Watching Arctic Waters – Domain Awareness

15 September 2010

Canada’s intention to purchase 65 F-35 Stealth fighter aircraft, and the controversy this has generated, has led to a healthy public debate. We last saw this vigorous national debate surrounding the proposed sale of MDA Corporation’s RADARSAT 2 satellite to an American firm in the spring of 2008. The verbal dogfights as to whether Canada needs this fighter aircraft serves to highlights the need for Canada to have a comprehensive and long term strategy for surveillance and domain awareness of its Arctic and ocean space. There are some very good reasons for Canada to have such a policy and mechanism to respond to a changing world.
As Winston Churchill once stated, “no matter how beautiful the strategy, one should check the results from time to time.” However, Canada needs to first develop a strategy before we can check the results. In some respects, the issue is a complex one because of competing Government departments and jurisdictions that collect data for a variety of uses and under various pieces of legislation. This, in my view, is a perceived rather than real problem if we can get the strategy right. This first step is key to creating a solid foundation.
When it comes to the Arctic, there is a real opportunity for Canada to be a leader on the subject of Domain Awareness and use this to showcase Canadian thinking and technological expertise across a broad range of sensors such as Spaced-based AIS (Automatic Identification System); Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites such as RADARSAT; various sensors; and HF surface radar to the international community.
Not to be forgotten is the traditional knowledge of the First Canadians – the Inuit – that needs to be woven into domain awareness, a matrix of sensors, data collection and data fusion. The Mark-one eyeball (the human eye), is often the best source of data when it comes to domain awareness. The Canadian Rangers in the Arctic do this job exceeding well. Canada is very lucky to have this capability and needs to promote and build on this unique solution.
A comprehensive domain awareness and surveillance policy involves elements of Canada’s foreign, defense, security, arctic and environmental and ocean policies – to name just a few of the components that must blend together in a holistic fashion.

As the second largest coastal nation in the world, with 244,000 square kilometers under its jurisdiction and an ocean space of 9.1 million square kilometres – equal to 70 percent of its  landmass. There is an ongoing need for Canada to have a long term strategy which embraces cost effective solutions and the latest technology. This should be a cornerstone of Canada’s evolving Northern Strategy.
This is also required for Canada’s overall Ocean security in light of climate change and new geopolitical circumstances.
Canada’s massive ocean space off the east and west coasts cover 2.9 million square kilometres – extending to the edge of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) out to 200 nautical miles. While not sovereign territory, Canada exercises sovereign rights over these waters which requires a constantly updated knowledge of what is happening in its ocean and air space. The edge of Canada’s airspace is normally considered to be the boundary of the Canadian Air Defense Zone (CADIZ line).
With a rapidly warming Arctic, the strategic plan for surveillance and domain awareness must embrace all of government and be flexible enough to evolve in light of long term climate changes. It cannot be static. A cornerstone of Canada’s sovereignty is that we have the ability to know what is going on in our jurisdiction at all times – under the sea, in our air space and on land. Without that awareness, we cannot as a nation exert sovereignty. In the arctic which is sparsely populated, there is the clear need for a robust domain awareness utilizing all data sources to determine what is happening within Canada’s jurisdiction for a variety of purposes including marine environmental regulation, defense, security and law enforcement to name just a few.
The need for accurate and timely domain awareness was recently highlighted this past summer. In two separate marine incidents, an expedition cruise ship and an oil tanker, grounded in our Arctic waters. Luckily, there was no pollution in either case but the outcome might have been much different had these vessels not been reporting to Canadian authorities, in this case NORDREG which is operated by the Canadian Coast Guard.
The Tamil refugee vessel, Summer Sea, that was intercepted off Vancouver this summer did not want to be found by Canadian authorities. In fact, it was recently reported that the International Maritime Organization’s mandatory AIS transmitter was disabled and/or not on board and/or was not emitting a signal that could be tracked by the Canadian Coast Guard’s LRIT system which is a shore-based radar system for tracking vessels out to 50 miles. COMDEV’s subsidiary exactEarth’s space based AIS system can track vessels worldwide using small nanosatellites.
In an earlier FrontLine article (Sept/Oct 2008), I suggested that we need to develop a comprehensive national plan for Marine Domain Awareness and have input across all of government. Whatever the final form of such a plan, a subset of a larger Canadian Arctic policy, the Canadian Air Force will undoubtedly play a critical role. This will require the expanded use of Canadian Forces’ air assets for surveillance, patrol and response functions, in conjunction with other means such as unmanned vehicles, High-Frequency Surface Wave radar and space-based Earth Observation technologies.
Make no mistake, the robust enforcement of Canadian laws will require the use of aircraft, early and often.
In a recently released Air Force Association of Canada position paper 01–2010, The Need for a Northern Surveillance Strategy, a strong case is made for a holistic approach for ensuring sovereignty in the Arctic. This useful document sets out a plan for the Canadian Forces on the Arctic and Surveillance. The background section of the policy paper sets out the Canada First Defense Strategy which directs the Canadian Forces to “ have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic.” The policy paper states: “The employment of Aerospace resources to monitor the north and support any actions taken there is critical to having a meaningful capability, given the area covering a vast distances involved. Primordial is a need to develop and implement a comprehensive surveillance strategy. Following an assessment of the overall requirement (area to cover, frequency and persistence of surveillance, fidelity of  the data to gain information, etc), an implementation plan should be written to address the means to provide the necessary surveillance. Implementation would then be focused on filling in any gaps from current capabilities.”

