modernization of NORAD will involve joint collaborations with the U.S. military.xi

In terms of technological trends, SSE identifies space, cyberspace, and RPS as three priorities for defence procurement. Space capabilities are defined as being critical for CAF operations and will be advanced within the military under the guidance of RCAF and as part of joint developments with allies. SSE describes the importance of satellite-based surveillance capabilities for domain awareness as well as satellite’s role in command and control (C2) for ongoing operations. SSE also warns of emerging threats to space infrastructure, which includes hostile states using anti-satellite weapons systems. In response to these trends, SSE plans investments into space infrastructure and capabilities, as well as conducting future research and development into space technologies in collaboration with allies.xii Cyberspace capabilities are viewed as essential for CAF operations; SSE states that Canada needs more secure digital networks for communications, intelligence processing and weapons targeting. The cyber domain is characterized as being consistently evolving, with potential adversaries likely to use it to threaten Canadian civilian and defence infrastructure. SSE states that the CAF needs to develop new cyber related capabilities, especially those of an offensive nature; further, that Canada needs to strengthen and harden existing networks and equipment from external cyber threats.xiii The other grouping of emerging technologies that are focused on in SSE has to do with land, sea and air RPS. Like with space, and cyberspace capabilities, RPS platforms are felt to have considerable utility for a wide range of CAF missions, from surveillance to combat. SSE states that there will be a set of investments in procuring RPS for surveillance and precision strike capabilities while also investing in research and development for the next generation of RPS.xiv

Overall, SSE presents a new defence policy which involves a handful of major procurement projects, and broadly commits to a range of various technological investment areas. However, details on where and how these other technological acquisitions will unfold remain sparsely described. Further, many emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) were not discussed, while others such as quantum computing received only a brief passing mention. SSE did not then represent a technocentric shift in Canadian defence policy; rather, it is best understood as one that takes a relatively conventionally focused approach to the role of technology for defence. This presented both a challenge and opportunity for DND and CAF, as there remained considerable potential to shape the integration of emerging technologies into how Canada approaches defence with follow-on documents and outputs, but ultimately there would require further financial and political commitments from the government as well as sustained effort from DND in order to fully take advantage of the current generation of defence related emerging technologies.

Responding to Strong, Secure, Engaged

The policy presented in SSE was ambitious in terms of the scope and scale of its objectives. The plans for some new technological platforms were outlined to a fairly detailed degree, however other technological trends were committed to in vague terms. The documents and action taken by the government, DND, and CAF since 2017 provides a strong indication of whether Canada is actually on track to meet the policy initiatives outlined in SSE.

In 2018, a follow-on plan was published, Defence Plan 2018-2023, which sketches the initial steps DND and CAF would take in the first five years after SSE’s release. The Defence Plan 2018-2023 outlines certain decisions and actions regarding emerging technologies, however, it does not provide significant details. It signals that there is a desire to streamline the procurement of information technologies and that the CAF will be prioritizing technology that acts as an enabling function such cyber capabilities and strategic communications.xv For example, it outlined how the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS) will oversee the development and integration of RPS across the military, which will include developing the relevant policy support and doctrine for armed and unarmed systems. The plan makes a series of broad commitments with regards to cyber capabilities, such as pledging increased research and development efforts towards enhancing offensive and defensive cyberwar capabilities, and will work with Public Safety Canada on the development of a Cyber Security Strategy. The plan also continues to affirm that Canada will work with partners and allies to continue enhance the space capabilities of the CAF, but does not go into specifics of that process.xvi

The government also released the Defence Investment Plan in 2018, followed by an update in 2019 to provide additional information regarding the major procurement projects identified in SSE. These plans were drafted to attempt to enhance transparency to help industry to participate in the procurement process.xvii The 2019 update pledged that DND’s digitization transformation would lead to improved business practices for superior qualitative and quantitative analysis of procurement efforts; to accelerate this process there would be internal departmental restructuring to better guide the digital shift.xviii During this period the government also emphasized the use of the  Defence Capabilities Blueprint (DCB),  which was a digital interactive tool, designed to allow industry easier access to data on larger ongoing procurement projects. The DCB evolved from a previously released defence acquisition guide, and it was later repackaged along with the updated Defence Investment Plan as the two releases complimented one another.xix

