CAE is Ottawa’s poster child in global arms race

When people around the world ponder Canada thoughts of maple syrup, hockey players and training military pilots come to mind.

This country has long dominated the flight simulation market and Ottawa has long assisted Canada’s leading military supplier.

Last Friday Anita Anand met CAE officials in Montreal. The defense minister tweeted photos of the event and announced, “through our Defence Policy Update and beyond, we’re committed to strengthening our partnerships with Canada’s defence industry.”

CAE is by far the largest Canadian-headquartered military firm. With 90% of its revenue derived internationally, the Montréal-based flight simulator company has won billions of dollars in military contracts. CAE trains thousands of US, British, UAE, Saudi, etc. fighter pilots each year in dozens of locations around the world. The company, notes its website, has a “79,000 square-foot training facility” in Alabama “designed to provide comprehensive fixed-wing flight training to the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and other customers.” CAE has created synthetic training environments for many major US Air Force weapons systems. It trained the operators of Predator and Reaper drones, for instance.

CAE has an important US subsidiary in Tampa Bay, Florida, and the company openly talks about profiting from increased US military spending. “Le patron de CAE veut profiter de la hausse des budgets de l’armée américaine” (CAE boss wants to take advantage of rising US military spending), read a 2018 La Presse headline. CAE works with Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the other bulwarks of the US military industrial complex. It produced simulation products for designing and developing Boeing’s ballistic missile defense weapons.

CAE has also worked with Israel’s Aeronautics Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. It has trained Israeli military personnel as well.

At a facility in the UAE CAE has trained Saudi and UAE pilots that began bombing Yemen in 2015. For the past seven years the company has also “lead the design and development of its [UAE] Naval Doctrine and Combat Training Centre.” In Europe CAE operates the only freefall centre entirely dedicated to military parachuting while overseeing the NATO Flying Training in Canada.

Like most of Canada’s aerospace industry, the 75-year-old Montréal based firm grew because of Canadian military spending. In recent decades CAE has also received hundreds of millions of dollars in direct public subsidies through the government’s Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative.

Ottawa has also directly facilitated CAE’s international business. Visits of Royal Canadian Navy vessels to ports in the Middle East in the mid 1990s were credited with generating tens of millions of dollars in contracts for CAE. In recent years Canadian diplomats and military officials have assisted CAE to drum up interest at the annual IDEX arms bazaar in Abu Dhabi.

The company is politically powerful. Its board includes former senator and Stephen Harper’s cabinet minister Michael Fortier and former US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (CAE’s US board includes a number of retired generals and admirals as well as Shanahan and Congressman William Thornberry.) CAE is constantly lobbying MPs and DND officials. A recent “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search” of the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada listed two dozen communications by company representatives. CAE personnel also find their way into government positions. In 2014 CAE director Christyn Cianfarani was appointed to the board of directors of the Defence Analytics Institute while in 2006 the former head of CAE, Derek Burney, oversaw the transfer of power from Paul Martin’s Liberals to Harper’s Conservatives.

CAE highlights the close ties between the Canadian government and global arms industry.

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