Maritime Domain Awareness

Mar 15, 2010

Effective Understanding for Decision-Making
We can see from the definitions offered in Part 1 of this article (see Winter 2009/2010 edition) that an “effective understanding” of the Maritime Domain must come from a knowledge of the facts -- whether they originate from geo-spatial surveillance and reconnaissance data or intelligence analysis and assessment.

This Australian system, while composed of different players than Canada, could serve as a rough policy model for future MDA Strategic development in Canada.

By finding the means to bring ­individual parcels of information from different departmental sources together in a central pool, then ­analyzing the data and fusing it with background intelligence data through comparison and selection, we can create a common picture. The implementation of an ­organizational architecture that ­formalizes and directs the legal exchange and compilation of information will go a long way to achieving that goal. A lead agency must be selected to organize the fused data into a recognized picture that provides ­maritime domain awareness (MDA) to facilitate informed and timely decisions. Such awareness greatly improves coordinated actions in response to an event or an identified threat.

Information sharing
There have been challenges in gaining this “effective understanding” we call MDA. In the years following 9/11, the Privacy Act, the Access to Information Act, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were often listed by departmental representatives as causal factors for not sharing data between the various departments and agencies of government. This phenomenon was observed when, well before the advent of the Maritime Security Operations Centers (or MSOC s), departmental representatives, counseled by legal staff, named these acts as part of the reason that information management and data exchange projects could not go forward as conceived – even after senate used its considerable influence to move these projects forward.

Not only software projects are involved here – the Maritime Security Operations Centers (MSOC), the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC), the Government Operations Centre (GOC), and numerous other federal, provincial, and even municipal committees need to have clarity in the area of information sharing as it pertains to the law and government policy.

Eric Lehre, a Dalhousie doctoral candidate, has found through his research that there seems to be no valid legal reason for these laws to impede the flow of information from one department to another – given the right conditions. Lehre points out that the Privacy Act unambiguously authorizes the transfer of data between Canadian government agencies under four situations: paragraph 8(2)(a) of the act permits this if the institution receiving data will use it for the “same purpose” (which could be interpreted as a limitation); paragraph 8(2)(b) authorizes transfer if another act, for example the customs act, authorizes information release to other government bodies (and it does so in a very strict manner allowing for transfer of information relating to the national security or defence of Canada); paragraph 8(2)(e) authorizes transfer if the data request is from an investigative body; and paragraph 8(2)(f) authorizes transfer if the two institutions engaged have an agreement or arrangement and the purpose of the transfer is tied to “administering or enforcing” a law.

At first blush this seems to offer ample maneuvering room for the sharing of data amongst maritime security departments and agencies. Indeed, in 2004, the Auditor General stated, “we noted that privacy concerns were often cited as the reason why agencies could not exchange information. However, officials were not able to show us any legal opinions, specific references to legislation or judgments as a basis for that position.”

In 2006, the Joint Commanders of the CANUS Bi-National Planning Group stated in their final report: “although national laws and policies permit the sharing of information, this direction is not routinely being followed at the mid-level management and analyst level.”

Now, there is quite clearly a valid distinction between government departments sharing one-on-one under the above stipulations and the compiling of data from numerous, like-minded departments in a single data-base for comparison and analysis in an “integrated information environment.” This is the popular idea of “connecting the dots” against a diverse and well-organized threat. Lehre does not broach the latter scenario, nor does the Auditor General report. It is important to keep these two scenarios separate when dealing with the legal aspects of MDA. The compilation of data by numerous government bodies is an area where more analysis and recommendations are needed. If it is found that the laws should be changed in this specific area, it is only through such analysis supporting a change to legislation that this could happen. This is a central issue for MDA.

As can be seen by Australia’s legislation after their Olympics in 2000, Canada’s government should consider giving strong direction to departments concerning the sharing of data for MDA and any other national security requirement that is allowed under our current laws. This sharing should take place between federal-level departments, between federal and provincial governments, even between federal and provincial with municipal governments – and it must be defined clearly and unambiguously. Moreover there should be unambiguous direction on how to share national security information with members of the private sector who are in need and can handle the security information properly. The bureaucracy must be encouraged to follow these protocols.