The Canadian Armed Forces Digital Campaign Plan, was released in 2022 and provides a guide for the CAF to leverage digital capabilities during current operations and to guide future research and development. The document bluntly states that the CAF needs to keep up with global technological development or is at risk of being at a severe disadvantage in comparison to allies and adversaries who are pouring resources into their own digital modernization efforts. Essentially, the plan seeks to transform the CAF from its analog era into a new digital one, where big data becomes key to how things are organized and managed. The plan outlines how various information technologies will continue to enable the rise of digitized data cross the organization, which includes cloud enabled accessibility and smart processing information. A goal of the plan is to enhance decision making and freeing up personnel to focus on more important tasks during normal business operations. The plan does well in outlining potential constraining factors to this process, noting that change will not be immediate, that goals should not outpace capabilities, and that human internal biases may act as roadblocks to the process.xx The plan acknowledges that Artificial Intelligence and machine learning have the potential to help this process, yet does not go into any specifics regarding how they may be operationalized.xxi Overall, the plan describes a step by step process to begin the digitization of the CAF, however, it is only at the very early stages of this transformative undertaking

The CAF also released the Operational Sustainment Modernization Strategy in direct response to SSE. This strategy attempts to establish a standardized way in which data is procured, processed and analysed under an all encompassing ‘system of systems’ approach to better support sustainment efforts in a pan-domain environment.xxii The vision for the CAF outlined in the strategy document highlights the importance of digitizing data and leveraging automation; and that the digitization of sustainment related data will empower the joint force as well as interoperability efforts with allies.xxiii Much like the CAF’s Digital Campaign Plan the concepts discussed in this document are mostly in the preliminary stages, with the implementation phase still largely to come in future.

One of the most developed post-SSE efforts has been the NORAD modernization process. In June 2022, then-defence minister Anita Anand released further details on this modernization process, which would include enhancing NORAD’s ability to detect threats earlier utilizing advanced surveillance and communication sensors. Some of the more specific technological systems mentioned include: Northern Approaches Surveillance System; Arctic Over the Horizon Radar; Polar Over the Horizon Radar; Modernized C2 Information Systems; NORAD Cloud-Based C2 system; Defence Enhanced Surveillance from Space; and advanced short, medium, and long-range air to air missile systems for next generation fighter jets.xxiv

In December of 2022 the government released a new Indo-Pacific strategy, which held some relevancy for technology and defence policy. It called for an increase in the level of defence resources deployed to the region and to further build interoperability with allies and partners. It also outlined specific directions to increase cyber related capabilities, including Canada’s ability to detect and respond to cyber threats; further, the strategy indicated an increase in Canada’s ability to collect and assess intelligence in the region.xxv

The Canadian Army, RCAF and RCN have all released updated organizational documents in response to SSE to guide their own modernization efforts, including the integration of emerging technologies.

Canadian Army

In 2019 the Army released Close Engagement, its updated capstone doctrine. The Army states it will modernize itself with further integration of networked communications and data driven analysis. Digitized data and networks are seen to be important to C2 capabilities, sustainment operations and surveillance operations.xxvi The document cites the relevancy of RPS to the Army’s ISR capabilities, and identifies data capabilities as being able to enhance the ways soldiers interact with civilian populations such as facial recognition and translation capabilities. The Army wants the capacity to enhance long range targeting capacity and air defence against small, low altitude adversarial RPS. The Army desires the ability for CAF units to reduce their electro-magnetic signatures, however it remains unclear how quickly this will be fully achievable.xxvii The document also acknowledges the importance of space and cyberspace to Army operations. However, it further states that it will not develop any organizational space capabilities or acquire space assets; and that it needs further time to clarify how cyberspace capabilities will be further integrated into the Army’s electronic warfare processes.xxviii

The Army has also released a formal modernization strategy document, Advancing with Purpose, which outlined a mix of specific planned technological investments, as well as offered some speculative commentary on the potential relevancy of other emerging technologies. The document overviews multiple equipment investments for the Army, which include new land combat vehicles; ground-based air defenses; anti-tank guided missile systems; night vision systems; as well as modernized and digitized command and control and ISR systems. Further, the document also identifies using technologically enabled training simulations as well as IED detection sensors as other procurement related projects. Many of these technological acquisitions are intended to support the Army’s ability for interoperability with allies, as well as operate as a digitally networked force that uses a ‘system of systems’ to gain leverage over adversaries.xxix Beyond the specific investment areas previously identified, Advancing with Purpose also speculates about how Artificial Intelligence may be able to accelerate the digitizing of the Army’s approach to decision making and command and control systems, and how the Army must continue to embrace digital capacities, which will involve fostering an organization that develops digitally inclined Space and autonomous systems are both viewed as areas in which the Army can further leverage to gain strategic and operational advantages. In particular, it asserts that human-machine teaming will be essential to creating more integrative systems. The document affirms the importance of cyber operations for the future of the army, and advocates that the Army continue to undergo a digital transformation process in order to build the appropriate digital architecture paired with relevant procedural and governance structures to keep pace digitally with allies and adversaries. The document describes this as a preliminary work in progress, and stresses that the organization also prepare itself to undergo a cultural change to better allow the integration of digitization.xxxi

