Arctic & Maritime Domain Awareness

Mar 15, 2007

With the longest coastline in the world (243,772 km), and a marine area of responsibility of over 11 million square kilo­meters, Canada faces a formidable surveillance challenge! Along these shores are 250 ports and, on a typical day, 1700 ships are in our area of responsibility. It is important to know exactly what is happening in the ocean approaches to our borders. The goal in marine security, therefore, is to obtain “domain awareness” so that we can deal with potential threats before they get too close.

Given the vast security challenge of our geography, space-based sensors can make an important contribution. It must be noted that no single sensor is capable of providing complete domain awareness; each capability or sensor has its strengths and weaknesses and the most complete surveillance architecture will combine a multitude of sensors in an optimal manner.

A new Joint Space-Based Wide Area Surveillance and Support Capability, called Project Polar Epsilon, will use Canada’s RADARSAT 2 as a contributing sensor, enabling all-weather, day/night persistent surveillance of Canada’s Arctic region and ocean approaches. Project Polar Epsilon is a transformational initiative to introduce space-based wide area surveillance for Canadian Government marine surveillance.

Through RADARSAT 2, Polar Epsilon will provide wide area domain awareness over Canada’s ocean approaches and Arctic region. Accordingly, much effort is being expended in algorithm development to innovate the potential of RADARSAT 2 for the sovereignty and surveillance mission.

RADARSAT 2 due for launch in summer 2007. (Image: MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates LTD.)

Capabilities that are being developed include: land surveillance of Canada’s Arctic Region via change detection techniques; ship detection; environmental sensing and ocean intelligence; direct satellite reception and processing; near-real time dissemination; and mission planning tools for satellite mission planning.

The prime sensor in Project Polar Epsilon will be Canada’s RADARSAT 2. Building on the success of RADARSAT 1, the Canadian Space Agency developed a ­follow-on program in co-operation with the private sector.

RADARSAT 2 will incorporate state-of-the art technology and will provide the most advanced commercially available Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery in the world. SAR systems are very powerful tools for Earth Observation as they can acquire images independently of weather and solar illumination. This is particularly useful in Canada’s climate and location, especially for the Arctic that is under cloud cover or darkness for significant periods. Furthermore, as a polar orbiter, RADARSAT 2 passes closest to the poles and is ideally suited for Arctic surveillance. RADARSAT 2 will visit Canada’s Arctic approximately every 4 hours. RADARSAT 2 will detect uncooperative vessels regardless whether or not they are emitting. An all weather, day/night, global reach, polar orbiter, it is ideally suited for northern latitudes. Some important changes include: spatial resolution from 3 to 100 meters; right or left hand imaging capability, improving the ability to meet imaging requirements; and multiple polarization modes enabling better discrimination and recognition of objects on the ground. RADARSAT 2 imaging beams are shown below.

Polar Epsilon will deliver four main ­capabilities, maritime domain awareness, arctic land surveillance, environmental sensing, and maritime surveillance radar.

Polar Epsilon will be constructing new RADARSAT 2 satellite reception sites and processors on Canada’s east and west coasts to support maritime domain awareness. The near real-time ship detection capability will include local RADARSAT 2 satellite reception, processing and applications in support of the emerging Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOCs) at or near Halifax, Nova Scotia and Esquimalt, British Columbia. Note that ship detection information needs to be made available as fast as possible to produce a useful recognized maritime picture (RMP) at the MSOCs. This ship detection information will be fused with data from other sensors, contributing even more to the completeness of the RMP. Furthermore, this will permit subsequent tasking or cross cueing of other sensors to classify, clarify and identify tracks of interest.

