Some things the Defence Review might consider (2): Defence of Canada & North America

Yesterday I listed, again, the 11 capabilities (the ones that I believe are essential for Canada’s national defence) that I first offered for consideration in December, and I dealt with the first two: strategic intelligence gathering, and overall defence management and military command and control (C²). I suggested that Canada has, probably, at least adequate strategic intelligence capabilities, also probably fairly well organized, but I think that defence management, especially the military C² system is in urgent need of reform.

(Parenthetically: today I saw a very good article by Colin Freeze, in the Globe and Mail, about just retired National Security Advisor Richard Fadden which confirms, for me, that we have the right sort of people ~ career Mandarins ~ at the top of the intelligence system. (The article is, as of this writing, behind a pay wall.))

Today I plan to deal with another part of the list. I said, yesterday that my list fell into four broad categories: Points 1 and 2, I said, “are headquarters functions. Numbers 3 through 8 are what I would call “baseline” and continental or Defence of Canada type functions. Number 9 deals with expeditionary forces. Numbers 10 and 11 are supporting forces and agencies to make all the others work properly, at home or abroad, in peace and in war.” Today I will deal with numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 from the second batch: surveillance and warning and identify, intercepting and interdicting intruders.

I discussed these in outline back in January, but today I will explore both in a bit more detail.

Surveillance and Warning

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” is an old management dictum; “measure twice, cut once,” is another bit of sound conventional wisdom. You also cannot measure what you cannot see, and measuring the appropriate response to intrusions into our sovereign territory, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both is what surveillance and warning is all about.

There are, broadly, two kinds of surveillance:

  • Active ~ radars and the like; and
  • Passive ~ sensors and functions like Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).

445_alertaerialUndersea cable 9 June 2014Passive surveillance is not cheap. Remote listening posts, like Canadian Forces Station Alert, the most Northerly inhabited post in the world, and sensors deployed in the ocean must be connected to central control rooms by undersea cables and microwave and satellite links, and, for example, the handful of (a dozen, perhaps) essential technicians required at a remote, isolated SIGINT station CFS Alert need, in their turn, scores of people, from cooks to air traffic controllers, to keep them alive.



Radar and communications technologies are much improved since the original Distant Early Warning (DEW) and Pine Tree Line radar chains were deployed in the 1950s as part of the first generation of Ballistic Missile early warning (BMEWS) systems. Now the radars can be be fewer in number and they do not require 24 hour a day/seven day a week “manning” to keep them running. But even though technology makes operations simPL-108838pler and less costly in personnel, there is still a steep (and complicated) bill to be paid just to “see” what it is that we need to “measure.”

Northern Canada is a hard place to conduct electronic/radio/radar operations. The atmospheric effects that produce the startlingly beautiful aurora borealis


… also make radio propagation (which includes radar ~ it’s just another form of radio) very difficult. Things that work well below the Arctic Circle often will not work above it, and things that work in the High Arctic often have trouble crossing the “auroral zone” boundary. To make matters worse, the simplest and cheapest satellite systems (those in geostationary or geosynchronous orbit (at an altitude of 35,786 kilometers)) cannot communicate with sites (like CFS Alert) that are above their theoretical “horizon” of 81° (but a more useful, practical horizon limit is actually around 75°) …


… nor can radars mounted on satellites in geostationary orbit provide coverage over the Norther approaches to Canada.

Satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit can provide constant (24/7) coverage over the iridium-66entire surface of the earth, but the Iridium system, for example, which consists of 66 satellites in six orbital “planes” of 11 satellites each, (it was originally thought that 77 would be needed, hence the name Iridium) can provide the coverage but, back circa 1995 Motorola spent several billion dollars to build and launch Iridium ~ the sum was, probably, almost equal to the entire Canadian defence budget in that year. Doing real time electronic/radar/radio based surveillance over Canada’s vast, Northern landmass is a complex and costly business. But complex or not, costly or not, it has to be done and it has to be done well ~ “it” being to do near real time surveillance over ALL of Canada’s landmass, over our coastal waters and the maritime approaches to Canada, and in the airspace over both. That (full coverage and “near real time”) is one qualitative and quantitative measure we can recommend to the Defence Review study team. That will likely require a mix of terrestrial, undersea and space based systems, active and passive, some staffed, on site, others remotely operated … but that is for experts to decide, not us. It will also require some sorts of control and management centres (staff and facilities) and ongoing, life cycle, maintenance and support ~ more costs. This is not negotiable … unless our sovereignty is negotiable; nor is it discretionary because we cannot identify, intercept and interdict what we cannot “see” in the first place.

Identify, Intercept and Interdict

Surveillance and warning must be followed up with identification and, as necessary interception and interdiction … if we cannot identify intruders, intercept them and take appropriate actions to see off the unwelcome ones then our claims of sovereignty are meaningless and we cease to be a real country. This, again, is one of the non-discretionary things and, once again, the costs matter but they have to be paid.


