NSPS and Arctic Sovereignty
© 2012 FrontLine Defence (Vol 9, No 4)

It is one of Canada’s defining features.
Those who spend any length of time in the Arctic tend to come away with a sense of its immensity as well as, in an era of global warming, its economic and strategic ­importance. Yet, while successive governments ­routinely profess awareness of its potential early in their mandates, their myriad declarations seldom become reality.

This is especially true of military commitments and it begs the question: is our sovereignty vulnerable? The answer obviously depends on our level of political and financial commitment. Enter General Dynamics Canada and its recent forum on the topic of Arctic sovereignty – bringing together government, ­corporate and academic stakeholders to discuss how to identify capability gaps in the Arctic and come up with ways to plug these gaps. A synopsis of the closed-door presentations and ensuing discussions was provided to FrontLine. It suggests that coordination is the key to ­effective sovereignty in a region where Canada’s military presence is ­bare-bones. Without awareness, knowledge and communications, “any sovereignty strategy will not be effective.”

The consensus among participants was that changing conditions in the Arctic will continue to make the region more accessible, not only to us but to other nations. The synopsis also cites Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Arctic sovereignty mantra of “use it or lose it”, which dates back to his days as Opposition Leader and which he has repeated periodically in subsequent years. “If you want to be taken seriously in the world, you need the capacity to act – it’s that simple,” he said in May 2008 when he unveiled the Canada First Defence Strategy, adding that it would “strengthen our ­sovereignty and security at home and ­bolster our ability to defend our values and interests abroad.”

A majority of Canadians seem to have bought into the concept, notwithstanding the fact that long-term gains have repeatedly fallen victim to short-term pains (government spending constraints). In the 2005 election campaign, for example, Harper talked about acquiring 3-4 armed icebreakers but that has been scaled back to 1 unarmed icebreaker and 6-8 smaller lightly armed Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS).

The context for forum discussions was framed by the results of a 2011 Ekos Research poll of 8,303 respondents from Arctic Council nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The 2,797 Canadians included 744 in the three northern territories and 2,053 in the south.

Ranger Wally Pauloosie, from Taloyoak, Nunavut, on predator control watch during Operation Nunalivut 2012.

April 2012 – Canadian Rangers patrols return to Resolute Bay, Nunavut after completing sovereignty patrols in Canada’s High Artic during Operation Nunalivut 2012. The return was marked by a closing ceremony as they rode their snowmobiles past dignitaries.

A majority of Canadians saw the Arctic as our top foreign policy priority but also felt that military resources should be shifted there from foreign conflicts (the combat mission in Afghanistan was ongoing at the time of the poll). However, while most Canadians saw the Northwest Passage as a domestic waterway, respondents elsewhere considered it international. And while nearly half of the Canadians felt that Canada should assert sovereignty over the resource-rich Beaufort Sea, Washington and Ottawa ­continue to have conflicting views about boundaries.

Natural resources potential in the Arctic is enormous, but development has been hampered by short shipping seasons. However, the area covered by permanent sea ice is diminishing; the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center recently published satellite-derived data showing the 2011 thaw was the fifth in a row to exceed the historical average, and indications are that 2012 could see the process accelerate further. As a result, the shipping season has been gradually lengthening, prompting other countries to take an interest.

Chiefs of Defence and military staff from ­several of the visiting Northern Nations gather around a Canadian Ranger demonstration during the first ever Northern Chiefs of Defence (CHOD) meeting, hosted by Canada at CFB Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador.

“As the ice clears, the resources will be more accessible,” the synopsis points out. “Countries that don’t have resources, or easy access to them, will want to claim these resources. Therefore, Canada must be aware of who is in the region and what they are doing at all times. More importantly, Canada must always be prepared to deal with this activity.”

Discussion at the event was led by four speakers: Omer Lavoie, Paul Bush, Lee Carson, and Mark McIntyre. Lavoie – a Colonel at the time who has just been promoted to Brigadier General and Commanding Officer of Land Force Central Area – was 2006-2007 Battle Group CO of 1 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and has also spent time at Canadian Forces Northern Area Headquarters in Yellowknife. Bush is Vice President, Business Development North America, at Telesat Canada; Carson is President of Ottawa-based NorStrat ­Consulting Inc., and McIntyre is principal scientist at Defence Research & Development Canada–Atlantic.