The overall requirement in domain awareness is to detect, classify, identify, track and determine intent. For this, all available surveillance sensors are used in a comple­mentary manner. The figure below shows the imaging beams of RADARSAT 2. This satellite is ideally suited as a sensor in remote areas, in all weather conditions and where other sensors do not exist or are unable to operate. Therefore RADARSAT 2 is likely to be the first sensor of detection. It is able to generate area surveillance over 500-kilometer wide swaths at 7.5 km per second. RADARSAT 2 information will be downlinked to the satellite infrastructure provided by Polar Epsilon in support of the MSOCs. With local reception and pro­cessing, the information will be automatically formatted into the required messages available for integration to the RMP in 15 minutes. This information can then be available for fusion within the RMP or for cueing to other surveillance sensors or reconnaissance assets such as aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or ships. Local satellite reception facilities in support of the MSOCs will provide surveillance information to the RMP as fast as possible, and extend the RADARSAT 2 visibility masks out to 1000 NM from the coastline, covering the targeted area of interest. Outside these local visibility masks, global surveillance of areas of interest will be achieved by either downlinking the information stored onboard the ­satellite when it is within connectivity of the local station or through other national reception sites.

Canada’s Arctic region is approximately the size of continental Europe and represents 40% of Canada’s landmass. The size and sensitive ecosystem of this territory present significant surveillance challenges. With continued climate change, marine traffic in the Arctic is predicted to increase, and valuable resources are also playing a part in the increased levels of activity in Canada’s north. RADARSAT 2 is ideally suited for Arctic land surveillance due to its polar orbit and its radar characteristics of all weather, day or night sensor capability. Polar Epsilon will assist with Arctic surveillance by exploiting RADARSAT 2 and monitoring such activity or changes. This will be a major contribution to Arctic surveillance, given the remoteness of the territory and scarce resources or sensors available for surveillance. Once aware, other sensors or assets can then be dispatched for further investigation, according to the maritime concept of operations.

RADARSAR 2 communication masks are located near Halifax, NS and Victoria, BC. Ship surveillance information within the footprint of these communication masks will be achieved in 15 minutes. The Government of Canada, through the Canadian Space Agency, invested $445 M in the RADARSAT 2 programme. Polar Epsilon was approved by Treasury Board on 31 May 2005, at a cost of $59.7 M. (STK Images courtesy of Analytical Graphics Inc.

Knowledge of the environment is required to optimally operate reconnaissance assets such as ships, submarines or aircraft and predict or monitor radar or sonar sensor performance. Project Polar Epsilon will deliver space-based environmental sensing information to the MSOCs from RADARSAT 2 and the United States National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency satellites carrying Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensors. The provision of ocean colour information from the these sensors will assist the MSOCs with the selection and use of maritime patrol aircraft, ships, submarines and sonar performance predictions.

The maritime satellite surveillance radar component of Polar Epsilon will consider investment in RADARSAT 2 imaging beams to optimize those beams for marine domain awareness applications. A high assurance rate of target detection is necessary before tasking limited reconnaissance assets to detected tracks of interest; therefore, sensors must achieve the highest possible performance levels.

This use of space promises much to meet the complete future marine domain awareness requirements: detection; classification; identification; and tracking. The International Maritime Organization obliges ships to carry Automated Identification System (AIS). AIS is a mixed ship and shore-based broadcast transponder system, operating in the VHF maritime band. It sends information such as ship identification, position, heading, ship length, beam, type, draught and ­hazardous cargo details, to other ships and to shore. Monitoring AIS from satellites is a significant advantage. The fusion of space-based radar detections along with AIS reporting significantly improves the recognized maritime picture. The ­ability of radar to detect non-cooperative or non-compliant vessels and fusing this information with AIS reporting permits surveillance operators to suppress known vessels and to easily identify unknown tracks or vessels of interest.

Space-based sensors with their unique advantages contribute significantly to domain awareness. RADARSAT 2’s particular ability to provide surveillance information, regardless of target cooperation or environmental conditions, will improve greatly the potential of Canada’s surveillance architecture. Project Polar Epsilon will use Canada’s RADARSAT 2 as a major contributing sensor for all-weather, day/night persistent surveillance of Canada’s Arctic region and ocean approaches. Project Polar Epsilon is a transformational initiative, in that it introduces space-based wide area surveillance to Canadian Government marine surveillance. Through RADARSAT 2, Polar Epsilon will provide superior wide area domain awareness of Canada’s ocean approaches and Arctic region.

Lieutenant Commander R.J. Quinn is Project Director of Polar Epsilon in the Directorate of Joint Capability Production at National Defence Headquarters.
© FrontLine Security 2007