In The Media

Andrew Godefroy: Space: an expensive frontier

by Andrew Godefroy

National Post
February 7, 2013

What follows is the fourth of five excerpts from a newly released e-book, “The Canadian Forces in 2025: Problems and Prospects.” The publication was commissioned by the Strategic Studies Working Group — a partnership between the Canadian International Council and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute in Calgary. In today’s instalment, Andrew Godefroy looks at our Defence Space Program.

In September, 1962, Canadians briefly marvelled at the fact that they had just become the third nation in the world, after the United States and U.S.S.R., to launch a defence satellite into orbit.

Fifty years later, however, not only do few Canadians know anything about their country’s space program, there is almost no public recognition of the fact that Ottawa continues to accept the militarization of outer space as an essential part of its national security and defence policy.

As essential as a national defence space program is to modern military operations, such as those recently undertaken in Afghanistan, they are both technologically challenging and expensive. The former impediment has never been much of a concern for enterprising Canadian defence innovators. But concerns over cost almost always have ensured that their innovations remain earthbound.

With the Afghanistan war drawing to a close and the Canadian economy in an uncertain state, the government will seek to curb defence spending in coming years. This means tough choices lying ahead for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces on deciding where to invest their ever-shrinking resources.

The military already has been forced to cancel expensive equipment projects such as the Army’s proposed Close Combat Vehicle; while others, such as the air force’s F-35 fighter program, sit close to the chopping block. With the immediate focus on the sustainability of terrestrial defence procurement, even the must-have enablers provided by space systems may come to be perceived as an unaffordable luxury for smaller cash-strapped militaries such as ours.

What future might there be then for Canada’s defence space program out to the year 2025?

The Chief of Force Development’s Directorate of Space Development (“D Space D,” as it’s known), a small yet highly talented and motivated cadre of space experts at National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, manages the current defence space program.

A very modest effort, especially when compared to the defence space programs of the neighbouring United States, D Space D nevertheless pursues an active oversight interest in eight program areas: 1) satellite communications systems, 2) search and rescue satellite aided tracking systems, 3) the surveillance of space, 4) navigation warfare, 5) civil-military co-operation, mainly with the Canadian Space Agency, 6) unclassified remote sensing and space situational awareness, 7) space-based wide area surveillance and support, and 8) strategic planning and policy development.

But D Space D acts only as an oversight body in these development areas. Its responsibility is effectively confined to the co-ordination of the DND space program on behalf of the minister of national defence. Although D Space D’s official mandate states that it “conceives, designs and builds assured and responsive space capabilities,” in reality its staff typically is limited to exploring initiatives, managing relationships, and providing advice to the Chief of Defence Staff and the deputy minister on the use of space systems.

Heading into a future of uneasy peace and fiscal austerity, the Canadian defence space program ultimately will depend on the ability to leverage its bilateral defence cooperation relationship with the United States in order to ensure future access to allied space-based systems.

Though some areas of indigenous development such as satellite communications and wide-area space-based remote sensing will see some continued support from Ottawa over the next decade or two, the majority of other space-derived data used in military operations will likely come from our partners and allies.

Andrew Godefroy is a fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. His most recent publication is Defence & Discovery: Canada’s Military Space Program, 1945-74.


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