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In High Arctic, Canadian military tests next-generation surveillance technology

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

Military divers have been preparing the way for research which will take place in Canada's Arctic this summer.

As part of the Canadian military's training exercise, Operation Nunalivut, two divers slipped under about six feet of ice in Gascoyne Inlet, near Devon Island in Nunavut.

They were checking out the underwater sensors which are part of what the military calls the 'Northern Watch Project'.

The $10 million experiment is being run by Defence Research and Development Canada, the research arm of the Department of National Defence.

It's combining different technologies like sensors, cameras and radar into a complex surveillance system for the Arctic.

Now that the military exercises are over, the department is gearing up to return to the same area in August to conduct more experiments in narrow passings.

"Basically, we're demonstrating these can be run remotely from the South to provide the data we need to monitor what's going on, what vessels are coming in, what aircraft are passing overhead," said Gary Geling, who is with the department.

Developing northern intellegence

The project got underway in 2007, but was delayed for a year when equipment failed under the harsh conditions. Now, some of the bugs have been worked out.

But Geling said scientists with the department won't apprehend any foreign submarines, should they enter Canadian waters without permission.

"If we do happen to discover any vessels that aren't supposed to be there, we will basically report them to the authorities," said Geling.

There is a history of foreign vessels making unannounced visits to the Canadian Arctic. The visits are becoming a greater concern to the government as ice melts and more ships pass through the Arctic each year. The Northwest Passage also still remains a contentious body of water which some countries view as an international strait.

"There are certain things we take for granted that we'll do in the South and the Canadian government has the same responsibilities to do those things in the North," said Sara French, the program manager for Arctic Security at the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation.

"As much as you want intelligence about who's in your space in the South, we need to do that same thing in the North."

Geling said this summer, the team will test how individual sensors work in the North and how some of those sensors work together.

By 2013 or 2014, he hopes the whole system will be connected for testing.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.