Several weeks ago I wrote a little article supporting the idea that Canada should have a space strategy. About a week ago Peter of the Canadian Press published a piece on the CBC News website reporting that some Canadians are advocating for a Canadian Space Force … some, but not all, While there are some cheerleaders it is worth noting that Conservative Defence critic James Bezan wants Canada to shore up the NORAD agreement first ~ I hope he wants us to join the United States’ continental ballistic missile defence programme ~ and the NDP advocates for the demilitarization of space.
Of course Canada is a space-faring nation. There is a Canadian astronaut in space as I write and our famous Canadarm2 and Dextre still do yeoman service.
It might be worthwhile to review Canada’s role in space. We, through what was the then DRTE (Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment) in Ottawa, became the fourth space-faring nation (after the then USSR, the USA and the UK) in 1962 when the Alouette satellite was launched; it was the first spacecraft built in other than the USSR or USA. I was, personally, proud to have known and worked with some of Canada’s space pioneers including e.g. Dr Jack Belrose, One of the main purposes of the Alouette programme was to improve the quality of ionospheric density predictions which made the military’s long range (global) radio-communications possible. Thus Canada’s military was, always, a pioneer in space and there is no reasons why the Canadian Forces should not remain active in that domain.
We also have the Canadian Space Agency and several world leading space companies like Telesat and Maxar Technologies, both of which hired excellent, senior people away from me when I was heading the DND/Canadian Forces radio frequency branch ~ and I was glad to see my people join those fine companies. The military is, of course, one of the prime sources of Canadian astronauts and of space related business.
The question is does the Canadian military need to do more?
The answer is: Yes and No.
The yes part harks all the way back to something I wrote over three years ago. I said, back then, that Canada needs “Surveillance and warning systems to cover our land mass and, especially, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both.” I did not specify what sorts of systems (the plurals matter) but I can tell you with absolute, 100& certainty that no practical combination of terrestrial (land based) systems can provide surveillance of the airspace over both Canada’s huge landmass and the maritime approaches to it. We need a satellite based surveillance system and because of the the peculiarities of our geography and of satellite orbits no satellite in a geosynchronous orbit (one that makes the satellite seem ‘fixed’ above one point above the earth and not even the planned Radarsat Constellation can provide nearly full time, nearly real time coverage of almost all of the landmass and approaches to it. DND and the CAF need a dedicated, military managed constellation of (at a guess) six to eight or even ten satellites on non-geosynchronous orbits linked, securely, to control and tracking stations in Canada.
The no part is related to Canada’s defence management. There is, already, the Canadian Press article says, a Director General Space, in the person of Brigadier General Kevin Whale and I am sure he is doing his best to ““to maintain space domain awareness, and to develop, deliver and assure space-based capabilities,”” which the article says is his assigned duty. He was busy, last summer, making sure that Canada has seats at the table at the new Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC) (combined means multi-national as opposed to joint which means multi -service) at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, that’s BGen Whale on the right of the photo.
It’s almost certainly not his fault that the Government of Canada is not interested in paying for a needed military satellite system … I speak from experience when I say that one can only go to the ‘grown-ups’ (the minister’s office, PCO and cabinet committees) and be sent away, empty handed, so often before one learns that nothing will be approved until attitudes (and priorities) change. One problem, which I have mentioned several times, is that Brigadier General Whale is, almost certainly, one rank too high for the work he has to do. If Canada’s Air Force had a formation (a group of units) using a mix of terrestrial and space based sensors (radars) and ground control station that fed data to NORAD and to Canada’s defence operations centres then there might be useful work for a brigadier general to command all the RCAF members who staff those units and look after all that information and the there might also be jobs for a couple of RCAF colonels ~ one in plans and one in engineering ~ in Headquarters in Ottawa but what Canada doesn’t need is another under-employed general.
Canada needs to be in space, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces need to be doing more in space. Canada needs to strengthen its ties with the USA, especially in the continental ballistic missile defence system and Canada, on its own and as part of NORAD, needs to build and operate a national, military satellite surveillance system. But those are decisions that politicians must take, first … and i really don’t think that Harjit Sajjan and Justin Trudeau give a damn about the military or space. Until they are replaced by leaders who do, Canada does not need a space force.