'System would give Yanks control of Canadian missiles'

[or "Boop, we're firing your missile for you."]

HALIFAX (15 January 2004) -- Our navy is eyeing technology that could put Americans in control of Canadian missiles. The nation's top sailor confirmed yesterday that he's interested in co-operative engagement capability, a system already being installed on U.S. destroyers that allows warships to turn over control of their weapons to another ship or plane.

"Co-operative engagement is something we are looking at," said Vice-Admiral Ron Buck. "We do not have co-operative engagement capability today. In due course, as we look at it, it is something we would go forward to government for and ultimately make decisions based on what the government wishes to do." Canadian warships have been integrating into American carrier groups since 1997. If we tap into co-operative engagement capability, our ships would be able to share the radar picture seen by all the ships in the group.

Greater distance

"Threats can be detected at a much greater distance, allowing the ship to defend itself," said Maj. Tony White of navy public affairs. What is sure to become a bone of contention among Canadian sov-ereignty watchdogs, however, is that the same technology could also allow American commanders to take control and launch missiles from Canadian ships.

"Anything that would allow us to have better defensive systems by sharing the information with other ships and, in fact, allowing other ships to help protect ourselves, makes a lot of sense," White said. The device would not allow American commanders to launch offensive weapons from Canadian ships, he said. "That will always remain a national prerogative," White said.

Canada can't afford to ignore the technology, even though it's still undergoing trials south of the border, said Eric Lerhe, a recently retired commodore who led Canada's naval Task Group 17 months ago in the Arabian Sea.

There are currently at least two missile systems in the world -- built by Russia and sold to several nations -- that can skim over the sea at Mach 2.5, Lerhe said.

"They're just deathly," he said, adding a Canadian warship's radar would only spot such an incoming missile when it was about 30 kilometres away.

"At Mach 2.5, you've got about 30 seconds to kill it before it kills you."

Co-operative engagement capability could give Canadian ships a jump on the threat by giving American ships the power to fire off our defensive weapons, Lerhe said.

Crews on U.S. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes could also have the power to "see this devil," and activate Canadian defences, he said.

Pop out of sea

"They see one of these missiles pop out of the sea or leave an enemy aircraft and come streaking towards the ship," Lerhe said.

"They would, with their God's-eye view, be able to say: 'Algonquin, we don't have the time to call you. Boop, we're firing your missile for you.'"

*The Daily News (Halifax) 15 January 2004, p. 7 clambie@hfxnews.ca

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