Amid rising tensions with Russia and the increasing effects of climate change, one defence expert says now is the time to invest.

Lee Carson operates Norstrat Consulting, which started up to help defence contractors, industry and government divisions execute parts of the previous federal government’s Northern Strategy.

Benoit Corbeil recently helped design an inflatable raft for the Department of Defence that can operate in harsh Arctic conditions. photo courtesy of Justin Van Leeuwen

“When Canada buys defence equipment, traditionally, you have to provide the best kit for the Canadian Armed Forces, but you also have to create what the government calls industrial technology benefits,” said Carson, adding that this can mean creating jobs and opportunities in the private sector.

“When we’re doing defense contracts in the North, we need to tie in those real social needs,” he said.

With Norstrat, Carson has worked on satellite surveillance projects such as the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, which set up a system of observation satellites, and the Polar Communications and Weather Mission, which aimed to increase communications and weather observance capabilities in the Arctic but was shelved when it proved too expensive, at close to $4.5 billion.

He’s also worked on surveillance systems for ships going through the Northwest Passage, and the renewal plan for the North Warning System that goes across the North, among other projects in the region.

“There remains a huge need for infrastructure,” said Carson.

Reliable telecommunications systems are still not in place, and the increase in shipping as the Northwest Passage opens up will require the creation of surveillance systems.

These should include, “ground stations in the North, jobs in the North and side benefits for the North,” he said, citing the existing Inuvik Satellite Station Facility as an example of some of the spin-off benefits of such infrastructure.

In February, Col. Pierre LeBlanc, the now-retired former commander of Joint Task Force North, told a senate committee that search and rescue capabilities are woefully low in the Arctic.

“If we were to have a Costa Concordia accident in the Arctic,” he said, citing the cruise ship that was wrecked off the coast of Italy in 2012, sending more than 4,000 passengers and crew overboard, “the passengers who would jump, unprotected, into the frigid waters would be dead in minutes, while [search and rescue] aircraft would be hours away and Coast Guard vessels could be days away.”

“I have also raised concerns with our aging Coast Guard icebreaker fleet on several occasions,” he said. “All of our icebreakers are reaching the end of their design life, and increasing demand for icebreaker service support is leaving the fleet stretched.”

Operating in the Arctic often requires different technologies compared to the south. Benoit Corbeil, a design engineer with Tulmar Safety Systems, recently helped to design an inflatable raft for the Department of Defence that can operate in harsh Arctic conditions. It was tested in Great Slave Lake, near Yellowknife.

Corbeil said it takes a unique set of materials to build a raft that can operate in a temperature range of -40 C to 30 C, and is puncture-resistant to floating ice.

“The environment where the unit has to perform makes a huge difference,” he said.

This is another possible growth area. While Tulmar is growing its expertise and diversifying its Arctic offerings, a lot of innovation in Arctic-operational technology is also happening in the U.S. and the U.K., said Corbeil.

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