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How Canada is enhancing its SATCOM coverage

15th August 2019 - 10:52 GMT | by Beth Maundrill, Tony Skinner in London

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Expanding its commitment to the space domain, Canada’s defence policy commits to ‘increased and predictable’ funding to deliver new capabilities, such as earth observation, space situational awareness, and satellite communications. 

Ottawa is particularly focused on enhanced coverage of the country's northern-most regions, which are largely devoid of such capabilities.

Although the space domain may be a relatively new responsibility for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RFAC), the service has developed a five-year roadmap laying out the space framework for the armed forces.

Speaking to Shephard, Col Cameron Stoltz, director of space requirements within the RCAF, said, ‘We have an ambitious agenda to meet the requirements for the space domain that were laid out in Canada's most recent defence policy from 2017… which recognises that spaces increasingly congested, contested and competitive.’

The mission for DG Space in Canada is to ‘develop, deliver and assure space capabilities in order to enable the joint warfighter at home and abroad’.

Stolz recognises that the reliance of militaries on space-based capabilities is only growing so the nation continues to cooperate with its international partners.

For example, August 2019 saw the launch of the US Air Force’s fifth Advanced Extreme High Frequency (AEHF-5) (pictured). The RCAF has noted that the launch of this satellite will allow the Canadian forces to have secure, protected communications in support of operations worldwide.

The joint services satellite system will comprise six satellites that will replace the 1990s-era Milstar satellites. Australia, the UK and the Netherlands have also partnered on the AEHF programme.

‘With respect to the Advanced EHF constellation and the way we have accessed that through our protected military satellite communications [PMSC] project, we find that secure and reliable satellite communications, as you know, are essential for command and control of military operations,’ Stolz commented.

PMSC provides Canada with secure communications ‘between 65 north and 65 south and terminals, for our land, sea, and air forces’.

Despite this, challenges remain and although Canada has access to these geostationary satellite constellations Stolz noted that there are still issues for Canada when communicating within the far north of the country.

‘That's one of the challenges right now, that the geostationary satellites don't provide the coverage above 65 to 70 degrees,’ he said.

In addition to this lack of coverage, because of the sparsity of communications infrastructure in the north, the Canadian Armed Forces now has coverage of this area as an outstanding requirement. The 2017 defence policy recognises these challenges, according to Stolz.

As a result, Stolz’s team has initiated the Enhanced Satellite Communications Project Polar (ESCP-P).

‘This has a goal of delivering this Arctic communications infrastructure. Specifically, the project will provide guaranteed, reliable and secure access in both narrow band and wide band in support of operations of the earth deck,’ he explained.

ESCP-P is due to have an initial operational capability no later than 2029 with a full operational capability in 2031 - although Stolz said that the RCAF will be ‘doing everything possible’ to advance that timeline.

Funding is projected at C$1 billion ($75 million)to C$4.99 billion ($3.75 billion).

He added that Canada has also received interest from its northern allies who wish to be part of the project. 

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