The Position Paper takes the view that this will be done on a gradual basis using new technologies, possible cooperation with the United States where appropriate and would include “Space based assets, manned and unmanned aircraft, and ground-based surveillance systems.” The position paper concludes:
“The overall strategy should be to implement the capability to ensure that a practical robust surveillance system was put in place to meet Canadian needs for situational awareness of her sovereign territory. Importantly individual capabilities must be complementary so as to be part of a holistic solution to surveillance and intelligence gathering in the north. Finally, having a robust and current surveillance capability in the North will also assist  in the execution of another critical CF tasking, that of search and rescue in this sparse and desolate region.”
While the focus of the policy paper sets out an invigorated role for the Air Force, these comments can be equally applied across government to ensure that a comprehensive strategy is put in place. This policy paper can serve as a starting point for a broader discussion across all of government to bring into play the role of the other government departments such as Transport Canada Marine Safety, Transport Canada Marine Security, the Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Border Services Agency, the RCMP, Environment Canada to name a few who collect data and have a role to play.
Within the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Air Force is well positioned to lead this thinking in the defense context. It has a long history of marine surveillance which is morphed into the long-range patrol group with both marine and land surveillance capabilities. In a recently released document, Projecting Power: Canada’s Air Force 2035, edited by Dr. Andrew J. Godefroy, the introduction notes: “The Air Force must not simply react to the future. Through this and other studies the Air Force will seek to anticipate the future, shape it and in essence, created it as much as possible.”
These words ring true for Canada – especially as it relates to the Arctic. We have a unique opportunity to develop a defining domain awareness approach for the Arctic Ocean Basin in this coming century. This is a great opportunity to bring innovative thinking to the issue of domain awareness using both formal and informal linkages to the Arctic Council. Domain Awareness is also a concern shared by the Russians; the limited sources of data, plus the ever-increasing marine activity, present ample opportunities for discussions of international cooperation among members of the Arctic Council.
Arguably, there is a role for NATO in the Arctic Ocean Basin. This may be just the opportunity for Canada to reach out and seek a NATO Center of Excellence on Arctic Domain Awareness. It should, of course, include a search and rescue component. Canada, unlike other NATO countries, does not yet have any such centres within Canada.
 It has been shown that stability at the international level is advanced by cooperation of nation states working together. This need for Domain Awareness is an opportunity to bring together government, the private sector, and academia with such a centre or research cluster.
The United States has been a good example – they developed the National Maritime Domain Awareness Coordination agency which has sought to cut across government at all levels. It acts as a catalyst for both public and private sector groups with maritime interests to develop an information sharing environment. It does not seek to own the data inputs but facilitates the identification and resolution of information sharing barriers, thus clearing the way for domain awareness as set out in a Presidential Directive and a National Strategy and Plan.
Under article 234 of the Law of the Sea Convention, the “ice covered waters provision” can serve as the basis for an international regime for domain awareness in the Arctic, to be implemented by the coastal states. With the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act as a starting point on mandatory reporting, Canada can develop and shape international law to establish a domain awareness regime in the Arctic Ocean Basin which helps create stability globally, protects the environment and leads to greater international cooperation.
It should not be lost on Canadians that this is good for businesses that are at the forefront of development of domain awareness technology.