DND Photos

MDA in the Arctic
Let us switch to another priority legal and policy issue that concerns MDA. The actual exercise of sovereignty over the portions of the arctic that Canada has claimed has posed problems for successive Canadian governments for years. Commander Guy Killaby, a naval officer of Canada’s Judge Advocate General organization, has placed this problem area in context by stating that “the appeal of the arctic has always been rooted in Canada’s national mythology, rather than in any compelling substantive interests that might have prompted a long-term strategy or a significant investment.” Part of this ambivalent attitude can be traced to the history of Canada’s unrequited claims of arctic sovereignty. The broader question of whether Canada’s arctic waters are internal or international has been left unresolved.

Over the last century, Canada has founded its notion of sovereignty over the arctic territory, continental shelf, and associated waters on three different legal bases: the sector theory, historic waters, and, finally, straight baselines in accordance with UNCLOS. While the legal principles supporting each of these approaches are distinct, they have shared the common need to demonstrate Canada’s “historic rights” to the archipelago and the surrounding waters. The difficulty in having those rights universally accepted has proven troublesome.

Commander Killaby reports that Canada worked very hard during the negotiations of the law of the sea convention to have the language of Article 234 included in the final text, allowing coastal states to adopt and enforce “non-discriminatory laws and regulations for the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution from vessels in ice-covered areas within the limits of the exclusive economic zone....” It is perhaps a weakness that the article is not specific to Canada, and allows all coastal states to adopt and enforce non-discriminatory pollution regulations. The issue is not “ownership” but legal status of the Northwest Passage - internal waters versus international strait.

Nonetheless, a very recent Globe and Mail article reports that the Canadian government is solidifying its sovereign control over the waterways of the Northwest Passage by designating the waters of its eastern entrance as a national marine conservation area. In this way, the potential agreement would not only protect the region’s delicate ecology, but would bring it under a Canadian regulatory regime. Moreover, the government has announced the intention to make NORDREGs mandatory for the 2010 shipping season. This is a good start – but there continues to be a need for a long range strategic plan to resolve the matter of legal status of and responsibility for the Northwest Passage (NWP) and arctic waterways. Perhaps the first stage of such a strategy in this area would be to influence international legislation in such a way as to consolidate Canadian legal strategies in this area and set the conditions for the national security initiative over the long term.

Nationally-Coordinated Civilian Air Contract Services
In another priority area of Canadian MDA policy, there are two points of interest that need to be highlighted. Both originate from examples that our allies in Australia have worked hard to implement. The aircraft and vessels of Border Protection Command (formerly Coastwatch) make up Australia’s significant “civil surveillance” activity and are often the face of maritime security in the media. MDA in Australia is based on the well-known approach of layered surveillance sensors that paint a picture of what is transpiring in the maritime areas of responsibility and collection and analysis of information and intelligence that underlies the picture. What makes Australia’s approach to domain awareness different from other countries is its heavy emphasis on civilian air contract services. To achieve an impressive ninety percent surveillance coverage rate in the most vulnerable areas of the north and northwest, they utilize a fleet of leased fixed-wing civilian aircraft, helicopters (specifically for the Torres strait), and supporting maritime patrol aircraft from the Australian defence force. Seventeen aircraft are employed on 4500 surveillance flights annually to cover 392 million square kilometers. Based on early intelligence synthesis, air resources are sent to the right place at the right time to counter potential threats.

DND Photos

A National MDA Centre
These sensor resources are backed up by radar satellites (RADARSAT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) on all coasts. The radar picture and accompanying information collected from each of these platforms is transferred electronically to the National Surveillance Centre in Canberra. In this second MDA approach, input from regional centers is collected three months prior to the period of interest, compared with input from other regions, assessed against intelligence for probability of occurrence, weighed for economic, social, and environmental severity, and then assigned a common risk score. From these reports, the central authority can mete out air and sea security resources according to the assessment priority. Australia has been able to increase the number of apprehensions of illegal migrants dramatically in the last decade by placing the right resources in the right area at the right time. By connecting the regional centers to the national center and clarifying the command structure through legislation, the Australian levels of government have been able to centralize and standardize their coordinated surveillance effort.

