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Ottawa-Based D-TA Systems Ready to Tackle NORAD Modernization

How a little-known Ottawa company has put Canada on the world stage for the next generation over the horizon radar and NORAD modernization.

As the only proven supplier of OTHR solutions in North America, D-TA is well positioned to work on both the U.S. and Canadian NORAD modernization project

North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been the cornerstone of North American security and is a shining example of the close bond between Canada and the U.S. For over sixty years NORAD has jointly executed missions and have protected the North American continent from evolving threats. As part of the continental air defence, NORAD maintains and operates the North Warning System (NWS) comprising of both long-range (under 500 km) and short range (about 110 km) radar systems.

As the NWS was constructed between 1986 and 1992, its radar capabilities are becoming increasingly challenged by modern weapons technology, including advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons. After over 30 years, the NWS will have to be replaced and both U.S. and Canada are defining the NORAD modernization strategy to fit the new and evolving threats.

Canada has indicated her seriousness for the NORAD modernization and had invested $133 million for the All-Domain Situational Awareness (ADSA) Science and Technology (S&T) Program to support the development of innovative solutions to address surveillance challenges in the North. Over-the-horizon radar (OTHR) project is a major part of this initiative. OTHR system is the only system that enables extremely long-range surveillance (3000 to 5000 km) – beyond the capabilities of land based standard radar systems.

Over-the-horizon radar (OTHR) system can dramatically improve early warning and persistent surveillance of North American airspace and approaches and forms an important pillar of the NORAD modernization. D-TA Systems, a home-grown Canadian EW (Electronic Warfare) company has been instrumental in the success of the Canadian OTHR project.

Since 2008, DRDC (Defence Research & Development Centre), Ottawa, has been experimenting with OTHR and investigating novel algorithms for reducing auroral clutter. The physical principle that creates the dazzling aurora borealis (northern lights) also interfere with signal propagation and create radar clutter that prevent detection of targets. Since 2012, D-TA has been involved in small-scale experiments that allowed DRDC to contemplate large scale experiments to characterize OTHR signal propagation inside the auroral oval. These experiments were designed to provide data that allows development of advanced signal processing techniques to mitigate the problem. For subsequent RFPs, D-TA was the key supplier of these complex systems and have cumulatively supplied close to 3000 receiver channels to DRDC. D-TA has used its own R&D resources to develop world-class receiver and transmitter solutions with scalable architecture that are ideally suited for this program. D-TA was instrumental in the success of DRDC in the development of key Over-The-Horizon Radar capabilities and fielding these complex systems in the Canadian North.

D-TA’s highly innovative and scalable solution has put Canada ahead of U.S. in the deployment of such large systems. U.S. researchers often borrow smaller subsets from D-TA delivered systems to DRDC to conduct their experiments.

As the NORAD modernization program moves forward at a rapid pace, Canada and the U.S. are scheduled to field OTHR solutions, along both sides of the 49th parallel as well as in the Polar region. The program size will exceed many billions of dollars.

D-TA is well positioned to participate in both Canadian and U.S. projects, amounting to several hundred million dollars to the company over the next 5 to 10 years. Success of D-TA in the OTHR project is an example of what Canada can gain by supporting domestic technology development for mission critical applications. D-TA has added 10 new jobs and many millions of dollars of export sales on account of this project alone. Canada’s record in this area, however, has been very poor. Major defence programs are typically awarded to foreign primes, who have little or no interest in developing domestic technological capabilities.

For OTHR, D-TA has proven its capability by delivering cutting edge solutions at affordable prices. In the upcoming NORAD modernization project, the Canadian government must ensure that the direct Canadian content rule is strictly enforced for the Canadian part of the project, otherwise we risk losing this great domestic capability. As the only proven supplier of OTHR solutions in North America, D-TA is well positioned to win the U.S. part of NORAD modernization project as well, although they are fully cognizant of the ‘buy American’ obstacle.

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