Procurement Opportunities – Surveillance and Sovereignty Patrol – April 2011
On the Chopping Block: 'Near New' Battlefield Surveillance Aircraft
The Case for Canadian Forces
Sentinels – Part 1: Northern Sentinel
A Modest Proposal by Stephen Daly,
Ed: Due to a deficit-fighting austerity program, the UK intends to
retire its small fleet of five Canadian-made Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft. Stephen Daly argues that
Canada should take advantage of the opportunity to purchase these highly sophisticated airborne ground
surveillance platforms. Sentinels have been in RAF service for less than five years (the final aircraft
became operational last year – the same year that the type deployed to Afghanistan)
The British RAF's Sentinel R1 Mk.1 combines
the airframe of Bombardier's Global
Express long-range bizjet with a sophisticated radar – its twin side-looking antennae mounted in an underslung
belly pod. Sentinel R1 integration was managed by Raytheon using that firm's SAR/GMTI radar. As
its Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator name suggests, that radar set is optimized for
battlefield surveillance. Under what was then called the ASTOR (for Airborne STand-Off Radar) program,
Raytheon combined elements of their ASARS-2A (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System) as used in the
updated American U-2S spyplane and their HISAR radar set used in Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAV.
How would Sentinels serve Canada? In Part 1: Northern Sentinel,
Mr. Daly describes the various roles – both domestic and foreign – that Canadian Forces
Sentinels could play. The former could go some way to satisfying the diktats of the Canada First
Defence Strategy as described. But perhaps the deployed roles would have even more resonance with Canadian
citizens. Consider the popular response to deployed Canadian fighter-bombers. Even where airstrikes are
intended to save civilian lives as with the CF-18s over Libya, deployments find little positive support among the
citizenry. It might be argued that deploying a sophisticated battlefield surveillance aircraft would be an even more
valuable contribution to current oper- ations – every NATO air force has fighter jets after all. In other words,
Sentinels could meet Canadian foreign policy goals and alliance commitments while salving the conscience of
our citizenry. With a CF Sentinel, