Defending Canada’s Arctic in the 21st century – a review of Strong Secure Engaged, Canada’s new Defence Policy

Defending Canada’s Arctic in the 21st century – a review of Strong Secure Engaged, Canada’s new Defence Policy

K. Joseph Spears

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a Defence Policy Review in 2016. This was to be the first review of Canada’s Defence policy in many years, with the most recent white paper on Defence published in 1994. The review sought the input of Canadians in an extensive engagement and outreach process. The advice of Parliamentarians and our Allied and NATO partners were sought in the formulation of policy. The Minister of National Defence hosted a series of roundtables around the country to discuss the subject matter with experts prior to the formalizing the policy by releasing it on June 7, 2017. The resulting 113-page document, Strong Secure Engaged, sets out a blueprint for Canada’s Defence policy into the future to 2027. It talks about anticipating, adapting and acting on future Defence threats. It also speaks to the funding commitments required to give effect to these Defence requirements. While National Defence represents the single largest Budget item, Canada spends only one per cent of its GDP on Defense and is far from meeting the NATO prescribed 2 per cent of GDP. Of 28 NATO countries, Canada ranks among the lowest in terms of Defence spending as a percentage of GDP.

One of the core functions of Canada’s military is the defense of the realm. In other words, the protection of Canada’s land and ocean space and our maritime approaches. Canada has one of the world’s largest land and ocean area – 9.3 million square kilometers of oceanspace, and 244,000 kilometres of coastline, much of this in Arctic territory where there is little or no infrastructure. It is a monumental undertaking for a country of 38 million people to maintain surveillance and marine domain awareness over this vast region. The challenge is immense, and the threats are difficult to predict in a warming Arctic where international activity is increasing. Canada no longer has the luxury of multiyear sea-ice to restrict activities in its Arctic region which used to curb international activities and force projection by other countries, unless they had invested substantial Arctic capability such as airlift and icebreaking capability. The policy document specifically mentioned this undefinable threat: “Climate change, combined with advancements in technology, is leading to an increasingly accessible Arctic.”

The policy review recognizes that there needs to be sustained funding to fund critical infrastructure and capabilities to protect our sovereignty and security. The review made specific reference to the Arctic. It moved away from specifically referencing sovereignty to more functional terms such as monitoring and surveillance. The policy acknowledges NATO is paying increasing attention to Russia’s ability to “project force” from the Arctic and says Canada will be ready to “deter and defend,” should the need arise. This takes capability to operate in the arctic.

As Arctic waters open up, increased marine traffic will require Canada to be able to respond with search and rescue missions. In Canada, search and rescue is led by the Department of National Defence which deploys dedicated air assets, among which are recently purchased fixed-wing SAR aircraft. These will operate from bases in southern Canada.

The policy review continues to support an Arctic naval presence and holds that the Royal Canadian Navy’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPV) will work with the Canadian Coast Guard and allied partners to help ensure non-naval research, tourist and commercial vessels are supported in the Arctic. AOPV vessels are being built at Irving’s shipyard in Halifax represent the first element of the surface combatant program of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS, since renamed “NSS”) that has been underway since 2010. It is believed that at least five AOPV vessels will be delivered. AOPV vessels have limited icebreaking capabilities, but have the ability to carry a helicopter for ice reconnaissance and potentially antisubmarine warfare, and will be ice-strengthened for Arctic operations.

The operational role of these vessels is still being developed, but will include a multi-mission capability supporting general government operations, in additional to a naval function. The first vessel of the new Harry DeWolf class-designated vessels will be commissioned in late 2018. As part of Canada’s maritime defense policy, a refueling port is being developed at the former mine site at Nanisivik on Baffin Island at the entrance to the eastern Northwest Passage. Nanisivik Naval Station is not going to have much in the way of port infrastructure other than a seasonal refueling docking facility. This facility is critical for AOPV operations, given the great distances to travel in Arctic regions when operating from southern bases.

The policy review notes the challenges in monitoring the vast region: “In addition to being a vast, sparsely populated area, satellite coverage at extreme northern latitudes and the nature of the polar ionosphere create unique issues for sensor and communications capabilities, …” In order to address these challenges, the review stresses coordinating sensor information collection and the key role of data integration from sensor information generated by drones, submarines, satellites, and personnel.

The review also stresses the important role to be played by the Inuit- and First Nations-led Canadian Rangers which are embedded in the communities throughout the Canadian Arctic, who are an invaluable asset to Canada. The review seeks to expand their training and improve their ability to support other branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. Recent Arctic military operations have shown that the Canadian Rangers and their local knowledge combined with the latest in technology is of key importance to future operations. It also recognizes the importance of engaging Northern communities in operational exercises both with Canada and our defense partners.

Among the numerous challenges in operating in Canada’s Arctic, one of the most critical remains reliable communications, including satellite coverage of the region. In addition, marine domain and situational awareness and tactical movement are two others that are specifically addressed in the review. The policy review seeks to develop a new radar system and sensor system using the latest in technology.

There are challenges in operating in Canada’s Arctic waters from a Defence as well as commercial shipping standpoint. The Defence Policy Review takes a realistic view of the situation and provides an overarching policy direction, with funding allocated to achieve these policy goals by acquiring the necessary infrastructure and capability. Canada also recognizes that involving local communities through the Canadian Rangers is a key component of its strategy moving forward. By bolstering its Defence capabilities in the Arctic, Canada will increase its ability to defend the realm, will get closer to meeting its NATO and NORAD obligations, and will ensure that Canada’s economic potential is realized in the region.

Joe Spears is an Honorary Ranger of 2 CRPG Second Ranger Patrol Group based in Nunavik (Northern Quebec). He has spoken at Northern Watch conference hosted by the Defense Research and Development Canada at Dalhousie University Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. Joe can be reached at joe.hbmg2@gmail.com.

A warming Arctic – Canada’s need for Marine Response

A warming Arctic – Canada’s need for Marine Response

K. Joseph Spears

The summer of 2017 has seen the Arctic continuing to warm with sea-ice diminishing by both extent and volume. The last decade has seen a constant Arctic warming trend that has resulted in increased global interest in the region and increased marine activities which bring with it increased marine risks. The Arctic is a region that has very little marine infrastructure and organic marine response capability. This past year, the Finnish ice breaker Nordica departed from Vancouver on July 4 to make the earliest eastbound transit through the Northwest Passage arriving in Nuuk, Greenland on July 29. The year 2016 saw the non-ice-strengthened cruise ship Crystal Serenity making history, completing a successful and well-publicized NW Passage transit. The vessel will be doing the same again this year to a sold-out capacity of 1,000 passengers with the assistance of escort vessel RRS Earnest Shackleton. The future is here: Increasing international marine traffic in our Arctic waters presents challenges to Canada’s ability to manage its ocean space, and challenges existing Canadian marine response capability, which includes search and rescue (SAR).

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Finland: breaking ice and leading international scientific cooperation in the Arctic

K. Joseph Spears

In true “can do” Finnish fashion, Finland combined celebrating the hundredth anniversary of its independence and its chairmanship of the Arctic Council by organizing an international arctic research expedition (Arctic 100) to increase international cooperation and strengthen understanding of the Arctic region. The Arctic 100 expedition was conducted from the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica. Nordica sailed through the Northwest Passage this past summer departing Vancouver on July 5, steaming 10,000 nautical miles and arriving in Nuuk, Greenland on July 29, 2017, 24 days later. It broke the record for the fastest Northwest Passage crossing by one day.

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The case of Clipper Adventurer: Between a rock and a hard place

The case of Clipper Adventurer: Between a rock and a hard place

By Kiley Sampson and K. Joseph Spears

On January 27 2017, Mr. Justice Shawn Harrington of the Federal Court handed down an interesting decision that examined potential liability of the government of Canada involving the grounding of adventure cruise vessel M/V Clipper Adventurer which ran aground on an “uncharted rock” in Coronation Gulf in the Canadian Arctic on August 27, 2010. Before his appointment to the bench, the judge was an experienced admiralty law practitioner. This article will examine both the findings of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and the Federal Court decision with respect to liability of the vessel owner. The grounding, and the subsequent TSB Marine Investigation and Federal Court decision are of interest to students of Arctic shipping. The grounding provides an insight into issues with respect to government of Canada’s obligations to provide Arctic shipping infrastructure and hydrographic charting, and the liability of vessel owners. It has been said that litigation is “an expensive way to learn.” This was a costly learning lesson.

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Trudeau’s Arctic: Warming up to the region

Trudeau’s Arctic: Warming up to the region

K. Joseph Spears

Canada’s Liberal government was elected October 2015 and is now in the second year of its mandate. A picture is emerging of the Trudeau government policy in the Arctic. Canada and the United States entered into a Joint Policy Statement on the Arctic when Prime Minister Trudeau attended his first state visit to Washington while President Obama was still in office. The joint declaration was based upon the foundation of climate change and science-based decision-making that provided a guidepost for resource development and sustainable shipping activities, to name two of the issues addressed in the joint statement. This joint declaration is the subject matter of an article in a March 2016 issue of Canadian Sailings. With the new Trump Administration, the status of this joint declaration remains undetermined, especially given the new Administration’s avoidance of statements related to climate change.

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Trump’s Arctic: Making America Great in the region

Trump’s Arctic: Making America Great in the region

By K. Joseph Spears

Has America’s Arctic policy changed with the election of President Donald J. Trump? His November 2016 election came as a surprise to political pundits and mainstream media. The previous Administration of Barack Obama made climate change a cornerstone of U.S. Arctic policy. Obama’s Arctic policy was the subject of articles in the March and November 2016 issues of Canadian Sailings. It is an understatement that the new President has been less vigorous in his approach to climate science and the underlying causes of climate change. Whether this impacts U.S. Arctic policy remains to be seen: it is still very early days. President Trump has made it clear that he wants to make America great again and thicken the borders of continental America and this must also include the northern border along the coast of Alaska. These efforts will impact Canada.

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