There was an underlying need for “all stakeholders” to make “a concerted effort” to understand the Arctic. “This can only be achieved with more accurate information from more detailed charts and maps, better surveillance of the area at all times, and more accurate forecasting of the weather systems that affect the area,” according to the synopsis. “With this knowledge, Canadian agencies and personnel who will be asked to respond to any sovereignty challenges will be better equipped to conduct operations.

“Canada is not alone in its efforts to develop a Northern Strategy. Many countries are going through the same process, and most are already in the North mapping and charting the region to determine what the economic benefits will be. To retain its Arctic sovereignty, Canada must develop a strategy that clearly defines priorities, enables Canadians to be aware of all activities, and provides a higher level of knowledge of the region that Canada can leverage to protect its sovereignty claims.”

Drawing on 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group’s experiences last February in Arctic Ram (the largest and most complex Army-led exercise ever held in the region), Lavoie provided insight into the command and control (C&C) challenge. His presentation and the ensuring discussion focused on the fact that operations, particularly in the depths of an Arctic winter, cannot be centrally-managed as they are elsewhere.

“Headquarters and all the support functions that enable command and control, especially communications systems, should be designed to be easily moved,” the synopsis says, pointing out that there still are “major capability gaps” in Canada’s efforts to establish and maintain reliable C&C communications in the region and that most available hardware is not up to the task.

“In addition, expertise with HF radio communications networks, which is the foundation of effective voice communications, has been waning in Canada. This expertise should be developed to enable personnel to include an effective HF radio component in any integrated command and control communications network. Likewise, secure mobile wireless communication is not possible. Military organizations lack the technology and the expertise to integrate secure wireless networking into a complete command and control communications infrastructure. This severely hampers … accurate situational awareness intelligence.”

Goose Bay, Labrador – MCpl Audry Pardy, a Canadian Ranger with the Cartwright Patrol, reviews his target with General Walt Natynczyk, the Canadian Chief of Defence.

Deputy Commander Canada Command, MGen John Collin speaks with Canadian Rangers while visiting a patrol stop near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, during Operation Nunalivut 2012.

NSPS: Arctic Offshore Patrol
A $9.3-million contract has finally been signed with Halifax-based Irving Shipyards. This is the first concrete step in the government’s plan to ramp up Canada’s military presence in the Arctic. Announced on July 10, the contract is for detailed design on a fleet of 6-8 Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), which are expected to be in the 6,000-tonne range and would have a helicopter deck as well as at least a 57mm deck gun.

Coupled with an unarmed icebreaker which is expected to be built by Vancouver Shipyards as part of a package of non-combat ships, the AOPS concept first saw light in July 2007 when Prime Minister Harper confirmed plans to reassert Arctic sovereignty. “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty: either we use it or we lose it,” he said at CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. “Make no mistake, this government intends to use it.”

The Polar Class 5 ships – capable of sustained forward motion through medium first-year ice – ostensibly would be modeled on the Norwegian Coast Guard Vessel Svalbard, which was commissioned in December 2001 (displacing 6,375 tonnes, it has a length overall of 340 feet, and can top 17 knots). Whether that remains the preferred option is unclear.

As Irving Shipyards President Steve Durrell said in a published interview, the ­company hopes to have its design work completed by year’s end. Public Works & Government Services Canada says $9.3 million will be used to ­analyze a preliminary vessel design, prepared by another company, with a view to determining what detailed design work is needed.

At the time of Harper’s announcement, the estimated cost of the lightly armoured AOPS fleet was at least $3.1 billion, with an additional $4.3 billion for operations and maintenance over a 25-year operational life. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose explained that this ­initial contract is only “the first in a series of contracts leading to the delivery of new ships for the Royal Canadian Navy.”

First delivery is not expected until 2018, which would be about three years behind the ­government’s original schedule and while there have been suggestions that negotiations with Irving had been problematic, Durrell said they were “going very well” and that the ­relationship was “very, very good.”

