Leveraging Space Operations of the Department of National Defence

File photo: Artist rendering of the Department of National Defence Sapphire satellite used for Space-Based Surveillance. Credit: MDA.

This interview by Eva-Jane Lark with Colonel André Dupuis, who has since retired from the Department of National Defence and runs the consultancy Space Strategies Consulting, was published in Space Quarterly Magazine in March 2012.

At the time Dupuis was the Director General (DG) Space. That position is now called Director General and Component Commander – Space, and its occupant is Brigadier General Kevin G. Whale. As the Department of National Defence Canada moves towards having a greater space component, it’s important to follow how these changes are occurring and what they mean. This interview provides some context on this evolution.

Leveraging Space Operations of Department of National Defence

Eva: Thank you, Colonel Dupuis, for joining us at Space Quarterly. I’m looking forward to our conversation!

Many of our readers may be unfamiliar with the Director General (DG) Space and the Department of National Defence’s (DND) space operations. Can you tell us about what your organization and its role within DND, and what you do for DND and for Canada and Canadians?

Colonel André Dupuis: We are a relatively small organization within the Department of National Defence (DND) and we are currently focused on the delivery of programs. Capabilities like the Sapphire satellite or Mercury Global and the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) system Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed in January, those are the kinds of things we do. Leveraging the capabilities provided by, for example, the Canadian Space Agency – RADARSAT-1, RADARSAT-2, through the building of ground satellite infrastructure, like our Project Polar Epsilon. For most of the existence of the Defence Space Programme in DND, we have been focused on the acquisition side of space, bringing capability to the men and women of the forces.

RADARSAT-2 painting. Credit: MDA.

However, over the last 15 or 20 years the use of space has grown significantly in importance, not just to the Department of National Defence but to society writ large. Understanding that, the department has placed more emphasis on Space, and by the way, also Cyber. Recognizing this importance this past year, the department established the position of Director General Space and named Brigadier General Pitre to the position. His job is to make defence space not just about the acquisition, but leveraging the capabilities that exist today to better support the men and women of the Canadian Force. Not just about buying things but learning how to leverage them and use them more effectively in support of operations.

Eva: In terms of the relationship that you have with the Canadian Space Agency, has that been mostly involved with acquisitions in the past or are there many other aspects to it?

Colonel André Dupuis: We have an exceptional relationship, I think, with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). In a lot of ways they provide some of the very important tools that we use today and that we will use in the future. RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2, in collaboration with MacDonald Dettwiler, are great examples of unique Canadian capabilities championed by the CSA. They are also leading the way in developing the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM). RCM is going to change, in a fundamental way, how we will do space-based surveillance from a

Canadian Forces perspective, especially at the unclassified level. But the relationship goes well beyond the delivery of capabilities; it’s about the coordination of the space program. We approach our relationship with the CSA from the perspective that they are responsible for the coordination of the civil program and we do the defence and security aspects. Many of the capabilities developed and fielded by the CSA are dual use. We spend a lot of time making sure that the program that we put out is as well coordinated as possible. It is essential to have a well coordinated program to ensure that all the government users, and the citizens of Canada, get the best possible value for the investment that is made, not just in CSA but in DND. An important part of that coordination is a very well developed governance structure that revolves around the Management Board. The Management Board is designed to ensure that the CSA and DND have visibility in each other’s programs and initiatives and it is co-chaired by the President of the Canadian Space Agency, Dr. MacLean and the Chief of Force Development, Rear-Admiral Lloyd.

Eva: What about other government departments?

Colonel André Dupuis: The Management Board relationship only exists between the CSA and the DND. There’s not another between the CSA and other government departments. However, there are other fora that we are involved in, for example there exists an inter-departmental working group that focuses on rationalizing and harmonizing ground satellite infrastructure. All the big Government of Canada users of satellites are members – so it includes DND, the Canadian Space Agency, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to name just a few. It is very closely coordinated and we meet almost monthly.

Eva: And commercial users as well?

Colonel André Dupuis: The relationship to commercial users is the value they can bring to the table. Clearly the companies like Telesat, MacDonald Dettwiler and exactEarth, to name only a very few, all have requirements for satellite ground infrastructure and where it makes sense to collaborate we need to look at those possibilities as well. Our main effort is coordination across government departments but I have to tell you that more and more we are looking at a “whole of Canada” approach to maximize the use of the Canadian capabilities. And whenever this kind of close cooperation is considered there is a policy and procedures discussion that must happen. I was surprised at how well organized the governance structure is within the Department of National Defence and across the whole of government on space capability. When I first got to the headquarters, I had no idea it was this mature, thought through and effective.