The Army also released a new Digital Strategy that more directly overviews the processes of digital transformation and modernization. This document firmly describes the importance of future digitization for the Army, with the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Wayne Eyre stating in the introduction that, “I believe that without a significant digital pivot, the Canadian Army (CA) will fall short”.xxxii The Digital Strategy stresses that Canada will be at risk of being left behind as allies and adversaries develop advanced emerging technologies and digitized data processes into their own capabilities. The document specifically mentions AI, machine learning, big data and virtual reality as key technological drivers in shaping future military operations and processes across pan-domains.xxxiii To better integrate emerging technologies across the Army the strategy points to three core factors, cultural change towards digitization, leadership, and evolving force development. Further, the strategy outlines the way to modernize technology is to emphasize the development of updated C2 systems, cloud computing, streamlining user interfaces, and stressing interoperability in force design efforts.xxxiv

Royal Canadian Air Force

The RCAF updated strategy, Agile, Integrated, Inclusive highlights the importance of space and cyberspace related technologies as important enablers of RCAF operations, and also discusses the potential impacts of new systems such as hypersonic missiles. The strategy discusses the relevancy of a number of emerging technologies to the RCAF, such as how AI, machine learning and autonomous systems will come together to shape future operations, particularly in the form of human-machine teaming which holds the potential to not only enhance operational effects but also help optimize costs due to freeing up human capital for other tasks. Further, cloud computing and sensor fusion will enable faster data collection, distribution and analysis. The strategy also discusses the use of new software to allow for the interconnectivity of a variety of technological platforms, including RPS, space-based platforms, and quantum computers which will ideally lead to superior decision making.xxxv

Several of the RCAF’s technological upgrades have been driven by the increased focus and funding for NORAD modernization from the Trudeau government, rather than being internally driven by the organization itself. More specifically, these new RCAF technologies includes a variety of new electronic C4ISR, and modernized electronic weapons control capabilities. Some of the most ambitious and transformative investments have to do with acquiring RPAS and space-based platforms as well as the latest NORAD Cloud-Based Command and Control (CBC2) which involves data digitization and elements of AI and machine learning.xxxvi In general, the majority of these planned RCAF technological acquisitions are designed to enhance its electronic C2 and ISR capabilities, and streamline the digitization efforts. The RCAF predicts that other new technologies such as AI and quantum computing are essential to allow the service to gain and  leverage advantages against adversaries.xxxvii

Other RCAF’s modernization initiatives include multiple procurement decisions which have been officially confirmed, one of which involves upgrading the aging CP-140 Aurora fleet to the more advanced Boeing P8-A Poseidon aircraft.xxxviii By the end of 2023 an order was placed with General Atomics for eleven RPS along with relevant logistical support and maintenance equipment.xxxix The government has also approved the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the next major platform of the service and has committed to purchasing 88 of the aircraft for an estimated cost of $19 billion, with the first to enter service in 2026.xl The RCAF also formed a new organizational structure in July of 2022 with the formal establishment of 3 Canadian Space Division, which is intended to oversee the CAF’s space operations in accordance to the commitments to the domain established with SSE.xli A wider consequence of these new systems and platforms is that the RCAF is on track to collect an enormous amount of ISR related data, and will absolutely need to follow-on these with additional procurements to acquire more advanced tools to be able to process and analyze the data.

