In The Media

Defending the Arctic: New security network in the works as world powers turn north

by Monique Muise (feat. Rob Huebert)

Global News
April 13, 2016

The Department of National Defence is gearing up for an extensive overhaul of its Arctic monitoring systems as the ice melts and world powers turn their attention north.

An announcement went out last week to inform private suppliers of something the department is calling the All Domain Situational Awareness Science & Technology Program (or ADSA).

DND says it will spend up to $133 million on ADSA over the next five years to begin developing ways to improve the military’s “awareness of air, maritime surface and sub-surface approaches to Canada, and in particular those in the Arctic.”

According to the government documents, the current system used to monitor Canada’s northernmost fringes — which encompass 75 per cent of the country’s coastal territory — will need a total revamp as early as 2025.

“Climate change is making the North more accessible, thereby increasing economic activity and international interest in the Arctic,” the announcement notes. “Such increased Arctic activity brings additional responsibilities for the Department of National Defence.”

Rob Huebert, associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, says he’s glad to see some coordinated movement toward upgrading the existing surveillance network, elements of which are now decades old.

“The immediate reaction is ‘it’s about time,'” Huebert said.

Aiming for 2025 is probably not fast enough, he noted, considering the pace of climate change and the insatiable thirst for the Arctic’s vast energy and mineral resources.

The Russians are just one of several international players already positioning themselves in the region, Huebert explained. The Chinese have made no secret of the fact that they are moving into northern waters, sending a naval task force up toward the Aleutian Islands last year. Meanwhile, as concern surrounding possible missile launches from North Korea mounts, the Americans have placed the majority of their mid-level interceptors in Alaska.

Huebert predicted, however, that Ottawa will proceed at a snail’s pace until something happens to jolt the government into quicker action.

“I suspect that the next time the Russians do something really dangerous in the region … then all of this gets sped up substantially.”

In his ministerial mandate letter to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the prime minister instructed Sajjan to “renew Canada’s focus on surveillance and control of Canadian territory and approaches, particularly our Arctic regions.”

The current North Warning System provides early warnings of incursions into Canadian airspace, but it’s over 30 years old, dating back to the mid-1980s. Radar-based satellite systems are also used to monitor the region from space.

According to Huebert, the Harper government was heavily focused on Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, but played its cards close to the chest. It’s difficult to know if the new Liberal government is truly starting from scratch, he said, or if significant upgrades have already happened.

“A lot of the stuff that the air force was doing, a lot of the stuff that (Defence Research and Development Canada) was doing for sensors and the rest, is simply not well known.”

Watching the ocean floor

The defence department’s mention of detecting “sub-surface” approaches to Canada is a direct reference to submarines, noted Huebert, which would be a significant improvement to our existing sensor network.

At the moment, one of the only ways to know if someone has positioned a sub at Canada’s frozen back door is to receive a report from an Canadian Ranger or scientist of the top of a submarine breaking the water. At that point, the Royal Canadian Air Force will deploy an Aurora surveillance aircraft to investigate further, said Huebert.

A sub-surface detection system would make securing the waters far less complicated, which is important given the deployment of Russia’s advanced “Borei-class” submarine fleet.

“The one question I’m getting very interested in is, are the Chinese going to start giving some of their submarines under-ice capability?” Huebert added.

Ottawa is also looking to begin using surveillance drones in the skies over the Arctic. A recent call for tender from Transport Canada asked for a private company to supply at least one unmanned aerial system (or drone) to help look for environmental problems, keep tabs on shifting sea ice and boost Canadian sovereignty over northern waters.

“Transport Canada is considering the use of a (drone) to enhance the safety and security surveillance capability of its National Aerial Surveillance Program to survey ice and oil spills in the Canadian Arctic,” confirmed a department spokeswoman in an email to the Canadian Press.

Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, has been open about the fact that his department is also looking to make use of armed drones.

There will certainly be technical issues to overcome if those drones are deployed in the far North.  Arctic weather can be extreme, and satellite connections for GPS are not always the most reliable at high latitudes. Spending half the year in darkness also means greater reliance on radar for drones, said Huebert, but once these challenges can be overcome, the technology could be extremely useful.

“What you really need them for is a layered approach. Drones can go out in conditions and in places where it would simply be too cost-prohibitive to have aircraft. They give you an extra set of eyes.”

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

No events are scheduled at this time.


Global Times: BRICS summit displays the potential of a new future

by Editorial Staff (feat. Swaran Singh), WSFA 12, June 24, 2022

Oil's Dive Won't Bring Any Immediate Relief on Inflation

by Alex Longley, Elizabeth low, and Barbara Powell (feat. Amrita Sen), BNNBloomberg, June 24, 2022

China To Tout Its Governance Model At BRICS Summit

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), The Asean Post, June 23, 2022

Soutien aux victimes d’inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée

by Rude Dejardins (feat. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine), ICI Radio Canada, June 23, 2022

Defence: $4.9 billion for radars against Russian bombs

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), Archynews, June 23, 2022

The Hans Island “Peace” Agreement between Canada, Denmark, and Greenland

by Elin Hofverberg (feat. Natalie Loukavecha), Library of Congress, June 22, 2022

What the future holds for western Canadian oil producers

by Gabriel Friedman (feat. Kevin Birn), Beaumont News, June 22, 2022

At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), Aljazeera, June 22, 2022

Crude oil price: there are no changes to the fundamentals

by Faith Maina (feat. Amrita Sen), Invezz, June 22, 2022

Few details as Liberals promise billions to upgrade North American defences

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Andrea Charron), National Newswatch, June 20, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand to make announcement on continental defence

by Steven Chase (feat. Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2022

Table pancanadienne des politiques

by Alain Gravel (feat. Jean-Christophe Boucher), ICI Radio Canada, June 18, 2022

Russia Ukraine conflict

by Gloria Macarenko (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Radio One, June 17, 2022

New privacy Bill to introduce rules for personal data, AI use

by Shaye Ganam (feat. Tom Keenan), 680 CHED, June 17, 2022


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email