By Evelyn Brotherston
Do you know which capability provides maritime surveillance, maintains sovereignty in the Arctic, has helped save thousands of lives, and provides disaster management and environmental monitoring capabilities to the Canadian government?
Air force planes, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters are only part of the story. The full picture comes from space-based systems procured by the Director General of Space for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Satellites and space systems make major contributions to the effectiveness of Canada’s maritime surveillance, search and rescue, and Arctic sovereignty capabilities. While space capabilities are essential in the 21st century, big-ticket military programs like new fighters and ships overshadow Canada’s military space projects in the press and public’s attention. Though under the radar, several future space capabilities important to DND will move forward in the next few years.
Esprit de Corps sat down to chat about upcoming Canadian space projects with Simon Jacques, President of Airbus Defence and Space Canada. Airbus is a strong contender for DND’s Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) project, which would see it supply the C295W to the RCAF. However, space programs are also big business for Airbus Defence and Space, the largest space company in Europe and the second largest space enterprise globally.
Airbus Group has had a significant presence in Canada for over 30 years. It employs over 2,000 Canadians and has a Canadian supply chain of more than 570 companies. Each year Airbus Group purchases $1.2 billion in goods and services from Canadian suppliers. Airbus will leverage this Canadian aerospace heritage with its stature as a world-leading space company as it seeks new opportunities in Canada.
Airbus is already successful in Canada’s space sector as a supplier of satellites, space systems and capabilities to the military as well as civil and commercial sectors. Existing Canadian space customers include DND, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Telesat, MDA, General Dynamics and Urthecast.
Airbus will build on this success and offer its world-class capabilities on a number of DND space projects. This includes the Synthetic Aperture Radar Data Continuity (SAR DC), a follow-on to the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), scheduled for launch in 2018. SAR DC is led by the CSA, but DND will be a significant user of the system for maritime surveillance and Arctic sovereignty. DND will likely make a significant contribution to the project budget, and as a result co-chairs the interdepartmental committee planning the system. DND’s part of the SAR DC project is the Enhanced Surveillance from Space Programme (ESSP).
Airbus is the world leader in Earth observation satellites and space-based synthetic aperture radar systems, having completed numerous mission concept studies and implementation programmes. It has experience in both military and civil radar systems. The company’s space-based radar credentials include SARah, TerraSAR-X, Tandem-X, Sentinel-1, Biomass, NovaSAR-S and the CoreH2O projects. Beyond a significant flight heritage on radar systems, Airbus uniquely has radar credentials that span the C, X, Ku, S, L and P-band radar frequencies.
The SAR DC project is in the very early phases of the procurement strategy. A request for proposal (RFP) that will propose mission concept options is expected in early 2017. The SAR DC project will deliver Canada’s fourth generation radar system and provide DND with cutting-edge satellite capabilities in support of maritime surveillance and sovereignty projection.
Jacques believes that if the Canadian government wants the most innovative capability for SAR DC, it must consider solutions that are available from companies like Airbus. It is important that in the mission concept phase of the project that Canada considers a broad range of options offered by companies experienced in delivering space-based radar systems. Limiting concepts to those proposed by industry located in Canada is too restrictive.
“Competition yields the best technical solution and the best price for Canada. Competition for the SAR DC system benefits DND, Canadian taxpayers and Canadian industry,” says Jacques. “Competition allows Canada to gain access to and leverage radar R&D investments being made outside of Canada. By opening the door to these new technologies and creating opportunities for Airbus to work with Canadian space companies, universities and other industry, Canada will benefit in the long term.”
Airbus is also evaluating potential roles on DND’s Enhanced Satellite Communications Program – Polar (ESCP). Unlike the RCM program, ESCP has a specifically military purpose. This project will provide guaranteed, reliable and secure access to X-band, Ka-band and UHF communications over the North Pole. While not yet funded, the DG Space project team is developing a business case, which will lead to a request for information (RFI) in 2017. Initial operational capability is projected for 2023.
DND plans to implement ESCP in cooperation with allies that share a common requirement for military communications in the Arctic region, using the partnership to share implementation costs. The United States, Denmark, and Norway have already provided letters of support regarding working with Canada on ESCP.
As a leader in military and commercial satellite communications, ESCP is of great interest for Airbus. Jacques noted that “Airbus has 50 years of experience in communication satellite manufacturing and has delivered over 100 GEO communications satellites. We provide both communications satellites and ground terminals. As the innovator behind the OneWeb constellation and the Quantum software-defined satellite, we have much to offer on projects like ESCP.”
Airbus was the industry leader in orders for commercial communications satellites in 2015. It is also a leading prime contractor for end-to-end military satcom systems with credentials that include Skynet 4, NATO IV, SatcomBw 2 and Skynet 5. The four Skynet 5 satellites now in orbit carry both UHF and SHF payloads and are the most powerful military X-band satellites launched to date by any nation. Airbus was also the prime contractor on dual civil/military systems such as Telecom I/II, Hispasat, and Yahsat, and providing bespoke military-hosted payloads on satellites such as MEASAT 3B and Alphasat.
“Beyond building satellites, Airbus has unique experience with Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for military communications systems that could be advantageous should DND decide to select the managed satellite services option for the ESCP project,” said Jacques. “As one example, Airbus is the industry partner on the UK’s Skynet system, and owns and operates a hardened constellation of eight satellites and the associated ground network that provides all Beyond Line of Sight communications to the UK Ministry of Defence.”
This PPP contract also allows NATO and other allies to use the Skynet system to augment their existing services.
“Airbus in Canada is led by a Canadian. We understand Canada as a market and are continuously seeking opportunities that will result in long-term win-wins for Canada and Airbus,” said Jacques. “These upcoming space projects represent the chance for Airbus to build on existing partnerships and forge new ones with Canadian companies in the space sector.”
“We are looking beyond FWSAR, and see space as a way to build on the 30-year presence that we established in Canada,” concluded Jacques. “Canada is an important aerospace market, and we are committed to it. We believe Canadian space projects present us with new ways to bring innovation and technology to this country and expand our supplier and partnership relationships with Canada’s space sector.”