Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Defence Policy Review Public Consultation Document 2016, Question 8 – What do these things have in common?

The Department of National Defence has launched public consultations for the development of a new defence policy for Canada. Canadian Defence Matters is attempting to come up with some answers to the ten questions contained in the “Defence Policy Review Public Consultation Document 2016”.

Question eight asks” What type of investments should Canada make in space, cyber, and unmanned systems? To what extent should Canada strive to keep pace and be interoperable with key allies in these domains?”

It is hard to understand what prompted the belief that these three issues had anything in common, other than the perceived need to “keep pace” with and “be interoperable with key allies in these domains”.

The paper points out that “Space technology is increasingly critical for Canada’s economy and society” as well as being essential to national security and defence. What “space technology” does, for Canada, is provide GPS capacity, communications and a reconnaissance capability through satellite systems like RADARSAT-2 and Sapphire.

In terms of Cyber systems the Public Consultation Document also makes the point that dependence on information technology has become central to the military. It is, as noted, “a highly complex threat environment that poses significant challenges for the CAF and for Canada as a whole.”

With the premise that “Unmanned Systems have become integral to modern military operations” the paper goes on to outline the difficulties inherent in addressing the cultural road blocks imposed by using robotic systems to fulfill tasks which previously gave value to the humans that accomplished them. 

One example of this dislocation is the continued preference for the term ‘drone’ by those who oppose arming remotely piloted aircraft, while those who do not oppose “weaponization” use the term ‘unmanned systems’. Both sides of the argument apparently believing that nomenclature can determine outcomes.

One thing these three areas do have in common is that there seems to be no obvious reason that Canada needs to “keep pace” with our allies in these areas. At the same time it seems equally obvious that we do need to be “interoperable with key allies” with regard to these capabilities.

The other thing these seemingly disparate “domains” do have in common is that our dependence on them could become areas of vulnerability for our Forces.  

At a minimum, the “investments should Canada make in space, cyber, and unmanned systems” should involve a thorough and ongoing threat assessment. What are our vulnerabilities in these fields? How can we deal with the loss of capabilities in areas which we depend on but do not control? What expenditures are necessary to maintain the ability to work with the systems of our allies with minimum effort.

These are the questions we need to ask, and the answers to them are the things we need to invest in.

Defence Policy Review

Defence Policy Review Public Consultation Document 2016