Canada answers Ukraine’s call for satellite radar imagery 

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Canada had cut off Ukraine's flow of RADARSAT-2 in 2016

VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s MDA Corp. will provide satellite radar imagery to Ukraine’s government to help it counter Russia’s invasion of that country.

Mike Greenley, chief executive officer of MDA, released a statement March 8 that the company has secured special authorization from the Canadian government to collect synthetic aperture radar satellite imagery over Ukraine. “Images captured by MDA’s SAR technology, which is unique for its ability to see through all weather and cloud conditions, will be merged and analyzed with other sources of imagery from commercial Earth observation companies to develop comprehensive near real-time intelligence reports for Ukrainian government officials,” he noted.

Canadian government sources say that RADARSAT-2 will be used to collect the data.

“We’re honoured that we are able to use our radar satellite capabilities to contribute to these international efforts, and will continue doing everything in our power to help the Government of Ukraine protect its citizens,” Greenley added.

MDA’s imagery will be shared with a commercial space partner in the United States. The imagery will then be merged and analyzed with additional imagery collected by other Earth observation companies, and intelligence reports will then be shared with the Government of Ukraine.

MDA has not released information on the other companies involved in this venture.

SAR imagery of Russian formations was cited as an urgent need in a March 1 call for commercial assistance from Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov. “We badly need the opportunity to watch the movement of Russian troops, especially at night when our technologies are blind in fact! SAR data is important to understanding Russian troop and vehicle movements at night considering that clouds cover about 80 percent of Ukraine during the day,” Federov wrote.

MDA has not put any timelines on the provision of space imagery to Ukraine and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian government also announced March 3 that it would provide Ukraine with 1 million Canadian dollars ($780,000)  to use for the purchase of high-resolution satellite imagery. That is separate from the MDA initiative.

Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said the money would be specifically used to buy imagery that will allow Ukraine’s military to track the movements of Russian troops and equipment.

Canada had previously provided RADARSAT-2 imagery to Ukraine as part of an initiative announced in February 2015. That was an initiative by Canada’s then Conservative Party government to help Ukraine deal with Russian-backed separatist forces in the eastern part of the country.

But that arrangement was stopped by Canada’s current Liberal Party government in 2016. There were concerns the imagery was being used to attack specific targets in eastern Ukraine. In addition, the transfer of the imagery to Ukraine was hindered by bureaucratic rules that limited the data’s effectiveness.

Under the process, images were downloaded from the satellite to MDA Corp., which then sent the data to the Canadian military for review. In addition, the images had to be approved by Canadian diplomats to ensure they complied with Canadian government regulations. Next, the material was passed to the Canadian embassy in Kyiv and only then forwarded to the Ukrainian government.

Canada cut off the flow of RADARSAT-2 data to Ukraine on May 6, 2016.

“The decision was made after carefully considering the utility of this contribution – compared to Canada’s many other forms of assistance to Ukraine,” Diana Khaddaj, spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada, said in an email at the time.