Royal Canadian Navy

The latest RCN strategy, Strategic Plan 2017-2022,  released in 2017, lists a number of planned investments for the service, which included: modernizing the Victoria Class submarines; acquiring new surface vessels; as well as the need to develop a variety of maritime orientated unmanned systems.xlii Two years later, in 2019 the government announced that Lockheed Martin Canada had been selected as the preferred bidder for the future surface combatant, using the BAE systems Type 26 variant, and that the procurement project would be moving ahead. In 2022, the RCN followed up the new strategy with a modernization plan that focuses more on digital technologies and their role in evolving naval affairs. This digital strategy outlines how the Navy needs to quickly modernize its approach to digitization while also building the relevant organizational culture to best leverage these new technologies. The RCN is opting to focus on big data analytics, AI and machine learning, cloud computing, along with virtual reality systems and 3D printing.xliii However, much of the modernization plan remains only in its very preliminary stages, and the specifics of implementation are not well defined, outside of a desire to procure as many emerging technologies as possible and to get them into formal usage within the organization quickly. The level of detail found in the RCN strategy documents similarly resembles that of the strategies released by the Army and RCAF. However, its Strategic Plan 2017-2022, is somewhat more limited due to its release several years prior to the latest Army and RCAF capstone strategies.

The RCN’s digital strategy was then supplemented with a digital action plan in order to provide further guidance on how the RCN would leverage emerging technologies in order to better fulfill its core missions outlined in SSE. In particular, this digital plan advocates turning to digital analytics and AI to modernize the RCN. The main initiatives outlined in the plan emphasize building wireless infrastructure to better connect ships to networks and relying more on 3D modeling during training activities. Overall, much of the plan pledges further study on digital capabilities for the fleet, rather than outlining significant details of how such efforts will unfold.xliv The RCN, just like the RCAF, is on track due to acquire a enormous volume of new data, and will also require new advanced tools to process and use the data in an efficient manner.

The most recent Canadian defence documents continue to echo the broad commitments to technological acquisitions initially outlined in SSE. The Pan-Domain Force Employment Concept, released in 2023, discusses interoperability with allies across a wide spectrum of domains. The concept stresses that interoperability needs to be an important organizational goal of the CAF. Further, the need to continue to enhance the CAF capabilities across space and cyber domains remains a priority, but the document does not go into significant detail with regards to the type of technologies required to secure that capability.xlv In terms of technological innovation, the Pan-Domain Force Employment Concept goes into the most significant details regarding the future role of AI for Canadian defence. The document identifies the leveraging of AI as a key element of modern military power. AI is described as having a wider range of usage across the CAF and DND, from business operations to affecting tactical and strategic levels of decision making. The concept addresses multiple issues and risks that have been linked to AI, noting that the CAF needs to be careful and deliberate as it integrates the technology across the organization. However, much of this discussion remains fairly speculative in character, with the majority of the AI discussion being centred on what will or may happen in the future, rather than what is currently happening within the CAF and DND.xlvi

The DND and CAF have released a pair of documents related to quantum technologies. The first was released in 2021, titled Quantum S&T Strategy which seemingly attempts to introduce the subject broadly to Canadian defence. Although titled as a “strategy”, it primarily focuses on the hypothetical and projected future impact of the technology rather than outlining any detailed means of directly utilizing it for defence purposes. The 2021 strategy suggests militaries are still unpacking the practical potential of quantum technologies. While remaining vague, the document nonetheless firmly predicts that such technology is expected to lead to a “disruption” in strategic affairs, and suggests Canada be prepared to leverage it when possible.xlvii In 2023, an implementation plan, Quantum 2030 was released to present further guidance on how Canadian defence can respond to quantum technologies. Similarly to the 2021 strategy, Quantum 2030 remains fairly vague, as the primary focus of the plan is to help  identify how quantum can be used by the military, as well as preparing personnel to better respond to the technology.xlviii Positively, these documents demonstrate an interest in a potentially important technology and can be viewed as the first step in a longer process to oversee their eventual acquisition and operationalization. Yet Canadian defence’s quantum related documents also showcase the necessity for further conceptual development to fully grasp the technology’s relevance before Canada can even consider how any practical operationalization of it can unfold.

The DND and CAF’s 2023-2024 Departmental Plan overviews the current relevancy that some emerging technologies have for Canadian defence to varying degrees, however much of the document’s analysis remains focused on future capabilities rather than what the CAF has already developed. The 2023-2024 Departmental Plan places an emphasis on cyber capabilities, stating that the CAF is developing offensive and defensive operational capabilities while also working with partners. In terms of tangible cyber outputs, the CAF will participate in a number of multilateral cyber exercises, particularly in the NORAD, NATO and Five Eyes contexts alongside relevant allies. Additional tangible outputs for Canadian defence highlighted by the report include advancements in the procurement process for the major platform investments prioritized in SSE, including the F-35 Join Strike Fighter, surface combatants and Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). Currently, only the AOPS program has seen the first physical deliveries of equipment to the CAF, while the other projects remain in more preliminary stages of development.

