Maritime Defence – Coastal Patrol – Port Security –
Australia's 'Coastwatch' – What Can Canada Learn?
Dianne DeMille – Editor, Canadian American Strategic Review (CASR)
Defending the Coast a military mission – Monitoring the Coast a civilian task
Australia's coastline is immense — over 35,000 km. This coastline is also Australia's
national border. The federal government has a strong incentive to monitor
and defend this border – by sea and by air. Defence 2000 –
Australia's most recent White Paper on these matters
– states emphatically: " The key to defending
Australia is to control the air and sea approaches to
our continent." The role of defending the continental
boundaries is given to the Royal Australian Navy ( RAN ) and
the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The job of
monitoring the coasts – by sea and by air
– has traditionally been assigned to a civilian
Responsibility for all civilian coastal surveillance put '
Under One Roof '
Australia experimented with having different combinations of civil
agencies, each dealing with separate aspects of coastal
surveillance. This patchwork of responsible agencies posed problems
for the integration of information, the coordination of
actions , and the overall response time of the
In the late 1980s , responsibility for all civilian coastal
surveillance was put under one roof – the Australian
Customs Service. The division of Customs which now has
primary responsibility for monitoring the entire coastline of
the Australian continent is called, ' Coastwatch '.
[Another division of Customs is responsible for monitoring
Australia's many large ports. Video cameras watch the cargo
containers as they come into port and are unloaded. Currently, more
resources are being allocated for the new technology required
to x-ray unopened shipping containers.]
Cooperation between 'Coastwatch ' and the Australian Defence Force ( ADF )
Coastwatch can call on the resources of the ADF. Recently, a large container ship carrying illegal
migrants was sighted off the Western Australian coast. RAN frigates prevented the ship (left) from entering
Australian waters. Similarly, RAN patrol boats were called
upon to intervene and prevent Chinese and Indonesian human-smuggling vessels from reaching the shores of
northern Queensland. The long-range maritime patrol aircraft of the RAAF routinely fly sovereignty sorties
over Australian territorial waters for Coastwatch. These agencies maintain a well-defined relationship
with the ADF.
Coastwatch also has access to a fleet of patrol boats and
aircraft of its own. Australian Customs
Service operates a fleet of fourteen fixed-winged patrol
aircraft (eight equipped with sophisticated search radar) and two
surveillance helicopters (which patrol the narrow Torres Straits
between Indonesia and Queensland – a high-traffic area
for smugglers of both contraband goods and illegal migrants).
All of these aircraft and their crews are leased
from civilian companies – an arrangement similar to
the Canadian Coast Guard ice
patrols flown off of Canada's east coast.
[ Update: the Coastwatch fixed-wing fleet has since
standardized on Canadian- made Bombardier Dash 8s – 6 Q200s (Dash 8-202s) and 4
Q300s (Dash 8-315s)].
Increasing Workload – Increasing Complexity
Current fleet levels are largely the result of an Australian federal government review of Coastwatch needs in
the late 1990s. Because of the increasing number and complexity of the tasks required of Coastwatch, the agency
was allocated substantial new resources, including funds for leasing new aircraft and increased crew levels for
both maritime and aerial roles. In addition, a new National Surv- eillance Centre (NSC) was set up to analyze
all incoming information, integrate that information, and make plans for the necessary response.
Security Through Depth
Coastwatch relies on the principle of 'security through depth'.
Patrol aircraft (both military and Customs) use a combination of visual and electronic
detection methods, such as: powerful search radar , heat-detecting
(infra-red) sensors, and high-resolution video cameras. The
latter are useful for tracking vessels suspected of smuggling and for recording
violations fisheries and environmental regulations. The goal is to find the alien vessel or aircraft and
respond well before it can reach shore or overfly the country. Patrol boats
of the Customs Marine Fleet can intercept smaller vessels while, as mentioned above, RAN
frigates can intercept larger ships. RAAF patrol aircraft are
regularly made available for the detection of both airborne
and seaborne intruders.
Is Canada doing enough to monitor its coastlines?
There are many similarities between Canada's current conditions and those faced by Australia in the past.
In Canada, responsibility for the patrol of boundaries and enforcement of
sovereignty is spread over myriad agencies – Customs and Immigration, Fisheries and
Oceans, the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard, and the ships and patrol aircraft of the
Canadian Forces. There is no central agency to process coastal surveillance information.
Is Canada doing enough to monitor its coastlines? Should Canada follow
Australia's example and make a single civilian agency
responsible for overall coastal patrol ?