DRDC prepares the future of the North

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Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is playing a key role through its new All Domain Situational Awareness initiative in exercising Canada’s northern sovereignty.

With talks about climate change in the spotlight around the world, the North has become a more interesting place, opening it to some potential challenges. The military has always played an important role in the North, with the North Warning System (NWS) radar technology, providing situational awareness in the Arctic, but the challenge now is that it requires replacement as early as 2025.

“This older generation of technology is due for replacement within the next 10 years,” said Dr. Marc Fortin, ADM (Science and Technology), and Chief Executive Officer for DRDC. “With the geopolitical evolution of the threats, we need to take a hard look at the system we have for protecting Canada and North America and keep up with the times.”

Replacement of the radar system

North Warning System is the radar line composed of more than 40 radar stations that make a line in the North, and are part of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) system.

The NWS looks at air based threats, and according to Dr. Fortin, we need a fuller system below and above water, under ice, and space based, that will provide commanders with a complete picture of what’s happening in and around Canada’s territories. ADSA Science and Technology Program will look deeper, higher and farther.

Researching a solution

ADSA will explore surveillance solutions related to aerospace warning coverage extending deep into the North, enhanced surface maritime domain awareness, and awareness of sub-surface activity approaching or in Canadian waters. The assessments conducted in each of these areas will provide Defence with evidence based advice to inform high-level decisions on future technologies and capabilities.

The Prime Minister has mandated the Defence Minister to renew Canada’s focus on surveillance and control of Canadian territory and approaches, particularly our Arctic regions. So before the government invests millions to replace the NWS with new technology and equipment, DRDC is researching different initiatives, that will be both effective and efficient. ADSA is one of those initiatives, and DRDC has partnered with other government departments and numerous external partners to make it happen.

“ADSA is really a scientific project,” said Dr. Fortin. “We are not building the capabilities for just surveillance; we are doing scientific studies that will inform the decisions of what technologies will be deployed.”

This initiative will use science and technology to identify, develop and demonstrate the technologies in support of situational awareness across air, maritime surface and sub-surface domains, particularly in the North.

Sharing of information

This whole-of-government partnership will help with other projects, such as climate change, safety and security issues, and tracking of commercial activity in Canada’s Arctic. Sharing technologies with departments like Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Environment Canada, will provide them with important information they need to complete their initiatives.

“If we have an asset under water or ice that is collecting information, even something as simple as the changing water temperatures, it can provide important data for these other departments.”

Through an investment of $133 million over five years, DRDC will lead the ADSA S&T Program and work in partnership with these other government departments, academia, industry and allies to conduct research and analysis to support the Defence Team in the development of ADSA.

“Commanders want to have situation awareness of all domains,”said Dr. Fortin. “I state plural because we need to look at under water, above water, air, ice and space, and it all has to work.”

To accomplish this, DRDC is working closely with the United States and the Five Eyes community which includes Canada and the United States, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Using some of the best minds, DRDC has brought together a dedicated team of scientists from across different domains: maritime, space, land, radar, and air, because the objective is a complete holistic picture.Having this new technology will allow Defence to detect threats with more accuracy and speed, giving the commanders more information and more advanced warning.

Dr. Fortin also has a personal draw to the North, as his great-uncle Captain Joseph Bernier, explored the Arctic archipelago from 1904 to 1911 and officially claimed the islands for Canada. “Now my job includes protecting the Arctic,” said Dr. Fortin with a smile.

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