Other emerging technology areas are discussed in more speculative terms in the 2023-2024 Departmental Plan; for example, AI is again identified as being important to the future of defence policy, but mostly commits to develop relevant internal institutional structures at a later date.xlix This is similar to how AI and other technologies like quantum computers were discussed during the earlier 2022-2023 Departmental Plan, which committed the organization to further “experimentation” and analysis of those technologies to identify future applications of their usage.l Interestingly, it should be noted that several of these technological systems such as next generation fighters, new surface combatants, AOPS and Multi Mission Aircraft were first mentioned during the previous defence policy, Canada First Defence Strategy, released in Of technologies newly articulated during SSE, the department has been the fastest at developing cyber capabilities, and some digitization efforts.

The 2024-2025 Departmental Plan discusses emerging technologies to a seemingly greater degree compared to prior years, yet the prevailing emphasis on future prospects over existing capabilities persist. NORAD modernization remains a central priority and an ongoing endeavor, and is characterized as a longer-term initiative. Advanced technologies, including AI and machine learning research and development, as well as cloud architectures for data digitization are all linked to NORAD endeavors. Canada remains committed to participating in several multilateral exercises centred around enhancing the use of advanced technologies, particularly cyber readiness. Much of the emerging technology discourse found within the plan continues to concentrate on both near-term and long-term plans for acquiring and operationalizing these new systems. This includes a commitment to further developing “system-of-systems” capabilities and pledging to build other new capabilities such as defenses against hypersonic threats. Quantum technology, digitization, and AI are also all identified as holding relevancy to the DND and CAF, but the plan admits that much work remains to properly integrate such technology in significant ways, even though there have been some initial successes at leveraging things like AI and digitization.lii

In March 2024, the DND and CAF publicly released their long-awaited Artificial Intelligence Strategy.liii The strategy identifies that AI is currently embedded in multiple aspects of daily activities and is evolving radically and changing how Canada can approach traditional military operations as well as the business practices of national defence. The continued growth of AI within DND and CAF is linked directly to wider digitization efforts; as data accumulation and processing are seen as key elements of leveraging more effective AI use. The strategy takes a fairly nuanced assessment of the current state of AI in the DND and CAF noting that although it remains a priority, that significant internal changes must unfold in order to better leverage the technology. It states that DND and CAF possess “pockets of expertise” in some areas, but unfortunately have serious gaps in other areas. It also acknowledges that Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) considerations must continue to influence the further development of AI related technologies. It describes AI as possessing the ability to enable the operationalization of other emerging technologies such as robotics, biometrics and speech processing among other new systems. Overall, the document, like others, remains future oriented, focused on what is to come more so than what has occurred. Still, the strategy does outline some tangible next steps, such as calling for the establishment of an internal AI Centre, and pledges to later release a “implementation directive” that will purportedly outline in greater detail the practical processes involved with integrating AI.


Predominantly, since SSE was released, DND’s and CAF’s efforts to successfully leverage emerging technologies has been mixed. Gradual progress has been made towards the largest procurement projects initially identified in SSE, namely the next generation of fighter jets and surface combatant ships, as well as the preliminary RPS capability for the CAF. However, most of these projects are still years away from being formally delivered and thus able to be used by the CAF during ongoing operations. There remains a concern that Canadian defence may be too slow in adequately responding to the speedy development of emerging technologies. What needs to be determined is the underlying cause or causes of such delays, be it a lack of decision-making from the government, flaws with the procurement system itself, or the DND and CAF failing to sufficiently conceptualize and articulate more specifically why and how it will use such technologies. Further analysis is needed to see how Canada compares to core allies, such as Five Eyes (FVEY), when it comes to experiences with emerging technologies. Such a comparison can help illuminate where further reforms are required for Canada.

Some of the most advanced progress for Canada and newer technologies has been made with digitization efforts, which has its largest impacts on the business operations and sustainment aspects of DND and CAF; though work remains to formally implement these plans, including following through with future investments into cloud-based infrastructures. Some successful progress has also been achieved when it comes to the enhancement of cyber capabilities; while considerable future efforts are still needed, the CAF has achieved some tangible outputs, such as participating in joint cyber-related exercises with allies.