Eva: What about your interactions with the space ecosystem in Canada – big companies, smaller companies, universities…?

Colonel André Dupuis: We tend to focus on the interactions with the big users, like MacDonald Dettwiler, COM DEV and Telesat, but the relationship goes across many, many government departments, commercial enterprises, big and small. You used the word ecosystem, so I‘ll use it. The ecosystem is very important to us. Obviously working closely with our friends at Industry Canada. Industry Canada plays a critical role in supporting the Canadian Space industrial base so in many ways we rely heavily on them to promote the health of the space ecosystem. Every time we go into a space acquisition, like all acquisitions, there is an important role for Industry Canada in managing the participation of the very important space industry in Canada. It doesn’t happen by accident. So from that perspective, the commercial/private side is quite important. I could give you an example of how important it is – the WGS deal that we announced in January has some significant Industrial and Regional Benefits (IRBs) and we are quite pleased about how much of that will be focused on the space industry.

Eva: IRBs are something that I find most people are unfamiliar with and may be unaware of how they benefit Canadian companies…

Colonel André Dupuis: Let’s use WGS as an example. Boeing is building the satellites. They have a mature product and an established production line. However, as part of the WGS deal, Boeing has agreed to IRBs equal to the value of Canada’s share of the satellite. Therefore Boeing, which has several business lines in both space and aerospace related fields, will purchase components and sub-components from Canadian companies, companies which we know can provide world class products. Therefore, Canadian industry will directly benefit from the WGS partnership. Leveraging of IRBs is a significant part of the entire program. That’s really an Industry Canada piece and I am sure they can expand upon it in more detail.

Eva: What about universities and their role?

Colonel André Dupuis: Some of what is done with universities is through DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada) but within the Director General of Space, we actually have a couple of really interesting programs. We support the university satellite design competition. Again much of the expertise of assessing the designs comes out of the Science and Technology community, so we leave that to them, but we provide some of the operational expertise to assess the operational feasibility of the proposed designs.

The Royal Military College of Canada has a strong space sciences program, and we directly support them with some research grants. It’s safe to say that doing space projects in a university setting is expensive, and to ensure a strong program we support some of the work that is ongoing there. We are also facilitating an exchange program between the Royal Military College of Canada and the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. If you wanted to see an academic institution that knows how to teach space – that’s where you would go. This past summer we had an exchange student, Officer Cadet Baskey, who took an intensive course on satellite designs, construction, orbital mechanics and satellite operations. He then spent the better part of two months flying a satellite that the United States Air Force Academy actually built and launched, and which is conducting a science mission. Those kinds of things are important for two reasons. Reason Number One – we need to build a strong space cadre, people who understand space and know how to leverage it in support of operations. The second reason is that the men and women who are going through RMC now and who are involved in space will meet USAF cadets who will be their colleagues as they move through their careers. Knowing the men and women you’ll be working with five, ten or fifteen years from now is extremely important. We get a two-for-one, we get the academic and the engineering expertise and we get relationship building. That’s been very successful and we are quite proud of that.

Eva: The Canadian Space Agency has many relationships with universities. Do you piggy-back on those relationships as well?

Colonel André Dupuis: The Canadian Space agency was established to promote the peaceful use of space and they have a great relationship with industry and academia to execute their mandate. We are happy to assist and collaborate whenever and however we can.

Eva: … but you benefit indirectly?

Colonel André Dupuis: Absolutely. In the space business it is about leveraging in every case.

Eva: Does DG Space play a key role in developing overall national space policy working jointly with the CSA? Or just provide input into their efforts?

Colonel André Dupuis: The Canadian Space Agency has developed a series of documents called the Long Term Space Plan (LTSP). Dr. MacLean mentioned the latest LTSP at the last Aerospace Forum where he noted that the current LTSP was very well coordinated, not only with all the government stakeholder departments but also with the major space players in industry and academia. We were consulted on the LTSP like all the other stakeholders were. The same is true for DND with regards to defence space policy. We ask our closest partners to make comments – everyone from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) to the Space Agency. Everyone has a role to play. What you will find is that, and you probably already know, we’re a pretty small community and the collaboration is quite good. It is safe to say we do spend some time talking to each other when we develop the way forward.

Eva: There have been discussions of a national defence space policy document being developed – what is the status of it? Is there a release date set yet?