We are, already familiar with the identify/intercept/interdict routine … our CF-18s do it on a fairly regular basis with Russian bombers which, routinely, attempt to violate our sovereign airspace in order to test our reactions. The Russians are not only testing our ability and commitment to protect our own sovereignty, they are also testing our commitment, as part of Flags2NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defence Command) to protect the United States’ strategic deterrent ~ the missile silos, air bases and submarine bases in which the American strategic nuclear triad is housed. We have been “keeping the peace” by protecting the American nuclear deterrent to war for about as long as we have been “keeping the peace” while wearing the United Nations blue beret and, arguably, NORAD has been a better “peacekeeper” than the UN has been.

We need to retain our capability to identify, intercept and interdict aircraft entering or approaching our airspace. That means that we need a replacement for the ageing CF-18 jet fighters in the not too distant future. The government must understand that if it doesn’t do the identification, interception and interdiction ~ escorting the Russians away from our airspace ~ then the USA, pleading force majeure, will, themselves, violate our sovereign airspace and do it for us. And the world will back them because everyone will understand that being a “good neighbour” includes maintaining one’s own fences. Once again, if our claims to sovereignty are to have any meaning at all, then this is not discretionary. New high performance interceptor aircraft ~ enough of them to meet our NORAD commitments ~ is another thing we can recommend to the study team.

The land threat is going to be rare but possible. As I mentioned back in January there is a potential land threat, from Russia, in the form of some kind of sensor package, akin to the former-site-of-nazi-weather-station-377991German weather station that was, secretly, deployed to Labrador in 1943. As I explained back then we need to be able to “see” intruders ~ perhaps detecting, identifying and tracking them with sensors, radars and airborne or space based cameras. Then we need to intercept and confront them … perhaps using either paratroopers or helicopter landed soldiers. The Russian threat will grow if global warming makes resource extraction in the Arctic easier. The Russians, if they operate true to form, will try to muscle in on everything . Canada will need to have and to be able to (rapidly) deploy and use an air delivered land force combat team to intercept and capture and intruders.

This is not a large task and I think all of the forces needed to conduct it successfully exist now. The requirement is to identify, earmark and maintain those forces.

Perhaps the most frightening threat comes from the sea.

The most common and most familiar threats are not military but the Canadian Armed Forces are, routinely, tasked to deal with them. They include:

  • Illegal fishing – we all remember the Turbot War of the mid 1990s; and
  • Human smuggling.

There is also a drug smuggling threat, but Canadian warships usually try to deal with that closer to the source, in the Caribbean:

The ships that are doing all this work ~ fisheries patrols, coastal patrols and drug interdiction ~ are all in need of replacement.

The most frightening threat is from a sea based terrorist attack.

According to a 2012 audit report: “More than 80% of global merchandise is transported across oceans as marine cargo and over 95% of marine cargo imported into Canada comes through five major marine ports. These ports are Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Saint John, Montréal and Halifax. The rest is dispersed throughout smaller ports across Canada. Over 2.5 million containers were imported into Canada in 2011.” But, an earlier report (from the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers) said that while the national target was (2006) to screen 3% of containers in Montreal only 1.5% were actually being screened. There are two very good reasons why only 1% to 3% of containers are screened:

  1. Cost; because of
  2. Centerm-terminal-from-sea-level-300x200Sheer volume. Thousands of containers are offloaded in Canada’s major seaports every day bound for every city and town and, in many cases, slated for transhipment to the USA. Examining any significant number of them would impose delays and drive up consumer costs and would require resources that are not available to the Canadian Border Services Agency.

That means that terrorists, for example, know that a shipping container is an easy way to smuggle a major weapon into Canada and, perhaps, explode it in a harbour, before even the initial (radiation) screening is done.


Several terrorist attacks have been thwarted in Canada in recent years. We might guess that the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) agency (amongst its other duties), has made some contribution to these successes by intercepting communications “traffic” that gave police and security service officers clues as to who was plotting what. It is hard to make plans without resorting to electronic communications and we should assume the CSE’s operators and analysts are well qualified and efficient at their work. They will, possibly, be the first line of defence against a seaborne terrorist attack. If terrorists plan to try to ship a weapon into Canada (or into the USA through a Canadian port) then Canada will (as it does, now) wish to continue to participate in an allied system of treat assessment, analysis and warning and have a warship ready, on each coast, at all times, to intercept a container ship, for example, at sea before she can ever reach a Canadian port. This a 24/7 “ready duty ship” on each coast is another qualitative/quantitative measure we can, confidently, recommend to the Defence Review team.

We have, now, in two posts, identified a need for:

  1. National, strategic intelligence gathering and analysis services;
  2. A national defence management and military C² superstructure ~ headquarters and the like;
  3. A comprehensive system of surveillance and warning systems to allow us to “see” our land, contiguous waters and maritime approaches and the airspace above both; and
  4. Combat forces (ships, army units and aircraft) to identify and, as necessary, intercept and interdict intruders.

More to follow in the coming days and weeks …


3 thoughts on “Some things the Defence Review might consider (2): Defence of Canada & North America”

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