The majority of Canadian defence documents since SSE’s release continue to discuss the importance and potential of the current generation of emerging technologies such as AI, and yet substantial organizational outputs to operationalize such technology in any practical manner is still lacking. Canadian defence is essentially maintaining a trend of analysis paralysis, where internal organizational discourse around new technologies remains steady, but does not sufficiently translate into formal action leading to the successful procurement and integration of emerging technologies into the CAF. This will require a quicker decision-making cycle from senior military and political leadership. Ideally, the government will be prepared to guarantee that sufficient resources are available to the military. In turn, the military and defence bureaucracy must be prepared to identify the technology it needs, outline why it needs it, and clearly describe how it will operationalize it. This process needs to happen faster, with finalized decisions unfolding at a more rapid speed to keep up with the evolving pace of technology. As a quicker decision-making cycle translates into faster technological acquisition, the CAF and DND must build the appropriate sub-organizational architectures to streamline the adoption of the new technology. This integration process must be guided by centralized strategies and implementation plans that do not just speculate on the relevancy of future technology, but instead have formal outlines detailing how they will be diffused, while also allowing for innovation to unfold as new best practices are discovered. Further, they must also prepare for the intangible side of hardware acquisition, which includes endeavors such as fostering more technology friendly organizational cultures and developing more technologically oriented personnel.liv

Annex 1: Selected Technological Systems and Projects Discussed in Recent Canadian Defence Documents New Technologies, Systems, and Capabilities

Agave Gold Project

Artificial Intelligence Research and Development

Arctic Over the Horizon Radar (A-OTHR)

Army Command and Control Systems Modernization

Automatic Identification Technology

Big Data Analytics Systems

Biological Warfare Threat Medical Counter Measures Project

Canadian Advanced Synthetic Environment

Canadian Air Defence Sector Upgrade

Canadian Forces Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Decontamination System

Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive detection and response recapitalization

Cloud systems

Combined/Joint Intelligence Modernization

Command and Control Information Systems (MC2IS) Modernization

Counter unmanned aerial systems capabilities

Crossbow Sensor

Cyber Capabilities and Weapons

Data Centric Security Service

DCMP – Identification Friend or Foe Mode 5

DCMP – Network Encryption Family (NEF)

Defence Enhanced Surveillance from Space (DESSP) 

Digital Networking Systems

DRDC science and technology research

Enhanced Satellite Communication – Polar (ESCP-P)

Future Fighter Capability Project

Hypersonic Weapons and Defence Systems

Information Technology Infrastructure in Support of Command and Control

Integrated Soldier System Project

Joint C2 Systems and equipment for integrated information technology and communications.

Interdepartmental Maritime Integrated Command, Control, and Communications (IMIC3) Project

Juniper Green Project

Land Based C4ISR System modernization and interim in-service support

Land Command Support System Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Modernization

Land Command Support System Tactical Command and Control Information System modernization

Land Command Support System Tactical Communications Modernization

Land Electronic Warfare Modernization Program

LF ISTAR Capabilities

LF ISTAR – Family of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

LF ISTAR – In Service Sensors

LF ISTAR Medium Range Radar

Manned Airborne ISR (MAISR)

Maritime Satellite Communication Upgrade

Medium Altitude RPS

Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue Capabilities

Meridian Standard Project

Naval Electronic Warfare System – Sub Surface

Navigation Management and Control System modernization

Network Command Control Integrated Situation Awareness Capability (tactical comms; combined joint intel capabilities; joint fires modernizations; land ISR)

Next Generation SOF Soldier System

NORAD Cloud-Based Command and Control (CBC2)

Northern Approaches Surveillance System (NASS)

Polar Over the Horizon Radar (P-OTHR)

Polar Epsilon 2 (PE2)

Position Navigation and Timing Air Navigation (PNT AirNav) 

Protected Military Satellite Communications

Quantum Computing and Technologies

RCN Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Unmanned Aircraft System

Remotely piloted systems project (RPS): including a confirmed fleet of MQ-9B Sky Guardian Drones

Secure Command and Control Mobile Device

Special Operations Task Forces Command and Control

Special Operations Forces C4ISR and Computer Defence Network recapitalization

Strongbow Project

Subnet Relay

Surveillance of Space 2 Project

Tactical Control Radar modernization

Tactical Integrated Command Control, and Communications and other communication systems

Tactical Narrowband SATCOM – Geosynchronous Coverage

Tactical Power System

The Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Sensor Integration and Decision Support Project (SI&DS)

