Maintaining the North Warning System

News Article / September 29, 2020

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By Major Don Ebsary and Captain Leah Pierce

Like quiet sentries keeping watch throughout a harsh and unforgiving terrain, the 50 radars of the North Warning System (NWS) dot North America’s high Arctic coastline. Comprising both long- and short-range radar sites, the NWS extends from the southern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, to the North Slope of Alaska, US, with 47 of the 50 radar sites located in Canada.

The NWS is essential to the aerospace defence of Canada and the United States; as such, the maintenance of its infrastructure is crucial. Though all sites are remotely monitored from a control centre in 22 Wing North Bay, Ontario, the isolated radar locations present unique challenges to the technicians who work on them.

Preventative and corrective maintenance is conducted year round. Because all but two of the sites are not staffed, technicians must travel to these remote locations from one of the five logistic support sites, located in Iqaluit, Inuvik, Cambridge Bay, Hall Beach and Goose Bay. Personnel reach the radar sites via a combination of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, or, when weather and time are factors, ground transportation provided by the Canadian Ranger Group.

In the summer months, technicians will go to the sites for five to 10 days; during the winter, the visits are shorter because of the extreme cold and unpredictable weather.

Technicians must carry their own food and supplies, including tools for every possible scenario.

Thanks to the dedication and perseverance of these technicians, the NWS continues to provide the sensors to monitor and control the Arctic skies. Linked via satellite to the Canadian Air Defence Sector at 22 Wing North Bay, the NWS is an essential element in the provision of aerospace surveillance information. It contributes to Canada’s sovereignty and represents one facet of our responsibility and participation in NORAD, which, at 62 years of age, is the longest-standing bi-national partnership in the world.

To keep the NWS effective, its maintenance is a must. With support from several Inuit-owned companies offering extensive experience with Arctic infrastructure, these projects will address critical issues and ensure the system is supportable from a maintenance perspective.

With an increase in Russian bomber intercepts and the extension of the Canadian Identification Zone, the NWS is a vital insurance of the security of North America.

Major Don Ebsary is the North Warning System Radar and Communications Manager; Captain Leah Pierce is with 22 Wing Public Affairs.


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