Sunday, January 16, 2011

Canada's Military Space Policy:
Part 4, Funding an Appropriate Force

The November 2010 announcement that the Department of National Defence (DND) is set to release an "updated" but not substantially changed Canadian military space policy early in 2011 seems to be just in time for the next federal budget. This suggests a series of obvious questions.
Canadian peacekeeping missions in 2003

Part one of this blog post ("The Axworthy Doctrine") tried to answer some of those questions by focusing on how the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's led to a new Canadian focus on aggressive, international peacekeeping missions requiring space focused communication and surveillance capabilities of a type which Canada did not then possess.

The plan to acquire those assets (mostly by borrowing them from the Americans) became the core of our first military space policy in 1998.

The Northwest Passage from the World Cultural Pictorial website.

Part two ("The Changing Political Landscape") discussed why Canada had no military space policy previous to 1998 by going back to the 1960's and the federal liberal party, which refused to differentiate between space based military assets for communication/ surveillance and the placing of actual weapons in space.

Since both were bad, neither could be publicly supported and developed.

Part three ("Towards Northern Sovereignty") dealt with the changing focus of Canadian foreign policy from international peacekeeping towards northern sovereignty, a policy which often places us at odds with traditional allies (such as the US) and makes it difficult to borrow their equipment.

So what tools does the Canadian military need to acquire in order to reliably perform its missions? To answer that question, we need to know the missions.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper announcing the Canada First Defence Strategy on May 12th, 2008.
Current Canadian defence policy is defined by the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) which, according to Wikipedia, mandates the capability to undertake a variety of missions, either separately or together. These include:
  • Conducting daily domestic and continental operations, including the Arctic and through NORAD.
  • Supporting a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • Responding to a major terrorist attack.
  • Supporting civilian authorities during a domestic crisis or natural disaster.
  • Leading and/or conducting a major international operation for an extended period.
  • Deploying forces in response to crises elsewhere in the world for shorter periods.
The proposed arctic offshore patrol ship.
Of course, the government intends to make a series of equipment purchases in order to bolster the DND ability to undertake the above missions. These include:
Naturally, when purchases are contemplated a budget is needed and the budget for this program is a big one. In essence, it requires an annual increase in DND funding from $18 billion in 2007-2008 to over $30 billion by 2027-2028 and totals out at around $490 billion over the 20 year period covered by the strategy.

That's a lot of money.

The space component of the package is designed primarily to tie together all the big ticket ships, planes and other equipment to insure that they can communicate with each other and sense what's going on around them. As the eyes and ears of the future Canadian Forces, the space component might also be the most important part of the program (it's certainly the least expensive).

A colour composite image derived from RADARSAT-2 on January 5, 2011, relative to an archived scene of April 9, 2010. Areas of flooding are distinguished in red. Images c/o MDA.
Canadian capabilities in this area are presently wrapped around RADARSAT, RADARSAT 2 and the follow-on RADARSAT Constellation project. The RADARSAT program provides "wide area surveillance" of the Canadian north (and pretty much everywhere else if the January 16th, 2011 Montreal Gazette article titled "Space agency provides flood disaster images to Australia" is any guide). They use a variety of synthetic aperture radars (SAR) designed to obtain a finer spatial resolution than is possible with conventional photography or radar scans.

One of three satellites in the RADARSAT Constellation.
It should also be noted that this type of technology has obvious resource management and search and rescue (SAR) applications, which makes it an easy sell to the business minded Stephen Harper conservative government.

The Harper government has indeed been extraordinarily kind to RADARSAT prime contractor MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) over the last two years since blocking the sale of the MDA space technology division to US based Alliant Techsystems (ATK).

MDA is also the prime contractor for the DND Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) project, which is part of the Canadian Space Surveillance System (CSSS) and a component of the US Space Surveillance Network (SSN). MDA also builds unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) for DND, which have applications for northern sovereignty and contributes avionics for Canadian military aircraft .
One interpretation of Canada US relations.

Because of the large amounts of money involved (and with so much of the program undefined) there seems to be quite a bit of lobbying from DND, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and others to add specific programs to the CFDS program.

Examples which have broken through the standard media disinterest in the topic include the January 3rd, 2011 post on the David Pugliese's Defence Watch blog titled "Does the Canadian Forces and Space Agency Need its own Rocket to Launch Satellites?" and the January 4th, 2011 Spaceref.ca post "Is Canadian Sovereignty at Risk by a Lack of an Indigenous Satellite Launch Capability?"

Of course, the key to the implementation of the complete plan is consistent policy and long term funding guarantees, a situation that doesn't seem entirely reasonable given Canadian political history over the last few decades. According to the Air Force Association of Canada 2008 position paper titled "Implementing the Canada First Defence Strategy:"
While it is easy to support the initiatives announced by the Government, the ‘devil is in the details’ when it comes to implementation. Of significant importance will be the adequacy of funding. With consumer inflation gradually rising, and equivalent rates for military purchases traditionally higher, the adequacy of a 2% increase is in question.

Indeed, the Standing Senate Committee on National Defence and Security has been openly critical of the need for the Government to redress the level of the Defence budget to ensure that the CFDS is affordable.
Perhaps that's why no one is holding their breath for the upcoming federal budget, which likely isn't going to define the path to the future for the Canada First Defence Plan.

That path likely won't come clear until after the next federal election, which might happen this year, or might not.

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