© 2009 FrontLine Defence (Vol 6, No 3)

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) are fundamental ingredients of any successful defence or security operation. Whether protecting our environment, securing our borders, effecting consequence management, providing disaster relief, rendering humanitarian assistance, conducting peace support or engaging in combat operations, mission success is profoundly impacted by the commander’s ability to develop effective situational awareness within his/her area of responsibility (AOR).

Developing the kind of situational awareness required to protect Canada from potential threats is daunting. With the longest coastline and the second largest landmass of any nation in the world, Canada’s combined territory, territorial waters and Economic Exclusion Zone comprises over 15,500,000 km2. While the direct military threat to Canada may be very remote, the possibility of terrorism, smuggling, human trafficking, the unregulated depletion of our resources and the effects of environmental damage and climate change all have the potential to threaten the security, well being and prosperity of Canadians.

The challenge of developing situational awareness is arguably greatest in Canada’s northern territories and arctic archipelago. In recent years, growing discoveries of precious metals, petroleum reserves and gem stones coupled with the potential for increased shipping activity due to climate change have focused increased attention on this resource rich but ecologically sensitive region. It comprises over 40% of the Canadian landmass but is home to only 0.3% of the population. The low population density, along with challenging climatic conditions, has served as a barrier to the widespread development of infrastructure such as roads, railways, sea ports, airports and terrestrial communications systems which are important enablers for ISR.

While the government has committed significant resources to the task, continuous surveillance of the vast areas over which Canada exercises jurisdiction is clearly beyond the combined capabilities of the national portfolio of fielded or planned land-based, airborne and seaborne ISR assets. This problem demands persistent, wide area, all weather coverage that is not limited by a lack of infrastructure in the AOR and can provide cueing to existing ISR assets so as to optimize their utility. The clear answer lies in developing a coherent strategy that is founded upon a comprehensive and effective space-based surveillance capability complemented by an appropriate mix of terrestrial, airborne and maritime assets.

Canada has taken the first steps in laying the foundation of such a system with the launch of MDA’s highly sophisticated RADARSAT-2 satellite in 2007 and the announcement in 2009 of the Polar Epsilon project. Under Polar Epsilon, MDA will provide advanced satellite ground stations on Canada’s east and west coasts to exploit the surveillance capabilities of RADARSAT-2 and other space based sensors. These achievements have showcased Canada’s capabilities in space applications and remote sensing, and demonstrate the potential of Canadian industry to furnish the government of Canada with the tools it needs to safeguard our national security and sovereignty. Furthermore, the ability to field our own space systems means that Canada retains control, ensuring that Canada cannot be denied their use over areas in which our jurisdiction may be disputed by other nations.

Despite the tremendous capability that RADARSAT-2 and Polar Epsilon will provide, effective situational awareness in Canada’s jurisdictional area will require a further and enduring commitment on the part of the government both to minimize critical surveillance gaps and to sustain this essential capability. Plans are being formulated to complement RADARSAT-2 with a constellation of satellites in the years ahead that will add greatly to our national surveillance capability. This initial constellation of three satellites will significantly increase coverage and revisit time but will still fall short of meeting Canada’s complete surveillance needs. At a minimum, Canada should aim for a constellation of six satellites that is ever-greened with the launching of additional satellites as required. In addition, the system should be enhanced through a program of planned technology insertion with each new launch.

RADARSAT-2 and the RADARSAT Constellation Mission will also provide Canada with the ability to identify threats long before they reach our shores. Such information can be shared with allies to develop Maritime domain awareness and to provide decision makers with as much warning as possible to respond to evolving situations. These satellites will also assist Canadian activities abroad, supporting our forces in the pursuit of national strategic objectives. The planned Joint Space Support Project will provide our military with direct, in-theatre, rapid access to imagery from a range of commercial satellites.

Satellites are valuable assets but the recent collision of two satellites served to highlight their vulnerability. Canada’s commitment to Project Sapphire, which will see the launch of a surveillance of space satellite in the coming years, will continue Canada’s contribution to the Space Surveillance Network (SSN). Our access to the SSN provides us with the position and orbital characteristics of all tracked objects in space, thus enabling us to rapidly manoeuvre our satellites out of harm’s way should the need arise.

While Canada was the third nation on earth to establish a presence in space, with the launch of Alouette I in 1962, public support for such technology has languished compared to other space faring nations. However, Canadian industry has persevered and has now reached a point of sufficient maturity and sophistication to create a truly world-class space-based ISR infrastructure in support of a broad range of strategic national priorities. But this capacity must be nurtured if it is to flourish. It is now up to the Government to step forward and play a true leadership role in realizing the potential of the nation’s space industry. The time is at hand to develop and implement a space strategy that will contribute to the security of Canada, its citizens and their future.
Wade Larson, Director, Business Development Space Missions, MDA
© 2009 FrontLine Defence