The Web

By David Kattenburg | 1988-02-01 12:00:00

In the spring of 1982, U.S. newspapers revealed that the Reagan Administration had drafted a plan for waging protracted nuclear war. To win such a war, the plan stated, the Pentagon would need a global communications system to control nuclear submarines and bombers, and to fire nuclear missiles.

"National Security Decision Directive 13" sparked a storm of controversy. Then, as the Pentagon's arms buildup began to take shape, the controversy stilled. Defence Department zealots stopped talking about their strategies for limited nuclear warfare. Some refused to admit that such strategies existed.

Now, it seems Canada has been drawn into the act. The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) is developing a military communication system for sending commands through space during a nuclear war. While some officials deny that this satellite system is related to Pentagon warfighting plans, U.S. and Canadian documents suggest the contrary. According to U.S. analyst William Arkin, Canada's new system of satellite communications could become part of a protracted warfighting system scheduled for completion by the mid-1990s. The system could help provide "the means of communicating once all the terrestrial networks are destroyed," Arkin says.

Canada's future space communication system could also help coordinate Star Wars and atmospheric defences, U.S. and Canadian military officials say. Pentagon officials say that communication is among the new priorities for their accelerating Star Wars development program.

The first major hurdle of Canada's space communications project has just been crossed. Four of the country's largest aerospace firms-- Spar, Raytheon, Com Dev Limited, and Canadian Astronautics-- have submitted designs for the system to the Department of National Defence. DND will spend about $50 million over the next five years getting this system off the drawing board and into space. Up to $20 million of this will be awarded early in the new year for the construction of a prototype transponder-- the central, functioning component of a communication satellite. This could be tested and placed on board a civilian or military satellite by the mid-1990s.

Frequencies that Resist Enemy Jamming

The key feature will be the frequency at which it operates: EHF or Extremely High Frequency. These signals are reputed to be resistant to enemy jamming and nuclear explosions in space.

If Canada's EHF communication system is deployed in space, it will almost certainly become part of the Pentagon's electronic spiderweb. Canadian and American military officials are now preparing for such a merger. An agreement for joint EHF communications development may be initialled this winter.

Communications is a less visible part of the superpowers' arms race than missiles, bombers, and submarines. However, it is the key to controlling global warfare. In the 1970s, Pentagon theorists concocted "major attack," "controlled," and "regional nuclear options" for limited-- as opposed to general or wholesale-- nuclear war. These would require more sophisticated command, control, and communication systems, many of them to be based in space.

In 1979, Presidential Directive 59 announced that the U.S. would prepare to fight and win a nuclear war lasting weeks or months. The Pentagon had been experimenting with EHF signals since 1976-- with Canadian help in the far North-- and had found them resistant to jamming, interception, and "nuclear scintillation." In Pentagon jargon, EHF signals were "electronically survivable."

But the satellites transmitting over this frequency would have to be "physically survivable" too. This could be achieved, Pentagon planners reasoned, by weaving together hundreds of satellites into a global electronic spiderweb. Meteorological, remote sensing, or domestic communication satellites fitted with EHF transponders would be harder to disable. These would be co-ordinated by thousands of terminals in submarines, jet fighters, bombers, military vehicles, command centres, and even on soldiers' backs.

The U.S. wanted its allies to help develop this expensive venture. The British and Canadian governments were the first to get involved, with Canada collaborating directly.

s early as 1980, Canada began considering EHF satellite communications as a replacement for its aging system of leased phone lines and commercial satellite links. One Canadian boosting the idea was Brigadier General John Collins, who wanted to help the U.S. military. "If we did what we ought to do," Collins argued, "our coverage would fill in where their coverage is thin. We'd be pulling our weight in the strategic defence of North America." Collins was persuasive. In 1980, DND created a position for him-- "Special Adviser on Space." His staff began work on the reception of EHF signals by the U.S. military in the Canadian Arctic.

In January, 1983 a Canadian delegation travelled to Washington to propose a joint project on the Pentagon's most glamorous satellite program: Milstar. Milstar satellites allow U.S. strategic bombers to communicate with the Pentagon from their recovery bases on the other side of the North Pole.

But chances for Milstar collaboration looked bleak. Certain "Iron Majors" in the Pentagon didn't want the Canadians horning in on their lucrative Milstar budgets. It was suggested that Canada latch onto a similar satellite project being developed at the Defence Communications Agency (DCA). The DCA was to examine the feasibility of using EHF transponders in its Defence Satellite Communications System (DSCS) spacecraft, creating an electronic spiderweb of warfighting communications, of which Milstar would be the main element.