We must remove all preconceptions and consider the Arctic from a fresh perspective. At this stage, it is important to have a bias for action.
In the case of Canada, the collection of data can take place across a wide range of agencies such as the Canadian Space Agency. This data needs to be fused together from a wide variety of sources and sensors.
The Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOC) that were developed in response to 9/11, and which are active on both coasts, can be a great starting point but we need to develop the thinking and legislation for the sharing of data between government departments so that this can be dealt with in a seamless way – protecting Canada’s interests as well as private legal rights. It might be helpful to create a new agency with a broad overarching mandate for domain awareness. This needs to be examined in detail.
We have seen in the aerospace defence area that NORAD has served the test of time and has become invigorated in recent years. It might now be the right time to look at an increased naval component of NORAD to deal with surface and also subsurface marine activity. After all, a variety of nations are strengthening their submarine forces. In an increasingly ice-free resource-rich Arctic Ocean, this may well become more of an issue than it presently appears.
An ice-free Arctic Ocean changes and impacts global dynamics – and Canada, as a coastal nation and Arctic leader, needs to be ready for this eventuality.
Given the strength of Canada’s technological expertise and leadership in the area of Arctic marine regulation, this creates a great juncture for Canada to stand out as an Arctic leader to truly recognize the notion of “true north strong and free.”
To do this, the federal government would have to reject piecemeal strategies and create, instead, an over arching Arctic Strategy as an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy.
Canada is already leading the way with the Polar Epsilon project, using imagery from the RADARSAT 2 satellite to provide much better situational awareness of Arctic lands and waters. We have now made NORDREG reporting mandatory in Arctic waters, which requires all vessels over 300 gross tonnes to report to the Canadian Coast Guard. However, we need to bring all of these together into a comprehensive strategy.
As has been mentioned in many earlier articles in Frontline Defence, we need to creatively combine the latest in technology with traditional knowledge of the North. It is crucial to involve the Inuit in this process. This innovation should be the cornerstone of evolving policy.
It may well be that the F35 discussion and debate will trigger a policy debate that will highlight the need for a strategy on domain awareness. It may lead to a holistic whole of government approach so that appropriate steps can be taken in a timely fashion – whether it is environmental response, law-enforcement or security and defence considerations.
Let us not forget that ‘Job One’ of the Canadian Forces is defence of the country and its citizens. Canada is indeed a big country surrounded by a “Great Big Sea.”
We have much to lose if we don’t get this right. The time to start is now. As a starting point of a robust innovative solution to the difficult problem of domain awareness, we can adapt this phrase from the Air Force publication Projecting Power: “Supported by [...] innovation and creativity that encourages and tolerates new ideas and is willing to accept some risk, these capability requirements – shaped by dynamic, innovative and forward thinking leadership – will serve as a benchmark from which to begin the development of the future [Canada].”
These words are pertinent to the need for a national surveillance and domain awareness policy for Canada – domestically and at the international level. This overarching concept can serve to unify the various federal departments and jurisdictions and provide some rigour to Canada’s needs. The time has come for Canada to have a robust, results-based domain awareness strategy, especially in the Arctic. Information is power in a changing world. It allows for solid decision-making and stability. Canada needs to be innovative and creative, and look at data fusion and data sharing in the same way as the technology firms that lead in this field. Canada will be a stronger and better country and true Arctic leader for it.

Joe Spears contributed to the Arctic Council’s recent Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment.
© FrontLine Defence 2010