Persistence of Vision – The Key to Asserting National Sovereignty

Surveillance of  Canadian territory in the High Arctic is problematic at the best of times. This is especially true of  the Northwest Passage. The various issues are well understood: lack of infrastructure (while environmental sensitivity restricts the building of future infrastructure); navigational difficulties imposed by both weather and the high latitude; the lack of northern- deployed forces (other than Canadian Rangers) and  long transit  times from southern bases.

When one considers these issues, it appears desirable that Canada find a way to ‘leverage’ a low-cost solution into a  high surveillance return. What we need is a checkpoint – someplace where a persistent surveillance effort can serve as a  ‘tripwire’  for other assets. If suspicious targets were detected quickly,  a more detailed examination could  be made by patrol aircraft from the National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP) or Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), or by any appropriate Royal Canadian Navy  (RCN)  ships which are operating in the region.

Eyes in the Skies  –  Finding chokepoints in our Northwest Passage to assert Sovereignty Fortunately, a location for our surveillance tripwire exists. At Resolute Bay, Nunavut, site of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Arctic Training Centre, we find  infrastructure and a choke-point in the Northwest Passage. All shipping using the Northwest Passage must  sail  through the waters off  Resolute Bay. All  that remains to be found  is a sensor suite that can monitor the Passage. This may pose a problem due to the fact the channel between Cornwallis Island, on which Resolute Bay is located, and  Somerset Island  is approximately  65 km  (40 miles) wide.


Ships in the shipping channel can easily be over the radar horizon from Resolute. To achieve a radar horizon of  40 nautical miles (74 km) we would need to mount that radar on a tower of just over 1000 feet (300 m). Building a 1000-foot  tower in the Arctic, capable of withstanding Arctic environmental conditions, would not be easy … or cheap. And pity those brave souls who would face the herculean and terrifying task of servicing the radar once it was mounted!

“Up, Up [but not] Away”?  Inflatable Aerostats as potential  Arctic Surveillance ‘Platforms’ Enter the aerostat, a form of non-rigid, inflatable, tethered airship. Similar to the blimps of old, the aerostat is a more refined descendant. Gone are the days of fragile gasbags filled with hydrogen,  just waiting  to be destroyed. Gone too are the limitations of purely visual observations. The modern aerostat can lift a surveillance radar to 10,000 feet (3 km) or higher and  keep it there for as much as 30 days. Modern aerostat surveillance systems have become more common since the 1980s,  with major defence contractors such as Raytheon and IAI/Elta offering turnkey systems.

IAI has sold a number of systems, including recent sales to India, where they will be used to monitor India’s border with Pakistan. Raytheon’s  JLENS system [1] offers a second aerostat fitted with a fire control radar  – which greatly extends the detection and engagement range of air defence units.  JLENS employs a strategic class 74M aerostat manufactured by TCOM LP in North Carolina. Of greater significance to Canada is another TCOM aerostat, the 71M.

The TCOM 71M can be fitted with a wide variety of sensors, and can operate at altitudes of up to 4,572 metres (15,000 ft)  for up to 30 days. Were the 71M aerostat to be mated with the AN/APS-508 radar set from the CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft,  that system could  ‘see’  out to  370 km – the maximum detection range for  that  radar. That  370 km range, against a large surface target, combined  with Resolute Bay’s location would mean continuous coverage of  any surface contact  for a staggering  740 km. A 740 km coverage range  means that, even for a ship transiting the Northwest Passage at a dangerously fast 20 knots (37 km/h), a ‘target’ vessel remains under surveillance for 20 hours.

Calling in Back-Up: Radar surveillance by Aerostat with confirmation by manned aircraft

To assert Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, radar coverage would need to be more comprehensive. Two additional locations for aerostats suggest  themselves. One is on another choke-point on the Passage – Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island. The other on the western approach to the broad entrance to the Passage – Tuktoyaktuk near Amundsen Gulf.
The use of aerostats may seem ambitious but the Canadian Forces has experience. [2] Then there are economic considerations. RCAF NorPat (Northern Patrols) have been infrequent due to the costs of flying the CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft up from their southern bases. Operating costs for a TCOM 71M aerostat are reported as less than 20% of  that for a fixed-wing surveillance aircraft and require half  the manpower of aircraft capable of  doing the same job. [3]  But savings are possible in ‘manned’ aerial response too. NASP patrol aircraft are based at  Inuvik (near Tuktoyaktuk) and plans were announced to expand NASP. That promise could  be fulfilled by basing new NASP aircraft at Iqaluit near the eastern approaches to the Passage. The CP-140s can be held for solely military response.

Flying at cruising speed, an RCAF  CP-140 Aurora aircraft can be overhead at  Resolute Bay less than 5 hours after its launch from CFB Comox. The chances of any ‘target’ ship escaping detection, and subsequent aerial  identification and  monitoring by a CP-140, are virtually nil.

Each of our three hypothetical aerostat installations on the Northwest Passage would have a circular radar coverage out to 370 km. Each aerostat will have a total coverage area of 430,000 square kilometres giving a combined total coverage of around  1.29 million square kilometres.

