Canada wants to boost munitions lines with critical minerals expansion

Canada wants to boost munitions lines with critical minerals expansion

Canada is seeking to increase its munitions stockpiles amid shortages highlighted by the war in Ukraine. But to bolster production, it first needs to expand its supply chain, particularly for the critical minerals ubiquitous in defense equipment and consumer electronics alike.

To do this, Ottawa hopes to tap further into its vast critical minerals reserves, lessening its reliance on China which dominates much of the global supply chain.

“We have an increasing dependence on Chinese critical minerals,” Canadian Defense Minister Bill Blair told Defense News Monday at a Defense Writers Group event in Washington. “Certainly in my country, we have actually a lot of those assets in the ground. But we have to extract them and we have to process them,”

“Canada can be helpful to our allies by actually creating a viable source of some of those critical minerals,” he said. “And if we work very closely with our allies we can secure broadly what we all will need in the future and we won’t be potentially disadvantaged by an adversary.”

Blair raised Canada’s efforts to become a critical minerals wellspring for NATO during a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday.

“It’s particularly acute, in my opinion, in the defense industry,” Blair told Defense News. “We rely on aluminum and titanium for the planes we’re building and put in the air. Tungsten is an essential mineral for the production of munitions because of its hardness. Cobalt, rare earth minerals, all of the very technical systems that we are developing have a disproportionate reliance on minerals which are not entirely at this present time secure and under our control.”

The Minerals Security Partnership, a recently established consortium that includes Canada, the U.S. and other NATO-aligned countries met in Toronto in March.

Canada released a critical minerals strategy in December. It identifies 31 minerals Canada deems critical, including several crucial to the munitions supply chain like antimony, aluminum, copper and magnesium.

It comes as Canada seeks to bolster its munitions stocks, which Blair called “woefully inadequate.”

For instance, he noted Canada only has two facilities making 155mm artillery rounds, which are seeking to expand production and supply chains.

The shortages have also limited Canada’s ability support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Ottawa has committed roughly $14 billion in aid to Ukraine so far, according to Blair.

“Our responsibilities to continue to support Ukraine really requires that we build up domestic capacity,” said Blair.

The effort to expand munitions lines and supply chains comes as Canada seeks to increase its defense budget, in large part through additional equipment purchases.

The defense spending increase will increase Canada’s military funding from 1.3% of GDP to 1.76% of GDP. However, that still falls short of the 2% of GDP benchmark for defense spending that NATO allies have set.

Blair said that major defense purchases that have not yet been fully funded, including a replacement for Canada’s aging submarine fleet and an integrated air and missile defense systems, would bring Canada closer to the 2% of GDP benchmark.

He noted that Canada has discussed modernizing its underwater surveillance capabilities with allies, including the U.S. and Germany.

“There are a number of options available to us,” said Blair. “But we’ve got some work to do in both determining what are requirements are, what choices are available on the market, and we’re beginning those processes right away.

“And once we’ve done that work, I’ll be in a much stronger position to go back to our government and say ‘We have a very clear path to this new capability acquisition’ and then seek the funding for it.”

Ottawa and Washington are also working together to modernize NORAD, with Blair noting that at least one over-the-horizon radar will be based in Canada.

“We’ve made commitments on getting that delivered,” said Blair. “An integrated, fully communicative systems requires consensus requires consensus and agreement on what we’re going to build and where we’ll build it.”

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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