The Integrated Soldier Systems Program – Cycle 3

Announced Technological Investments and Upgrades

Advanced Fighter Jets (later confirmed to be Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighter)

Advanced Improvised Explosives Detection Systems

Advanced Short-Range Missiles (ASRM)

Airborne ISR platform recapitalization

Airspace Coordination Centre modernization

Anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM)

Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS)

Armored Combat Support Vehicle (ACSV)

Army Land Vehicle Fleet recapitalization

Aviation Capable Weather Observation System

Canadian Forces Electronic Warfare Support

Canadian Special Operations Regiment Equipment Phase 1 and 2 modernization

Canadian Surface Combatant Ships (Later confirmed to be the Type 26 Frigate)

Canadian multi mission aircraft (CMMA)

CC-150 Life Extension

CF-18 Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite

Chemical Agent Sensor

CP-140 Aurora

Defence CMP Secure Radio Sub-Project

Defence Resource Management Information System

Digital Biometric Collection and Identification Management

Future Combined Aerospace Operations Centre (FCC)

Global Command and Control System – Maritime (GCCS-M) upgrades

Ground based air defence system modernization with associated munitions

Griffon Limited Life extension

Heavyweight Torpedo Upgrade

High Frequency/Low Frequency Communications (HFLF) 

Hornet Extension Project Phase I and II

Improvised Explosive Device Detection and Defeat Capabilities modernization

Indirect fire modernization

Interim Fighter Capability Project

Joint Signals Intelligence Capabilities recapitalization

Joint Support Ship

Joint Fires Modernization Project

Joint Deployable HQ and Signal Regiment Modernization

LAU 7 Launcher Replacement

LAV III Upgrade

LAV Reconnaissance Surveillance System

LAV Specialist Variant Enhancements (LAV SVE)

Lightweight Torpedo upgrade

Lightweight Radios and Associated Equipment modernization

Lightweight Torpedo Recapitalization

Long Range Air-to-Air Missile (LRAAM)

Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel (MCDV) – Integrated Position Keeping System (IPKS)

Mechanized Armoured Vehicles capabilities

Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (MRAAM)

Mercury Global Strategic Deployable Terminals

Multi Fleet Air Traffic Management Avionics

Multi Mission Aircraft (CP-140 replacement) modernization

Naval ISR System and Armament upgrades for current and future platforms

Naval Remote Weapons Station

Next Generation Fighting Vehicles Program

Night Vision Systems modernization

Point Defence Missile System upgrade

RCAF Air Weapons Control Coverage Expansion (RACE)

RCAF’s Digital Radios and Network equipment modernization 

Remote Minehunting and Disposal System

Search and Rescue Mission Management System Replacement

Secure Radio Modernization Project

Tank Replacement Project

Underwater Warfare Suite Upgrade (UWSU)

Utility Transport Aircraft modernization

Victoria Class Modernization (VCM)

Victoria Class Submarine Bow Sonar System upgrade

Voice Communication Switch and Voice Recorder for Air Traffic Control

Weapons Effects Simulation modernization

End Notes

i Kevin Budning, Alex Wilner, and Guillaume Cote, “Connecting the dots on Canada’s connected battlespace,” International Journal, Vol. 76, No. 1 (2021): 154-162, 

ii Canada, “Our North, Strong and Free: A Renewed Vision for Canada’s Defence,”(Ottawa, ON: Department of National of Defence, 2024), 

iii Canada, Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2017), 6

iv CAF missions include:  homeland and continental defence; international peacekeeping and peace support operations; capacity building in other states; alliance commitments including NATO, NORAD and FVEY; aid to civil authority domestically in operations including counter-terrorism, search and rescue, and disaster relief; Strong, Secure, Engaged, 14

v Kevin Budning, Alex Wilner, and Guillaume Cote, “A view from above: Space and the Canadian Armed Forces,”  International Journal Vol. 76, No 4 (2021): 594-605, 

vi Strong, Secure, Engaged, 34

vii Strong, Secure, Engaged, 39

viii Strong, Secure, Engaged, 35

ix Strong, Secure, Engaged, 36-37

x Strong, Secure, Engaged, 40

xi Strong, Secure, Engaged, 63, 79-80

xii Strong, Secure, Engaged, 70-71

xiii Strong, Secure, Engaged, 72-73.

xiv Strong, Secure, Engaged, 73.

xv Canada, Defence Plan 2018-2023 (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2018), 6, 10-11

xvi Canada, Defence Plan 2018-2023 (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2018).

