Monday, June 23, 2014

The "New" Canadian Space Procurement Path

          by Brian Orlotti

Anyone looking to assess the new pathway for Canadian space projects derived from the November 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review (which eventually morphed into the February 2014 policy document called "Canada's Space Policy Framework: Launching the New Generation") need only take a look at the Canadian military and its latest (mostly unfunded) shopping list of requested space assets.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson at the annual Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) trade show in May 2014. Military procurement in Canada is booming and the CANSEC trade show reflects this growth. According to the May 29th, 2014 CANSEC website article "Trade Show Success A Clear Sign that Domestic Defence Industry is Competitive on the World Stage,"  the event featured "more than 10,000 registrants, 331 companies exhibiting products and services over 120,000 square feet of display space, almost 3,600 breakfast and luncheon keynote tickets sold, and 31 delegations from other countries visiting to see what Canadian firms have on offer - almost double the number of delegations from 2013. In addition, more than 600 Business-to-Business and Business-to-Government meetings were scheduled, a 50% increase over 2013."  

On June 16th, the Ministry of National Defence released its first annual Defence Acquisition Guide. Billed as a road map for Canadian military procurement, the guide includes several military-related space projects totaling some $5.9Bln CDN.

But as outlined in the June 16th, 2014 CBC News article "$100B defence spending plan laid out for industry," the program (part of a larger $100Bln plan covering fighter jets, rescue planes, helicopters, drones, ships, satellites, uniforms and even rifles) is certainly not a rock-solid procurement list. 

According to the article, it's more of a flexible "road map of sorts for the Canadian defence industrial sector." One source for the CBC report even called the dates in the acquisition guide "notional placeholder numbers," subject to revision. In essence, while the Defence Acquisition Guide contains projects considered a priority today, these priorities are also subject to change based on "national priorities and as needs evolve."

Areas of interest for the proposed PCW mission include A. Meteorological coverage: 50 degree north latitude (minimum requirement) along the white line; B. Meteorological coverage: 45 degree north latitude (goal) along the white dotted line; C. Communications coverage: 70 degree north latitude (minimum requirement) along the blue line and D. Communications coverage: 66 degree north latitude (goal) along the blue dotted line. Graphic c/o CSA.

But the list does include a number of high priced and notable space projects:
  • The Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) project, a polar-orbiting communications and weather satellite system intended to bolster Canada's arctic sovereignty in the coming decades. As discussed in the November 4th, 2013 post "Polar Communications and Weather Project Inches Slowly Forward," the PCW would provide high data rate communications for both military and commercial use as well as advanced weather and space weather monitoring capability. The estimated total cost of PCW is listed in the defence acquisition guide as approximately $1.5Bln CDN, very little of which has so far been allocated by the Federal government.
  • The Tactical Narrowband SATCOM project, which would provide global ultra-high frequency (UHF) beyond line-of-sight satellite communications for Canadian land, air, and sea forces according to the September 28th, 2012 Canadian government MERX request for information (RFI) on Space Segment, Ground Infrastructure and Service Provisioning, which referenced the project. The implementation of this program is also estimated in the defence acquisition guide as costing above $1.5Bln CDN.
  • The Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) project. This project would see up to 24 Search and Rescue (SAR) repeaters installed on the U.S. Air Force's next-generation GPS III satellites. The MEOSAR project would greatly enhance the capabilities of the Cospas-Sarsat international SAR system and certainly add luster to the reputation of prime contractor COM DEV International. The estimated budget for MEOSAR is listed as costing between $100Mln and $249Mln CDN.
Of course, none of these programs are currently funded through to completion. 

Take PCW for example. First announced with much fanfare by the Federal government in 2009 as part of its plan to bolster Canadian arctic sovereignty, the project languished for years under a fog of political and fiscal uncertainty until November 2013, when the federal government issued an RFI, under the assumption that it's always good to ask for more information when funding isn't forthcoming. 

It's also worth noting the stated Federal government intention to seek funding for the project from other nations which, as outlined in the February 24th, 2014 post "Team Canada Solution for PCW Mission Competing Against US Bid," is hardly the sign of a firm financial commitment to the program.

Dr. Lloyd Axworthy. The current President of the University of Winnipeg was once a Liberal member of Parliament and a cabinet minister in the Jean Chrétien government.  As a politician, he helped champion the 1994 Canadian White Paper on Defence, which later became known as the "Axworthy Doctrine" and became the core of the first Canadian military space policy. Photo c/o Jewish Tribune.

But as outlined originally in the December 27th, 2010 four part blog post on "Canada's Military Space Policy," this process of creating large shopping lists of projects to "run up the flagpole" to see if anyone will fund the listed programs is nothing new.

From the 1960's to the mid-1990's, the Canadian government pursued a policy of financing civilian space programs focused on space science, exploration and civilian technology spin-offs rather than military initiatives. This policy can trace its origins back to the Pearson and Trudeau governments who refused to distinguish between military space assets used for communication/surveillance and space ‘weaponization’ (i.e. the placing of weapons in space) so that they could be perceived of as being strong supporters of the 1963 United Nations Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty. 

Without space-based communications and surveillance systems of its own, the Canadian Forces were forced into continually borrowing US satellites and logistical assets. Over time, this borrowing prompted US concerns that Canada was no longer paying it's "fair share" of defense, a state of affairs that continues to this day.

So, every once in awhile, the Canadian military offers up a few suggestions projects for they'd like to have on the off-chance that some political group with clout, will sign-on to the program and lead the charge for funding.

But until that happens and even though the projects listed in the Defence Acquisitions Guide display foresight and address Canadian military needs, the historic reticence of the Federal government in funding military space programs cannot help but cast doubt on their future.
Brian Orlotti.

Canada's defense needs are clear. The question is, as it has always been, will Canada put its money where its mouth is?

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I didn't realize that the PCW project is not moving forward at all. As for 'putting money where (Canada's) mouth is', I have noticed the complete LACK of information on the military side of space, particularly on the side of announcements. I think they must be running 'All Quiet'...


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