Colonel André Dupuis: The policy is in final coordination. The defence space policy was developed within the Assistant Deputy Minister for Policy, and is being considered in broad context of all DND programs.

Eva: What international collaborations and partnerships are you actively involved in? You recently announced Canada’s participation in the Wideband Global Satellite Communications System (WGS). Can you tell us more about it, and other collaborations and partnerships?

Colonel André Dupuis: The WGS is a culmination of about two years’ worth of study and then a year’s worth of analysis to find a way to fill, at a reasonable cost, the satellite communications requirements of the Canadian Force. The Canada First Defence Strategy tasked the CF with the defence of Canada, defence of North America and leadership abroad. One of the implied tasks of the strategy is to have a robust command and control system. The number one thing you need to do that well is communication, and if your communications need to be global in nature that means satellite communications. The analysis clearly showed that given the growing requirement – and there are all kinds of programs that are out there, like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), army communications on the move, intelligence reach-back that require you to have comms anywhere, anytime, with large bandwidth – the department was going to require significantly more SATCOM access than we have today. WGS provides that at a price point that nobody else could come close to. We bought into satellite number 9, our investment represents about a 60 percent share of that satellite’s construction costs. That cost to us was not only less expensive than alternatives but results in substantial cost avoidance over the status quo – sufficient to repay the cost of the satellite in a number of years. The USAF now also has authority for a 10th satellite in the constellation. That is a very robust constellation. There are very few commercial SATCOM providers, if any, who could provide the capacity WGS will. In our analysis the commercial provider options were very seriously considered, and at the end of the day, for the price and the capacity, we have access to an excellent system.

Eva: …and you benefit immediately as opposed to waiting until the satellite is actually launched?

Colonel André Dupuis: Right. The MOU states we could access the constellation the day the agreement came into effect. I can tell you that we have already connected.

Eva: As far as I understand it, there are four WGS satellites up at the moment. Numbers 5 and 6 are scheduled for launch in 2012 and 2013. When will number 9 actually launch?

Colonel André Dupuis: WGS number 9 is scheduled for launch in 2018.

Eva: And do you know where the satellite will be overhead? Will it be over Canada? Or elsewhere?

Colonel André Dupuis: Where WGS number 9 goes will depend on a number of factors, operational requirements, the health of the constellation etc. I would just be speculating. Where it will be is where it needs to be, that’s all I can tell you for sure.

Eva: In the press release it mentioned the communications needs for our efforts in Libya and Afghanistan. Were they woefully inadequate or was there just a realization that they could be improved?

Colonel André Dupuis: The Afghanistan theatre of operations has been in place for ten years and was mature. When we first went into that theatre the SATCOM was not as good as it was when the mission wrapped up. The issue for Afghanistan was not so much bandwidth, well there’s never enough, but that it was quite expensive. We had to buy it on the spot market. In the Libya piece, there wasn’t enough. Everybody needed to be there – not just military users but government users and commercial users as well. The CNNs of the world needed to be there, and they were willing to pay, which drives up the cost on the spot market. The best example was relief efforts in Haiti, we could not get bandwidth we wanted for Haiti. We had a bare minimum to conduct operations. We got it but it was very expensive. WGS will allow us to go anywhere, anytime and do the job the way it was designed to be done. We will have robust communications, almost anywhere in the world.

Eva: Were the only issues bandwidth or were there problems with negation of satellites? And are UAVs a better substitute for satellites under those conditions?

Colonel André Dupuis: WGS only represents one satellite program that we are involved in. You ask about negation in the context of SATCOM so in many respects that speaks to jamming and interference. We also have another cooperative program with the USAF, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) SATCOM project. AEHF is designed to provide highly secure, jam-resistant, guaranteed access anywhere in the world. The AEHF space vehicle number 1 launched about a year and a half ago. It should now be in the final check-out phase, just coming up to initial operating capacity (IOC) now. There will be a second launch in 2012. With that second launch in 2012, Canada will have access to AEHF so it doesn’t matter if satellite links are being jammed. AEHF is designed to work in the most hostile communications jamming environment. It cannot move the amount of data that WGS can, but will be capable to delivering command and control information in any environment.

Eva: There also seems to be a growing use of remotely piloted vehicles over battlefields and peacekeeping zones. Will this eliminate the need to use satellites in war zones?

