Maritime Domain Arctic Awareness

15 July 2008

Canada’s Foreign Policy, and its ability to enforce its Arctic Claim, rests on a robust approach to Marine Domain Awareness – an area where the CF and Canada Command will play an important role in coming years.

It has been one year (August 2, 2007) since the Russians planted a flag at the seabed at the North Pole using a Mir submersible. This summer, if current sea-ice trends continue, we may have an ice-free pole with people kayaking and swimming to it. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is sponsoring swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh in his attempt to kayak to the North Pole.

Canadian research scientists, aboard CCG Louis St. Laurent in 1994, took core samples from the sea floor at the Pole when she and USCG Polar Star transited the Arctic Ocean leaving from Esquilmalt and making their way across the top of the world to Halifax.

Dr. Lawson Brigham, Commanding Officer of the American vessel, is now working closely with Canada on the Arctic Shipping Assessment, under the auspices of the Arctic Council (a consortium of Arctic nations which look at Arctic issues in the Arctic Ocean Basin). Transport Canada is play­ing a key role in this work, under the leadership of Victor Santos-Petros who is also leading the development of the Polar Code at the International Maritime Org­a­nization (IMO).

This summer, Russia, through the Murmansk Shipping Company, plans to trade across the Arctic bridge, moving cargo across the Arctic Ocean to Churchill, Canada’s Arctic port.

The second-ever bulk shipment from Russia is scheduled to arrive in Churchill on 10 August, and more are planned. Increased commercial shipping activity pushes forward the urgent need for Arctic marine domain awareness.

Marine ecotourism is also increasing. More than 70 cruise ships are currently operating off west Greenland this summer, with more planned in Arctic waters this year.

With much of the prairies and Alberta tar sands within 1000 rail miles of the Port of Churchill, it’s future is secure.

Commercial shipping is not static – it responds quickly to economic and environmental changes, which are facing structural changes and shifts. Arctic shipping, whether via Northwest Passage, transpolar or Northern Sea route (Russian), is on the increase and Canada must be able to respond to commercial shipping interests.

The Canadian International Council has just released a preliminary discussion paper by Professor Lachenbauer on Canada’s Arctic response entitled “Arctic Front, Arctic Homeland: Re-evaluating Canada’s Past Record and Future Prospects in a Circumpolar North” (www.igloo.org/canadianinternational). In a multilateral approach to the circumpolar Arctic, Prof Lachenbauer asserts that militarization will not strengthen Canada’s Arctic claim. The paper will clearly foster debate and discussion.

Marine Domain Awareness, essentially a defence function, is not specifically addressed in the paper. It must, however, figure prominently into future Arctic cooperation and lead to greater cooperation with other ­Circumpolar nations – increasing stability rather than destabilizing the existing geopolitical situation.

The ability to share marine information is an important tool in protecting the Arctic marine ecosystem. This can be a cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy on Arctic issues, but we must first build a robust Arctic marine domain awareness regime.

Left unsaid is the requirement of a state to maintain its sovereign territory – which, in Canada’s case, includes a huge littoral zone almost equal to its land mass. The Canadian Navy is well aware of this, but most Canadians are not. We are a continental nation in outlook even though $120 billion in export trade is carried by commercial shipping vessels.

MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, BC, leads the world in the development of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites that are not weather dependent – this is essential in the Arctic. Canada is a leader in Earth Observation technology – the Canadian government recognized this when they blocked the sale of the company this spring.

Canada needs a robust whole of ­government response to marine domain awareness in the Arctic that includes policy development, legal framework and data fusion to name a few components of a responsive marine domain awareness. In addition to the Polar Epsilon project, more use of satellites and the proposed Radarsat Constellation project (which will put more SAR satellites in space) is needed.

The regulation of international commercial shipping by Transport Canada will be key to effective marine domain awareness. Canadian waters are immense, and resources are few – this will require the Canadian Forces to take a lead role. Canada Command is well suited to take this lead and work with other federal departments to make this a reality. It will take funding.

During a February 2007 presentation, Lieutenant General Dumais, then Commander of Canada Command, explained that: “Maritime Domain Awareness is difficult to define as it is neither an operation nor a mission. You do not do MDA, you achieve it. All agencies contribute to it. It knows no owner but it responds to many masters who readily use it to achieve their respective goals.”

