Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money

          By Chuck Black

The Trudeau government has cut off the Ukrainian military from accessing Canadian high-resolution surveillance satellite imagery, which might indicate a shift in Canada-Ukraine relations, or something else.

It looks like the Polar Communications and Weather Satellite is dead, at least according to recent news reports. Many of our current military policy discussions and announcements are the direct result of the April 2016 Federal government announcement that military policy would be reviewed. As outlined in the April 6th, 2016 Toronto Star post, "Liberals launch long-awaited review on future of Canada’s military," the Trudeau government hoped to have the review "completed in time for the next federal budget cycle." To learn more about the review check out the Defence Policy Review website. Graphic c/o Al Calder.

As outlined in the February 17th, 2015 post, "Taking Sides Via Satellite: Ukraine to Receive RADARSAT-2 Images," the Stephen Harper government announced in 2015 that it would provide Ukraine's military with high-resolution satellite imagery from RADARSAT-2.

However, as outlined in the July 13th, 2016 Yahoo News post, "Does Canada's decision to cut off Ukraine from satellite data show a shift in relations?," that earlier decision has evidently been rescinded.

In the international arena of ever shifting policy concerns, maybe that's OK. But there's more.

The Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) satellite mission, last discussed in detail in the November 4th, 2013 post, "Polar Communications and Weather Project Inches Slowly Forward," seems to have grown from what was once a substantial $600Mln CDN program into a far larger $4.5Bln CDN program which has evidently just been cancelled in favor of the somewhat smaller, but still costly, $2.4Bln CDN Enhanced Satellite Communication Project (ESCP), at least according to Col. Jeff Dooling, the director of space requirements for the Department for National Defence (DND).

How's that for confusing?

The new program will be ready by 2023, as opposed to the old program, which was once supposed to be ready by 2016. As quoted in the June 30th, 2016 Space News post, "Canada eyes $2.4 billion Arctic satellite communications constellation," the new project would likely include "at least two satellites in an elliptical orbit," much like the old project, but without the weather component; this change is expected to lower costs.

PCW has been around for a long time. For the rest of this 2008 PCW assessment, simply click on the graphic. Graphic c/o CSA.

It’s dead,” the article quotes Dooling as saying. “It was never a project, it was a concept from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). It did provide a lot of data from the studies that were done, but it had become too expensive and so it went on the shelf."

According to the article, Dooling was interviewed while speaking at a US conference on military satellites.

There may even be more programs on the horizon and more money needing to be spent. As outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Motherboard post, "How Satellites Will Enable Canada to Surveil the Arctic With Drones," Canada is in a fight for northern sovereignty with other Arctic powers. In order to compete, our military will need an upgraded satellite network to support drones and other surveillance technologies.

According to the Motherboard article, two planned satellite networks, ESCP and a second one, called the Tactical Narrowband Satellite Communication Project (TNP), are currently being promoted. The article also quoted Lieut.-Col. Abde Bellahnid, the project director for Canadian Forces’ satellite communications, as stating that the true cost of ESCP is closer to $1.5Bln CDN rather than the $2.4Bln CDN quoted by Col. Dooling in the article.

No doubt that number will change over time, as well. Unfunded guesstimates have a tendency to do that.

Canadian politician, statesman and academic Lloyd Axworthy, who helped to define military space policy in the 1990's. For an overview of Canadian military space policy over the last 60 years, check out the December 10th, 2010 post "Canada's Military Space Policy; Part 1, The Axworthy Doctrine." Graphic c/o Graeme MacKay.

Other sources also seem to think that Canadian military space programs need more money. An example is the July 14th, 2016 NATO Association of Canada post, "Space, the Next Frontier of Security: Is Canada Ready?," which shows concern that Canada is not adequately equipped to neutralize "foreign military threats" to its space assets. 

It's worth noting that the NATO Association of Canada is chaired by the honorable Hugh Segal, a Canadian political strategist, author, commentator, academic and former senator who once served as chief of staff to Ontario premier Bill Davis and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Of course, Canadian military procurement policies, especially those related to space, have historically been long on discussions, disagreements, political infighting, policy announcements and reversals, but short on funding.

For example, in 2015 the opposition Liberal party supported providing satellite data to Ukraine although they seem to have changed their minds since becoming the Federal government.

Evidently, times change.

Chuck Black.
To quote our current prime minister, who used a similar phrase to justify another recent decision, perhaps these changes are happening because it's 2016.

Expect more changes, but not necessarily more military funding, in 2017.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Chuck - perhaps the change in policy to the Big U results from an appreciation that NATO $upported a coup installing neo-fascists - and that rather than being aggressive Putin has been the prudent adult in the room - perhaps the Boy King is learning to break away from the insanity of endless conflicts benefiting few.


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