Colonel André Dupuis: That’s a great question. I spent about the last four months studying those relationships. We look at this as a system of systems approach. No one platform, whether it be an unmanned platform, a manned platform or a space-based platform can actually do all of the missions all of the time. Let me give you an example in maritime domain awareness. RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) coupled with space-based Automatic Identification System (AIS) will transform the way we track ships around the world. That’s a given. That’s a very powerful capability. What it can provide is a very good understanding in the broadest context, of where ships are on the high seas. It prevents us from having to potentially take a maritime patrol aircraft like the Aurora and send it out 1200 nautical miles to look for ships not reporting their position as they are supposed to. Maybe they are involved in narcotics or human smuggling. The nice thing about RCM is we can do that at the unclassified level and we can share the picture with all of the users of maritime shipping information. In addition, since we have a very good picture of the ships in our area of interest, we don’t have to send Auroras out 1200 nautical miles on a surveillance mission. We can paint a picture, a really good picture, of what is happening in our maritime approaches to Canada and to North America and then use those high value assets, like Auroras, UAVs, ships or submarines, only to look at ships which are not reporting their positions in accordance with the rules of the road on the high seas. RCM will let us look once every 24 hours at the maritime approaches to North America, with a very high likelihood that we will be able to detect, and track all ships in our area of interest.

Eva: If you see something and you don’t know what it is…

Colonel André Dupuis: Once we have built this picture of the ships coming to North America we can use other resources to try and identify vessels of interest, maybe using classified systems, working down the intelligence chain. We know there should be about 6000 ships in our maritime approaches and we’ll be able to whittle down the number of “who is that guy” to just a handful. And then you can send your UAVs out, because they have that long endurance, to get eyes on. If you still can’t figure out who it is, then maybe the Aurora crews only need to go out 500 nautical miles not 1200. They can get in low and they can take pictures and they can contact the ship’s captain on the radio. Then if you have to send a ship out to intercept, you can do that. But now you can do much more efficiently because you are only sending platforms out to actually meet something as opposed to look for something. Space is very powerful for wide area surveillance. It’s not about displacing one capability or the other. I can’t park a satellite over a ship to find out what it is doing but I can park a UAV (or rather the department can) or an Aurora overhead.

Eva: Speaking of navigation, with a milder climate, are there potential issues associated with the re-opening of the Northwest Passage – sovereignty issues, or inadequate search and rescue or navigation coverage? Are there plans to increase the use of satellites to offset that?

Colonel André Dupuis: When you talk about the Arctic, the Government of Canada has an Arctic Strategy and clearly we’ve read it and we’re paying attention. All the government departments are really focused on executing the government’s plan in the Arctic Strategy. The Department of National Defence is no different. For the Arctic, RADARSAT Constellation Mission will be a very powerful tool to allow us to maintain surveillance, not just to the approaches to Canada but to the Northwest Passage, for example. But not only for ship navigation and maritime surveillance. Because RADARSAT Constellation Mission will be a polar orbiting system the re-visit rate in the Arctic will be extremely high. We have the potential of looking at the entire Arctic, if need be, four times a day. With image processing techniques we can detect very small changes in the arctic environment. We have taken RADARSAT-2 pictures of the Arctic and detected new snowmobile tracks for example. It’s very powerful. We’re working on programs, plans, tactics, techniques and procedures to exploit, to the maximum extent possible, the capabilities that will be provided by the CSA sponsored RCM.

RADARSAT Constellation Mission RCM
RADARSAT Constellation Mission (3 satellites). Credit: MDA.

WGS, although not the best system in the world for communications in the Arctic, still has a fairly good footprint. I would say for most of the places we go to on a regular basis, Resolute, Nanasivik, Inuvik for example, you can see a geosynchronous satellite from there, so we will able to provide SATCOM.

The Canadian Space Agency also has the Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) mission that they are hoping will go forward. We participated in the requirements definition for what kind of military communications would have to be on PCW, and they have been very helpful in helping us define that. Then of course, there are commercial systems that are being developed that may be able to help us. Although we may not have the huge capacity that we have with WGS in the high Arctic, systems like, just for an example, Iridium and Iridium NEXT, might be able to provide us with the kind of satellite communications that would be sufficient. It’s not everything you want, but it is sufficient. When we look at how we do comms in the Arctic from a space perspective, we look at the entire portfolio. It’s not just what the allies have, it’s not just what the Canadian Space Agency might bring to the table but what does industry bring to the table.

Eva: I suspect that if coverage wasn’t good in the past, it didn’t necessarily need to be, but it might need to be more important in the future.

Colonel André Dupuis: Right. More people are focusing the really good intellectual horsepower that we have in Canada to fix the problem. We follow it very closely and I’m confident we are going to have a good solution.