xvii Canada, Defence Investment Plan 2018, (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2018)

xviii Canada, Defence Investment Plan 2018: Annual Update 2019 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 2019).

xix Canada, “Defence Capabilities Blueprint,” Department National Defence (2022) 

xx Canadian Armed Forces Digital Campaign Plan, 8-12

xxi Canadian Armed Forces Digital Campaign Plan, 20

xxii Canada, Operational Sustainment Modernization Strategy, (Ottawa, ON: The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces, 2023), 4-5

xxiii Operational Sustainment Modernization Strategy, 10

xxiv “NORAD modernization project timelines” (2023), 

xxv Canada, “Canada’s Strategy for the Indo-Pacific (Ottawa, ON: Global Affairs Canada, 2022)

xxvi Department of National Defence, Close Engagement: Land Power in the Age of Uncertainty (Kingston, ON: Canadian Army Land Warfare Centre, 2019), 10-12

xxvii Close Engagement, 44-45

xxviii Close Engagement, 52-54

xxix Canada, Advancing With Purpose: The Canadian Army Modernization Strategy (Ottawa, ON: Headquarters, Canadian Army, Dec 2020), 14-17

xxx Advancing With Purpose, 26-27

xxxi Advancing With Purpose, 46

xxxii Canada, Modernization Vital Ground: Digital Strategy (Ottawa, ON: Headquarters, Canadian Army, June 2022), 1

xxxiii Modernization Vital Ground, 6,10

xxxivModernization Vital Ground, 16, 19

xxxv Canada, RCAF Strategy: Agile, Integrated, Inclusive (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2023), 4-7

xxxvi Capt. Maxime Cliché, “Canadian Air Defence Sector introduces new cloud-based command-and-control system,”  (26 Jan 2024), 

xxxvii RCAF Strategy, 16-17

xxxviii “It’s Official – Canada Buys the P-8A Poseidon,” Canadian Defence Review (11 Nov 2023) 

xxxix “Canada acquiring Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems for the Canadian Armed Forces,” (19 Dec 2023), 

xl Public Services and Procurement Canada, “Canada finalizes agreement to purchase new fighter jets for Royal Canadian Air Force,” (January 2023), 

xli Canada, “Establishment of 3 Canadian Space Division,” (22 July 2022),  

xlii Canada, Royal Canadian Navy Strategic Plan 2017-2022, (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, 2017)

xliii Canada, Digital Navy: A Strategy to Enable Canada’s Naval Team for the Digital Age (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2022), 5-6

xliv Canada, Digital Navy Action Plan (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2022)

xlv Canada, Pan-Domain Force Employment Concept: Prevailing in a Dangerous World (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, Canada, 2023), 19

xlvi Pan-Domain Force Employment Concept, 25-27

xlvii Canada, Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Quantum S&T Strategy: Preparing for Technological Disruptions in the Future Operating (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2021), 

xlviii Canada, Quantum 2030: The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Quantum Science and Technology Strategy Implementation Plan (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2023), 

xlix Canada, Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces 2023-2024 Departmental Plan (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2023), 10, 37, 94

l Canada, Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces 2022-2023 Departmental Plan (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2022)

li Canada, Canada First Defence Strategy (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2008).

lii Canada, Defence Plan 2024-2025 (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2024). 

liii Canada, The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Artificial Intelligence Strategy (Ottawa, ON: Department of National Defence, 2024).

liv Alexander Salt, “Military Organizational Change and Emerging Technology: Lessons for Canada,” Canadian Global Affairs Institute (2024), 


About the Authors

Dr. Alexander Salt has a PhD from the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies and an MA in Political Studies from the University of Manitoba. His dissertation explores to what extent has the battlefield experience of the U.S. military influenced post-war organizational innovation. His research has been awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Award, as well as a General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. Memorial Dissertation Fellowship. He has published research relating to international security and defence policy with Strategic Studies Quarterly, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, and The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society. Previously, he was a Visiting Political Science Instructor with Macalester College and has also held positions with the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, as well as the Consulate General of Canada in Dallas, Texas, and the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  

Dr. Alex Wilner is an Associate Professor of International Affairs, at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University. His books include Deterrence by Denial: Theory and Practice (eds., Cambria Press, 2021), Deterring Rational Fanatics (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), and Deterring Terrorism: Theory and Practice (eds., Stanford University Press, 2012).

By Editor