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.

TCOM, Global Leader of ISR Tethered Aerostat Solutions, to Unveil Its Innovative ‘Rapid Surveillance Communication Restoration’ (RSCR) Solutions for Emergency Response

TCOM, LP, a global ISR solutions provider of Lighter-Than-Air Persistent Surveillance Tethered Aerostat platforms for Air, Maritime and Land, has announced it will unveil and demonstrate its innovative ISR solutions for Rapid Surveillance Communication Restoration for Urban Defense Operations at the 2016 Thunderstorm Conference to be held at Fort AP Hill in Fredericksburg, VA on July 26-28, 2016.

TCOM will demonstrate how its lighter-than-air tactical aerostat platforms can leverage innovative ISR applications powered by its strategic partners: Logos, L3 Wescam, and Lociva; from providing high-definition wide area imagery (WAMI) to precision geospatial-location sensors for persistent surveillance, to enabling the latest 4G LTE cellular coverage in times of emergency.

For domestic terrorism situations, domestic response units must be prepared to rapidly respond to terrorist threats to establish persistent surveillance swiftly with maximum interoperability and real-time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance insights for commanders on the ground. First Responders need to assess situations swiftly to determine the scope of what they are dealing with, where they might be located, differentiate who in the area might be a potential threat and evacuate civilians.

For disaster relief situations, the recent fires in Western Canada, as well as annual hurricanes and other natural disasters, are instances where Wide Area Motion Imagery deployed at a high elevation would be extremely useful. Technologies designed for the battlefield are perfectly suited to address threats to the homeland and can be applied to solve and alleviate the duties of domestic first responders.

1. Specifically, TCOM’s aerostats will demonstrate the use of Logos’ Simera Wide Area Motion Imagery (WAMI) technology that can monitor an entire city-sized area at once, detecting vehicles and moving dismounts in real-time. In addition, Simera provides operators with a readily accessible digital video recording of the entire field of view for further analysis.

2. TCOM will also demonstrate L3 Wescam’s MX-10 Electro-Optic/Infrared Full Motion Video (EO/IR FMV), a Fully Digital, High Definition, Multi-Sensor, Multi-Spectral Imaging System that is engineered with large-aperture, long focal length optics and patented four-axis gimbal technology to deliver outstanding stabilization and GEO-location performance, further enabling superior imagery from digital line of sight and beyond line of sight to be captured. Additionally, the system’s superior detection, recognition and identification range performance enables the end user to perform precision engagements from longer standoff ranges.

3. TCOM’s Rapid Surveillance Communication Restoration will also demonstrate how it can instantly provide cellular 4G LTE coverage in adverse conditions through LOCIVA’s Nokia Networks, which provide Carrier Grade Radios. As a partner to Nokia Networks, LOCIVA is able to offer the latest 4G LTE carrier-grade radio access through the EdgeCentrix Network Core, which offers interoperability and Advanced LTE features; such as calling, Wi-Fi and data.

TCOM’s work with L3, Logos, and Nokia comes together to create a perfect platform to keep civilians safe, monitor disaster situations, and aid in the rescue of those in need. By utilizing their technology on TCOM’s aerostat platform, first responders are given the very best chance of success.

Empowered by TCOM’s Rapid Surveillance Communication Restoration Aerostat platform, urban defense and law enforcement authorities will be better equipped to respond to disaster relief and search and rescue. It will also provide security officials with better situational awareness during incidents of crowd control, and help them track hostile adversaries. TCOM’s Aerostats allow local security leadership to efficiently oversee their field of responsibility and allocate the necessary resources quickly, in response to potential problems.

About TCOM, LP:
TCOM, LP is a global leader of Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) solutions of Lighter-Than-Air Persistent Surveillance Tethered Aerostat platforms for Air, Maritime and Land. For over 40 years, the company’s pioneering innovations have defined the persistent surveillance and Lighter-than-Air industries. By blending leading edge technology, manufacturing and field operation capabilities, TCOM has provided ISR systems for United States and foreign governments with complete persistent surveillance capabilities. Our systems are in use around the globe including theaters of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. TCOM’s delivered systems include fixed-site deployments, fully transportable systems and specialized sea-based deployments. TCOM’s headquarters is based in Columbia, MD and the Manufacturing & Flight Test Facility is located near Elizabeth City, NC. TCOM is the only company in the world devoted to cost-effective LTA surveillance solutions with in-house aerostat and airship manufacture, assembly, flight test and training capabilities. Learn more at

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