HMCS Winnipeg on a ­maritime patrol along the BC coastline.

There have been concerns that the shipbuilding plan is facing stormy waters as delivery of the first Arctic ships – the first naval vessels to be produced under the national shipbuilding plan – has been delayed already by at least three years to 2018.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that military networks cannot interoperate with public safety and security networks. “Past policies of municipal, provincial, and federal governments – combined with the independent practices and procurement processes of public safety and security organizations – have created a collection of siloed communications networks incapable of efficient interoperability.”

Leveraging satellite technology was seen as part of the solution, notably through for more efficient and effective multimedia communications based on Telesat Canada’s geostationary platforms, which have provided services in the Arctic for more than four decades. These included commercial broadcast and telecommunications services to Northern communities, as well as dedicated military telecoms.

Telesat has 30 unused transponders on its satellites, capacity which could be leveraged to enhance Arctic communications capabilities. In addition, Telesat is getting set to launch Anik G1, built by California-based Space Systems/Loral, which includes the first military Satcom payload on a Canadian satellite. Last month, pending regulatory approvals, parent company Loral Space & Communications Inc., sold the satellite manufacturing subsidiary, SS/L, to British Columbia-based MDA (MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates).

It is also worth noting that, since geostationary satellites can’t cover the Northwest Passage effectively, Telesat is developing hardware to provide complete polar coverage as required by the Canadian Space Agency and the Department of National Defence

While satellites are an option with which Canada has a wealth of experience, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman Corporation used CANSEC 2012 to unveil an unsolicited proposal for three modified RQ-4B Global Hawk remotely-piloted high-altitude aircraft. It coincided with DND’s decision to ramp up its long-delayed Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) procurement of medium-altitude armed drones – but without an Arctic surveillance capability.

Dubbed Polar Hawk, these endurance platforms (they cruise at 300 knots for more than 30 hours at 65,000 feet) would have an electro-optical/infrared and synthetic-aperture radar/moving-target indicator sensor package as well as Iridium satellite-communications link to provide command-and-control north of 70º, where other satellite coverage is ineffectual. NG Vice-President Dane Marolt said the company proposed “a full turn-key solution.” His company would provide the aircraft and ground stations, which require a crew of three, while Mirabel-based L-3 MAS would do “everything else” over a projected 20-year service life.

“It’s a capability that matches a need here,” Marolt said. “The Arctic is an issue for Canada; it’s also an issue for the United States. Unless you know what’s going on there, you can’t take any action.” He declined to price the project, but a review of other NATO members’ Global Hawk programs indicates that acquisition and service support could top $1.6 billion – arguably a manageable annual average of $80 million. While the datastream from these platforms is virtually real-time, there remains the ongoing challenge of acting on information, which means getting ships, aircraft or personnel into position in time to deal with a situation.

“Complete domain awareness is only possible based on agreement by all stakeholders of what information should be collected and communicated,” the synopsis continues, pointing out that the government’s May 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy directs Canadian Forces:
“to be aware of anything going on, in, or approaching our territory, deter threats to our security before they reach our shores, and respond to contingencies anywhere in the country.”

Whatever technologies eventually prevail, the forum participants conceded that it might be “difficult to create a coordinated domain awareness process that includes information from many independent programs, projects and agencies.” However, they cautioned that “coordination” was “absolutely essential to any effort to maintain Canadian Arctic sovereignty.”

Read more on Arctic policies of Canada and the United States by Kristofer Bergh a researcher with the SIPRI Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme
The ability and willingness of Canada and the United States to address the mix of social, economic and military challenges facing the Arctic region will be dependent on a range of domestic conditions and processes. While the USA is just waking up to these changes, Canada has made the Arctic a top political priority.
This paper explores domestic motives for the Arctic policies of Canada and the USA and their impacts on the two countries’ foreign policies. It describes the Arctic foreign policies of the two states, outlines the complex relationship between domestic politics and Arctic foreign policy in each country and discusses the ways in which the two countries' Arctic policies interact in the international political and diplomatic arenas.
Download the SIPRI Insights paper here.

Ken Pole is a Contributing Editor at FrontLine magazines.
© FrontLine Defence 2012