The Canadians were told they could help build some of these transponders and put them either on their own civilian satellites or on DSCS spacecraft. Alternatively, they could build ground terminals and plug into the U.S. network. The Pentagon preferred this option.

Early in 1984 Canada began the EHF Satellite Communications (EHF SATCOM) Project in collaboration with the United States. More details on Canada's debut into the militarization of space emerged in a 1986 document instructing companies to design a system immune to enemy jamming and "worst case" forms of "scintillation in a post high-altitude nuclear event environment." In a word, DND officials wanted their satellite communication system to be able to survive nuclear war.

As a member of the NORAD and NATO alliances, the Canadian military has plenty of reasons for wanting to communicate under such dire circumstances. It has committed itself to providing the U.S. with vast surveillance information. Today, much of this flows from the outdated DEW Line, via relatively insecure Anik satellite channels. The North Warning System scheduled to replace the DEW Line by the early 1990's (and space-based radars which will render even this ground-based surveillance system obsolete) would be useless if they could not relay their data during the protracted war for which the U.S. is now preparing.

The Pentagon also receives information through Canadian airspace from its Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radars in Alaska, Greenland, and Britain, and from surveillance satellites in polar orbit. During a war, sensors over the Soviet Union would detect missile launches; others would monitor the effectiveness of U.S. nuclear detonations on Russia. The Pentagon would need many communication channels in order to relay this surveillance. According to Canadian defence officials and other informed sources, it might also require channel space on Canadian EHF transponders if U.S. transponders fail or become saturated. Ottawa officials say Canadian channels would be available for such purposes.

The Star Wars Connection

Canada's future EHF satellite system may also be useful to the U.S. for proposed Star Wars defences. Testifying before the Commons Committee on National Defence, Dr. Derek Schofield confirmed that: "It is almost inevitable that the U.S. would use EHF communications in SDI." The DSCS satellite system Canada is now trying to latch onto has already been used in an SDI experiment. According to the final report of a DSCS briefing session attended by Canadian officials, the creation of DSCS communication links between Star Wars sensors, weapon systems and Pentagon commanders "would be desirable."

Star Wars, however, is only one part of the strategic defence network under consideration by the Pentagon. To deal with the threat posed by low-flying bombers and cruise missiles approaching North America from under the SDI shield, the Pentagon has called for the establishment of an Air Defence Initiative. This will be coordinated by a "survivable" communications network. U.S. and Canadian officials are now looking into joint research and development to satisfy this need. Members of a NORAD committee, the Aerospace Defence Advanced Technology (ADAT) Working Group expect agreements to be signed this winter on both ADI and EHF communications work.

anada's involvement in EHF communications development with the Americans has broader implications. According to Robert Rankine, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General heading space systems development, EHF communications will provide commanders with the means to control SDI defences, "B-52s and the triad and our offensive a time when there may be nuclear interference."

Since Canada provides the shortest route for bombers on their way to the Soviet Union, Canadian EHF channels could play a role in guiding them. This is what might happen: Nuclear bombers stationed along the northern U.S. border would fly low over the Arctic ( as they are trained to do here in Canada on a year-round basis) fire their cruise missiles, drop their bombs, land at recovery bases in Japan, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece and Britain, and then report back over secure EHF channels across the pole. The Pentagon would rely on this information to assess the effectiveness of its assault. In a crunch, with most of its communications overloaded or destroyed, officials say that Canadian EHF transponders could serve as backup.

Could the Canadian government deny the U.S. access to its communication system during a crisis or war? The U.S. could not gain access to independently operated Canadian military satellites, informed sources say, without using the proper password. "The main objective for having a dedicated Canadian system," explains one scientist close to DND's satellite communication project, "is that we would then have full control over it, and full decision on how it's used and when." But, according to military officials and documents released under U.S. and Canadian access legislation, Canada's satellite communication system will be "interoperable" -- integrated, in other words -- with Pentagon systems.

Says William Arkin, "If the Canadian Armed Forces only operated with a communications system that was strictly echeloned and top-down, then the U.S. would have to go through that echelon to communicate with Canadian Forces. But, if everyone is using the same EHF satellite capability, then obviously the ability to bypass all sorts of political authorities, and the ability to operate your forces autonomously is improved."

David Kattenburg is a freelance writer specializing in Canadian defen ce affairs.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1988

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1988, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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