Therein lies the problem – because  a lead or coordination function that has the legislative framework with the legal process to share information between departments is clearly necessary. These uses should not restrict the collection process or bog down development and implementation of the system. Equally important is the ability to fuse data from a variety of sources whether that is a ranger patrol, Coast Guard helicopter from an icebreaker, Naval vessels, Radarsat 2 satellite,  surveillance aircraft, or a passenger’s cellphone camera on a expedition cruise ship.

Advancing technology has made more sources of data available and technology also exists to fuse this data for assessment by the decision-makers.

When it comes to surface shipping in the Arctic, the problem is uniquely Canadian – its solution will be made in Canada. It has been the Canadian way to engage the public and private sector and the academic community in a quest to solve national problems. We need a vehicle for these issues to be discussed and solutions identified.

The Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Senator Bill Rompkey, recently released an interim report on the Canadian Arctic after holding hearings this spring, travelling to the arctic and attending a deployed Coast Guard icebreaker. Nine recommendations were put forth for immediate action. The Senate Committee will resume in the fall and a final report will be released when the hearings are completed. I urge all readers to read the recommendations. One that that is ­relevant to our discussion here states:

The Committee recommends that NORDREG, Canada current voluntary vessel traffic system in the Arctic, be made compulsory.

At present, foreign vessels entering Canada’s Arctic waters are not required to report to NORDREG with respect to location, planned route, and the ability to comply with the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Regulations. By not making NORDREG mandatory, Canada is sending the message internationally that it is not committed to its claim that the Northwest Passage is part of its internal waters.

A mandatory NORDREG will require Canada to have a robust Arctic marine domain awareness which will be needed for noncompliant vessels. As oil prices rise, the distance-savings of 4400 nautical miles will appeal to foreign vessel owners running substandard shipping who can save considerable fuel costs transiting from South East Asia to Northern Europe via the Northwest Passage. Transport Canada‘s Port State control program of inspecting foreign flag commercial vessels is quite effective and detects and detains substandard shipping. Such vessels are easy to find in Vancouver or Halifax Harbours but more problematic in the McClure Straight.

The challenge Canada faces is to bring this all together in a whole of government response. The Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOC) have shown a solid ­beginning for department cooperation. The 96-hour call-in, under the Canadian Marine Transport Security Regu­la­tions, would be buttressed by a mandatory NORDREG requirement.

The new Commander of Canada Command, Vice-Admiral McFadden, can play a key role in this important work to champion a whole of government response to the development of Arctic marine domain awareness. We need to engage northerners – blending traditional knowledge and the latest technology with marine domain awareness. Technology alone will not solve this dilemma.

Working with our best friend and ally, the USA, we can develop a marine awareness regime that is similar to what has been developed with NORAD and USNorthCom with respect to continent wide aerospace activity. CanadaCOM will be called upon to use skills developed and honed in a lifetime and career of service to our country to get this right. From what I observed recently in Halifax at the Marine Security Conference hosted by Dalhousie University, Canadians in and out of uniform working with leading edge technology companies are both ready and up to the challenge of crafting a ‘made in Canada’ solution using a blend of old and new thinking on marine domain awareness. The Canadian Coast Guard, working with Transport Canada and CF CanadaCOM will be able to develop marine domain awareness for Arctic surface shipping.

Sailors are by nature, are problem solvers. When you give them additional infor­mation, a clear mission and new technologies and allow them to go to work—beautiful things happen. The colour of the ship’s hull really makes no difference given existing good working relationships and developing friendships between these agencies.

Thank you, Prime Minister Harper, for the foresight in allowing MDA, the company, to have a continued and valued place in the Canadian Arctic marine domain awareness equation. In the long run, it will pay dividends in Canadian foreign policy as we develop and share this earth observation information with other Arctic nations and make the Arctic Ocean Basin a stable geopolitical environment. We will need all the technology we can muster. We aren’t going to lose the Arctic – we are going to use it; and be very aware of everyone else who is using it. Canada will achieve Arctic marine domain awareness by working together. We will be a better and stronger country for it.
Joe Spears is a Principal of the Horseshoe Bay Marine Group and maritime counsel.
© Frontline Defence 2008