The on-site facilities required for 71M aerostats are comparatively simple. The scale of the TCOM 71M is greater than  Canadian Armed Forces  personnel are used to. Then again, the CAF  had  no  aerostat experience at all  before deploying  tactical airships into Afghanistan. Operating a 71M  is no different than other tethered lighter-than-air  craft. Likewise, operating these radar  would be very familiar to the CAF  –  the AN/APS-508 having been used by the Aurora patrol aircraft for years. Training and parts for this Telephonics radar set are well established.
If Canada is to claim the Northwest Passage, we must be able to conduct robust surveillance and control of our waterways. An aerostat allows for such persistent surveillance, with more detailed monitoring as required. Manned aerial patrols add credibility to our territorial claims but, by using commercially-based NASP aircraft, this need not be excessively expensive. [4] This combination of tethered aerostats and manned surveillance aircraft represents a greatly increased oversight of  Canada’s Northwest Passage.  Perhaps it is time to  ‘use it  or  lose it’.

[1] JLENS stands for Joint Land attack cruise missile defense Elevated Netted Sensor system

[2] Canada’s smaller, tactical TCOM 28M RAID (Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment) systems were operational in Afghanistan for ground surveillance use (along with Eagle Eye towers).

[3] The savings claim comes from Raytheon. Actual economy will depend upon aircraft type. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, Aurora cost per flying hour is $19,750.00. That translates into nearly $200K for each flight to the North and back to the southern base.

Bravura to Lead U.S. Army’s Aerostat Management Under $306 Million Contract

Bravura Information Technology Systems, Inc. will ensure operations, maintenance and sustainment of the U.S. Army’s aerostats under a new program called Persistent Surveillance Systems – Tethered (PSS-T). This $305.7 million U.S. Army contract combines the capabilities of the Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS) and the Persistent Ground Surveillance System (PGSS), which were fielded to support joint urgent operational needs.

“These aerostats provide crucial information and protection for our men and women in uniform who serve in remote and dangerous locations,” said Bravura CEO Claudine Adams. “We are thrilled that our dedicated team will support these key programs and continue the important legacy of aerostat innovation.”

To help protect troops in the field, the U.S. Army has placed an increased emphasis on providing more and better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Persistent surveillance and threat detection systems have proven especially effective in identifying improvised explosive devices, tracking insurgent movements and monitoring other suspicious activity.

PSS-T provides warfighters with an effective ISR capability, support to force protection and platforms to extend communications networks beyond line of sight. Filled with helium and attached to mobile mooring systems by high-strength tethers, PSS-T large and medium aerostats have scalable capabilities providing around the clock surveillance of broad areas for weeks.

Bravura is partnering with Lockheed Martin and TCOM to help meet its efforts to support combatant commanders and joint agency requirements. Each company’s innovative capabilities will be instrumental in technical consolidation and operational streamlining for the new program.

Lockheed Martin, the PSS-T Large developer, delivered its first lighter-than-air (LTA)-based persistent ISR systems to the U.S. Navy more than 75 years ago and has produced more than 300 airships and thousands of aerostats in support of military operations world-wide.

“We are pleased to partner with Bravura to extend our legacy of lighter-than-air innovation, engineering and production,” said Paula Hartley, vice president, Advanced Product Solutions, Lockheed Martin. “PTDS has performed exceptionally in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2004 and we are looking forward to many more years of supporting our customers’ needs for affordable, reliable aerostat systems.”

TCOM, with operations in over 12 countries, is the PSS-T Medium developer and a global authority in airborne persistent surveillance solutions. For over 40 years, TCOM innovations have defined the LTA industry, and its pioneering achievements continue to revolutionize the design, manufacture and deployment of LTA systems.

“We are proud to join Bravura as they continue providing the combat proven PGSS platforms for soldiers abroad,” said Ron Bendlin, president, TCOM. “PSS-T, as a program of record, represents an enduring aerostat capability for the U.S. Army, and TCOM looks forward to supporting Bravura with cost effective and innovative solutions in the years ahead.”

Other PSS-T team members include: Tobyhanna Army Depot, which provides logistics support for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems; Dragoon Technologies, Inc., a service-based engineering company providing advanced systems integration and installation for airborne ISR platforms;  Priority Worldwide Services, which provides supply chain solutions globally;  Accent Controls, Inc., an entrepreneurial systems integration engineering firm; Cape Fox Professional Services, which provide advanced technology and safety training solutions to federal clients; Digital Results Group, which provides web-enabled software and technology solutions that fuse, in real-time, sensor and intelligence data to support operations; and STS International, which protects U.S. infrastructure and forces both at home and abroad.

Work on the PSS-T program will be performed in Aberdeen and Columbia, Maryland, Melbourne, Florida and Akron, Ohio.

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About Bravura
Headquartered in Aberdeen, Maryland, Bravura is a woman-owned, minority owned, small disadvantaged business with a wealth of Department of Defense, Army, and intelligence community experience. With over 30 years of experience, Bravura employs a highly skilled leadership team of proven and experienced personnel. Our professionals are ready to provide quality driven, customer focused, schedule-determined, risk mitigated and cost restrained solutions to help our clients gain maximum value for mission success.

About Lockheed Martin

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 98,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

About TCOM

TCOM’s headquarters is in Columbia, Maryland, and the Manufacturing & Flight Test Facility is located near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. TCOM is the world’s leading company specializing in cost-effective LTA surveillance solutions with in-house aerostat and airship manufacture, assembly, flight test and training capabilities.

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