Eyes and Ears for the Arctic
As ice recedes, new tech helps nations keep tabs on top of the world
Extreme weather, vast distances and stretches of darkness have long made it difficult to protect Arctic territories, and the problem has grown as ice fields recede and open swaths of ocean year-round. Now new tools are helping nations head off the evolving risks, allowing better communication and monitoring at the northern tip of the Earth.
Raytheon’s satellite sensors and radars are providing safer navigation for Arctic ships, more efficient communication for U.S. military operations in the region and more accurate low-light detection of Arctic ice movements and weather conditions.
In May Canada awarded Raytheon Canada Ltd. a five-year contract to operate the North Warning System, a joint Canadian and United States radar system that detects airborne threats from Labrador to the Yukon.
The company has also developed the Raytheon Arctic Monitoring and Prediction (RAMP) program, which integrates satellite information into onboard navigation systems, helping ships steer clear of dangerous floes in the Arctic’s constantly changing ice fields.
“With RAMP, you don’t have to spend money on an ice breaker, but instead can use the ships you already have and simply avoid hitting any ice that’s out there,” said Tim Raglin, who oversees the program for Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services.
An estimated 15 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves – and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas reserves – are located in the Arctic, so the system could help unlock new energy sources.
Greater awareness of ice makes Arctic shipping lanes more viable, leading to shorter transit times for cargo. It also allows safer access to remote villages.
“RAMP provides a great option for humanitarian efforts as well because we now have a timely and cost-effective way to provide assistance,” said Raglin. “You wouldn’t have to wait for an ice breaker to become available, and we could immediately dispatch help.”
Seeing in the Dark
Because areas north of the Arctic Circle can go without sunlight for up to 6 months a year, another of Raytheon’s technologies takes on particular relevance: the satellite-borne Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS).
The device's detector arrays can create images using 22 different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, documenting everything from sea surface temperature to vegetation.
VIIRS’ day/night band captures rich visual detail in any conditions – even in the dark and frozen Arctic, where the frigid winter makes it hard for traditional thermal-imaging tools to tell the difference between clouds, ice and water.
“Day/night band imaging works in an amazing range of light conditions, from full daylight to partial moonlight,” said Jeff Puschell of Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, Calif. “Even light from the auroras or airglow (the natural nighttime glow caused by radiation from the upper atmosphere) will generate brilliantly detailed views of water, ice floes and weather patterns.”
VIIRS orbits the Earth every 100 minutes and captures 16 images of the Arctic region each day. Those images help researchers track ice movements and global weather patterns, and may one day help predict the path of hurricanes.
A Helping Hand for the Navy
Raytheon technologies are helping conquer another Arctic challenge: the lack of reliable communications. That’s an urgent problem as more ships travel through the region.
The Arctic is naturally hostile to high-tech communications. Its electromagnetic conditions disrupt signal reception, and the curve of the Earth makes much of the region inaccessible to satellites orbiting the equator. Secure connections on ships are hard to come by.
Over the last decade and especially since former President George W. Bush’s Arctic operations security directive in 2009, the Arctic has become a focus for military and homeland security efforts. Bringing full, military-grade communications has become a priority.
Raytheon is helping the U.S. Navy better communicate through its Navy Multiband Terminal, which will be deployed on about 300 ships, including aircraft carriers and destroyers.
The terminal allows stable and secure connections with orbiting satellites -- even in rough seas with 50-foot swells, a common occurrence in the Arctic Ocean and many other parts of the world.
Bringing Broadband to the Arctic
Raytheon’s Enhanced Polar System (EPS) promises to further expand communication. Raytheon worked with Northrop Grumman to develop the EPS. The system, which is set for launch in 2016, uses an advanced satellite to provide a range of U.S. military operations in the region, including secure and jam-resistant access to teletype, voice, email, instant messaging, video, multimedia and data communications.
EPS incorporates a satellite flying in an elliptical orbit that traverses the Earth’s poles perpendicular to the equator. Flying a mere few hundred miles over the South Pole, the orbit extends to over 22,000 miles above the North Pole.
This path maximizes the time when the satellite is visible to ground- and sea-based communications systems in the Arctic, helping to keep eyes and ears on this increasingly important region of the world.