Canada to fast-track procurement of defense equipment for Latvia deployment

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will be fast-tracking the procurement of defense equipment for the NATO mission it leads in Latvia, which borders Russia and Belarus, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Thursday.

The equipment to be procured as urgent operational requirements includes portable anti-tank missiles, counter uncrewed aircraft systems, and air defense systems, Anand said in a speech to the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence.

Canada is preparing to boost its presence in Latvia, where it has its largest foreign military deployment, and "these new capabilities will further bolster the security of allied troops under Canadian manned on NATO's eastern flank," Anand said.

NATO decided to increase its military presence in the eastern part of the alliance as a "deterrence and defence posture" in 2016, citing an "aggressive" Russia.

Under that plan, Canada deployed its troops to lead a NATO battlegroup in Latvia in 2017. The battlegroup trains and operates in concert with Latvian home defense forces.

Anand said Canada must future-proof its armed forces, citing a changing global defense environment after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and an "increasingly disruptive" China.

"In order to respond to global challenges like these and to protect Canadian interests both at home and abroad, we must build a Canadian Armed Forces ready for tomorrow," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has pledged to boost military spending slightly over the next five years and review its overall defense policy.

Canada spends far less than 2% of annual gross domestic product on defense, which is the level the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says each member should invest annually. Canada's spending was 1.32%% of GDP in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

On Friday, Anand announced the launch of public consultations on Canada's defense policy update, which she said would build on current policy and "enable the Canadian Armed Forces to meet any threat in the changed global security environment."

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Steve Scherer and Alison Williams)