North Warning System

Backgrounder / December 17, 2012 / Project number: BG - 12.057

The North Warning System (NWS) in Canada is a chain of unmanned radar sites that provides aerospace surveillance, established to detect and allow for an early response to potential threats entering North American air space. It is part of Canada’s North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) agreement with the United States (US), and an essential capability in our efforts to maintain Canada's sovereignty.

The system was established as part of the Canada/US agreement on North American Air Defence Modernization, signed in 1985. The North Warning System sites were constructed between 1986 and 1992, replacing the Distant Early Warning Line that had been built in the 1950s.

The North Warning System radar chain spans Canada’s northern coastline, across the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Labrador. In Canada, the North Warning System consists of 47 radar sites located along the Arctic Ocean: of these, 11 are long-range radar sites, and 36 are short-range radar sites. The unmanned sites are equipped to gather information about any airborne activity within their coverage area. The radar sites automatically send the information they receive to the Canadian Air Defence Sector located at 22 Wing North Bay, in Ontario, over a long-haul satellite communications network. The Canadian facilities are remotely monitored and controlled from North Bay on a 24/7 basis.

There are also three North Warning System sites in Alaska, US, which are managed and maintained by the Alaskan NORAD Region.

Canada is responsible for 40 percent of the cost of the North Warning System, with the remaining 60 percent under American responsibility. Canada owns the sites and provides the site operations and maintenance; and the US owns the radar and radio equipment, and provides all fuel, sealift (fuel and dry cargo), and rotary and fixed-wing airlift. Canada’s Department of National Defence does not provide any air support to the North Warning System.

The North Warning System is divided into five zones, each with a Logistics Support Site  that dispatches operations and maintenance support to the radar sites as required.

The initial contract for the operations and maintenance of the North Warning System was awarded to the joint industry venture team of ATCO Frontec Corporation and Pan Arctic Inuit Logistics Corporation, which incorporated the subsidiary Nasittuq Corporation to act as their agent in the execution and performance of the contract. This contract expired in September 2011, but was extended to allow the Government of Canada to pursue a competitive procurement process for the next contract. The next contract is expected to be awarded in March of 2014.

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