Eva: Can you tell us a bit about your budget? Has it been fairly constant and how is it trending? What are the biggest constraints affecting you?

Colonel André Dupuis: The space program that we have, which includes WGS and Polar Epsilon 1 and 2, which supports RADARSAT-2 and RCM, is part of the departmental long-term spending plan. That’s good. There are resources in that long-term plan, which mesh quite nicely with the overall departmental goals. There are sufficient resources to support the men and women of the Canadian Forces from a space capabilities perspective.

Eva: If you had more resources, do you have a wish list of things you’d really like to do?

Colonel André Dupuis: Well, we really don’t speculate ever on those kinds of things… In all fairness, regardless of who you are talking to, there is a fiscal reality and we all live within it, it all makes sense and we will invest wisely to support successful operations.

Eva: Are there other issues that cause you concern or demand much of your attention at the moment, or opportunities for that matter that we haven’t already discussed?

Colonel André Dupuis: There is one that I wouldn’t mind putting on the table. You’ve heard the U.S. talk about a more robust collaboration with partners and allies. This is true not just in traditional areas of collaboration, but in space as well. The U.S. National Space Policy and the National Security Space Strategy speak directly to leveraging, working closer with allies. Our engagement is not just at the Department of Defense, but with the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Executive Agent for Space and also with USSTRATCOM. They are all very, very keen particularly with the Four Eyes Allies (United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada) – to get a much more robust space operations organization. Each one of the Four Eyes countries brings unique capabilities to the table. We’re driving towards a much more coordinated, much more robust approach to space operations, mostly in a space situational awareness – understanding the environment, everything from collision avoidance and re-entry predictions to space weather. You’re probably very familiar with all the issues surround space debris and protecting on-orbits assets. This January’s re-entry of the Mars Phobos-Grunt satellite is another example of close cooperation required on potential threats from re-entering satellites. It’s not just tracking when and where a satellite will reenter, but if it does reenter and it survives, what does that mean for people on the ground? Is there a threat to property and people? We need to be able to push that information through to the Government of Canada Operations Centre saying “This is what we know about Phobos-Grunt”. In the case of this satellite we were getting, for about a month before the re-entry, twice daily updates on the orbital parameters and what it was doing. In addition, the U.K. did an interesting assessment of the satellite and any threat they believed it posed and they passed it to us and we passed it on to interested stakeholders.

Eva: Were the Russians forthcoming with information? Reports in the press seem mixed on the subject.

Colonel André Dupuis: I can’t really comment because I don’t know. I received processed information from the Joint Space Operations Center down in Vandenberg. It is difficult for me to know what they used to come up with their assessments. This however does highlight the need to build a stronger relationship with the Joint Space Operations Center, to be able to freely share information on space situational awareness is very important. Everything from understanding the health of the WGS or GPS constellations to space weather, to debris and collision avoidance are important for successful operations here on earth. All those are things that Canada as a space-faring nation needs to know. This information used to be really important primarily to the military and now, when I’m driving through a new city and I have to find a Tim Hortons, my GPS has got to work!

That I think brings us back to the theme of leveraging, of coordinating. We can bring quite a bit to the fight. Sapphire is a great example of what we are bringing to the table as far as capability. We met with the Americans just a few days ago and were talking about deep space surveillance, and the value that Sapphire (a space-based electro-optical sensor system) will bring to deep space surveillance network is very big. It is a mission area that is hard to cover. There is one asset now on orbit, the Space Based Satellite Surveillance system and they are very anxious for our Sapphire satellite to be on orbit and assist with this mission. We are being selective about the areas we invest in. We want to get the best bang for the buck, whether that is Sapphire, or space-based maritime domain awareness information that will come from RCM. All are very important parts of the space-based collaboration.

Eva: Thank you very much, Colonel Dupuis, for such an informative and insightful discussion into Canada’s defence space operations.


Since this interview, we’ve published several stories on Canada’s space component, but there are two other stories worth reading in conjunction with this one. The first is by André Dupuis, in two parts, which he wrote for us in 2015 and the other focuses on a speech Brigadier General Kevin G. Whale gave last fall at the Canadian Space Summit.

About Eva-Jane Lark

Eva-Jane Lark is a Vice-President and Investment Advisor at one of Canada’s largest full-service investment firms. A passionate observer and advocate of commercial space development, she is frequently invited as a speaker and panelist to offer her keen insights into emerging new space industries and their financing, and on space resource development.

Leave a Reply