This Australian system, while composed of different players than Canada, could serve as a rough policy model for future MDA strategic development in Canada. The establishment of a central, integrated, national-level maritime domain awareness centre that brings a National Maritime Picture (NMP) together and is fed from the MDA centers from the “four oceans” of Canada is a possible strategic consideration for the long term. With ongoing analysis of the burgeoning gateway and corridor systems that are binding trade and security together in a strategic package, an integrated national system for maritime domain awareness would not only provide an effective understanding of the Canadian maritime domain, from which a large percentage of goods and services arrive, but would enable our national security organization to give early priority to resource distribution and interaction with allies.

Strategic Considerations
It is apparent that a number of broad themes for enhancement and strategic positioning for MDA loom in front of us. Strategy sets priorities, and in so doing sets a continual engagement of government towards allocation of resources. Long-term procurement plans are thus linked to strategy. National-level MDA strategy that lies below the framework provided by the NSP must, first and foremost, be comprehensive.

We have come a long way since the early days after 9/11 in the area of MDA. In Canada, we have worked hard at the regional levels on the four activities of maritime security and at the national level we have made good progress in legislation and policy towards national security goals. It may be impossible to go a lot further without a Canadian National Security Strategy to guide follow-on strategies in transportation security, maritime security and, of course, maritime domain awareness. The National Security Policy made a start – now a policy movement toward legislated strategy must come into being.

It appears that the areas of law concerning information sharing (particularly the integration issue) and a legal strategy for the arctic are the most pressing for MDA researchers. In the policy realm, investment should be made for research aiming at a central, integrated, MDA center (probably more than just maritime-oriented) that is supplied by business-smart surveillance and an intelligence-fed methodology which assists Canadian decision-makers to adopt a preventive stance against the threats and risks of this modern era. The research and analysis that is focused in these areas will no doubt increase the capability of Canada to achieve the long sought after “effective understanding” of all things maritime that surround us.

DND Photo

Eight strategic considerations have emerged from recent research in the field of maritime security:
  1. Enhance information sharing in government and between government and private industry. Set national standards for finding commonality in the collection, analysis, and sharing of information;
  2. Enhance technology – surge research and development in areas of C4ISR that deal with the challenge of persistent maritime surveillance in the arctic (particularly in approaches and choke points of the Northwest Passage), in the closer quarters of lake and river systems (Great Lakes and St Lawrence River), and in coastal waters between territorial limits at 12nm and the EEZ limit at 200nm.  The oncoming implementation and distribution of LRIT will be a fine step forward here;
  3. Consolidate legal strategies in international law for Canadian claims to sovereignty in the arctic – culminating in a plan that asserts Canadian interests in the arctic (whatever they may be) to our arctic neighbors and competitors before the international courts;
  4. Enhance security networks – continue to build coalitions and partnerships with the burgeoning global maritime communities of interest that are being spurred on by the U.S.;
  5. Establish a central, integrated, national-level maritime domain awareness center that brings the national RMP from the MDA centers of Canada’s four major “ocean regions” and to the federal level and shares its actionable information with the national security machinery of government;
  6. Base the central, integrated, national-level MDA centre’s operations on an intelligence-led methodology (like the Australian Maritime Identification System (AMIS)) that assesses risk from regional centers across the country and executed plans to distribute marine security resources to mitigate predicted risk;
  7. Understand inter-modal relationships linked to marine security such that information-sharing and response can be leveraged across the security spectrum; and
  8. Encourage departments and agencies of the marine security community to shape human resource planning to move in a multi-year cycle from policy development phases to resource procurement phases, to capability implementation phases – with self-audit and improvement throughout.

Doug Hales, a former naval officer and DRDC analyst, is currently a Senior Consultant with CAE Professional Services. He can be reached at

Peter Avis, recently retiring as a Naval Captain after a 33-year career in the Canadian Forces, is now a Senior Consultant at Lansdowne Technologies Inc. in Ottawa. He is the author of the book “Comparing National Security Approaches to Maritime Security in the Post-9/11 Era.” (
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