Report: Canada should work with U.S. to protect satellites as “critical infrastructure”
VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s space assets must be declared as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and the country should work with the U.S. to protect those systems from threats, a new report from a Canadian Senate committee recommends.
The report from the Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defence and Security could give a boost to efforts by the Canadian Space Agency which has, in the past, been promoting the idea of classifying many of the country’s satellites as critical infrastructure.
The Canadian government should “designate satellites and radar installations as critical infrastructure and seek ways to secure the full spectrum of all critical infrastructure assets against significant threats, including electromagnetic pulse, by 2020 in partnership with the United States and other countries,” the committee noted in its report dated April 13.
The report, which took a year to complete, is titled “Military Underfunded: The Walk Must Match the Talk” and it focuses largely on defense spending and capabilities. Committee chairman Conservative Party Sen. Daniel Lang said the current Liberal Party government has promised to provide more support for the Canadian military and security establishment. If the report’s recommendations are followed, that would allow the government to keep its promises, he added.
The senators pointed out that space assets fall outside what is currently considered national critical infrastructure. “Not only is space an operational domain of increasing importance to the Canadian Armed Forces, space assets such as the Global Positioning System and Anik-series telecommunications satellites are critical to the security, safety and economic well-being of this nation as a whole,” the report added.
The senators pointed to an October 2011 incident in which the Anik F2 satellite went offline because of a failed software update. The temporary loss of the satellite meant that Canada’s Arctic territory of Nunavut lost most of its telecommunications capacity.
Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency, has warned that any attack on the country’s critical space infrastructure would be disastrous. As a result, the agency has been pushing for redundancy among satellite systems operated by Canada.
“Having only one satellite in some key applications is risky, so we need to bring more elements to the system,” Luc Brûlé, vice president of the Canadian Space Agency, told the senators during his testimony before the committee Nov. 21, 2016. “These days we see the beginning of constellations of satellites. When one fails, others can be used to replace the ones that have failed. We need to have depth in our infrastructure to be able to cover that.”
The Canadian Space Agency has been “promoting the idea of classifying many of our satellites as critical infrastructure,” added Brûlé.
He noted that the space agency cannot independently designate satellites as critical infrastructure to ensure that they receive protection. Designating assets as critical infrastructure requires a policy decision that is outside the agency’s control, and should be considered on a federal level, the senators pointed out.
The ruling Liberal Party government has remained non-committal on the report, noting it will study its recommendations.
Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government looks forward to dealing with many of the issues outlined in the Senate report in a new defense policy document. That document is expected to be released later this year.