Canada’s Arctic monitoring plan relies heavily on satellites

By focusing on satellite assets and new technologies, the Canadian government is expanding its defense and surveillance capabilities in the Arctic.

Anita Anand, Canada’s Defense Minister, announced on April 7 that the federal government’s 2022 budget includes $252 million ($199 million) to undertake research on updating the joint Canada-U.S. North Alert in the Arctic. In addition, the funds will be used for northern research on long-range communications and over-the-horizon radar systems.

Anand had previously indicated that further announcements on new Arctic-related projects are yet to come. In an April 4 appearance before the Canadian Senate Defense Committee, Anand noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and concerns about Russian activities in the Arctic are driving the new funding.

“The current defense and security climate has also underscored that we need to do more to strengthen our defenses in Canada and North America more generally,” she said. “To that end, in the coming months, we will propose a robust set of investments to strengthen our continental defense in close cooperation with the United States.”

The NWS was built between 1986 and 1992 and consists of a series of long and short range air defense radar sites. Forty-seven of the 50 sites are located in the Canadian Arctic.

In a March 29 meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Anand stressed that modernizing North American Aerospace Defense Command capabilities is a key priority for the Canadian government. Much of this modernization will center around upgrading the North Warning System or NWS.

Canadian and US defense officials have yet to work out the details of the modernization, but the estimated cost of such a project is expected to be around $10 billion.

“You’re looking at a multi-year undertaking here, obviously working hand-in-hand with our allies to set priorities and land on specific plans,” Canadian Deputy Minister of National Defense Bill Matthews told senators.

However, in an August 21, 2021 agreement, Canada and the United States identified priority areas for investment. These include situational awareness, particularly for the Arctic and maritime approaches to the continent. This would see the replacement of the North Warning System with more advanced technological solutions as soon as possible, including next-generation over-the-horizon radar systems, the two countries stressed in a statement released at the time. . Sensors for the seafloor and in space were also included. “The existing North Warning System should be maintained until suitable replacement capabilities are in place,” the two countries noted. Consideration will also need to be given to a modernized command and control system that would include robust and resilient communications for remote locations in support of NORAD missions.

Additionally, members of the Canadian defense and aerospace industry were briefed by officials from the Canadian Department of Defense on April 7 on some of the space initiatives that will be moving forward in the future. One of the key programs is the Enhanced Satellite Communications Project – Polar (ESCP-P). This will involve a satellite to provide reliable and secure communications access for the Arctic.

Early work on the project, which will provide narrowband and broadband communications capabilities, is expected to begin next year, according to the briefing provided to industry by Cam Stoltz, director of space requirements at the Department of National Defence. . The budget has yet to be set, but the Ministry of Defense has estimated that it could reach C$4.9 billion.

At one time, the Canadian government was considering orbiting a constellation of satellites to provide communications to the Arctic and collect weather data from the region. This project proved too daunting and was canceled in 2016. Instead, Canada decided to focus solely on communications capabilities, the result being ESCP-P. Other countries have also expressed interest in working with Canada on ESCP-P, including New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, the United States and France. The system should be operational from 2034 and will be interoperable with the US Department of Defense and NATO.

Work will also begin next year on the Enhanced Defense Surveillance from Space (DESSP) project. This space-based system will provide surveillance of the Canadian Arctic and its maritime approaches, as it is designed to be an upgrade to the defense capabilities now provided by the RADARSAT Constellation Mission. The RADARSAT Constellation Mission, launched in 2019, uses three radar imaging satellites to conduct maritime and Arctic surveillance. The RCN is also equipped with an Automatic Identification System (AIS), allowing the detection and tracking of vessels.

The Department of National Defense consulted with industry on DESSP and in November 2021 received feedback from companies on technology that may be available for the project in the future. It will now be up to defense officials to determine how to proceed. However, DESSP’s initial operational capability is envisioned in 2033, Stoltz told industry officials.

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