Canada’s special operations troops performed the unannounced flights aboard a contracted U.S.-registered King Air surveillance aircraft. The aircraft’s high-tech electro-optical systems can accurately detect and target human activity on the ground and cost over $80 million. Some members of the Canadian military consider information to be the sixth operational domain, joining sea, land, air, and cyber. The military must be more strategic in using information capabilities to accomplish combat objectives.
The Canadian military took a considerable risk by conducting secret training flights for Special Forces aerial surveillance above the combustible Ottawa riots. On at least 80 flights since 2018, an RCAF CC-144 Challenger passenger aircraft was spotted transmitting a transponder code for a British aircraft. The same open-source researcher who discovered the King Air flights over the Ottawa protesters also found the error. National Defence stated that a “technical error” led to the transmission of incorrect transponders. The RCAF bought three surveillance aircraft in a $247 million transaction “brokered by the U.S. government” in January 2022, although National Defence did not acknowledge their military affiliation until May 2022.
No one from the Department of National Defence explained why the training flights had to be conducted directly over one of the most acrimonious and lengthy demonstrations in Canadian history. In the modern information arena, military decision-makers must think more strategically. NATO has prioritized strategic communications, notably following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. For Canada’s armed services to function successfully in the Internet era, they must develop a professional strategic communications capacity. However, this must be conducted responsibly, with the proper authority, independent scrutiny, and the candid opinion of outside experts and critics.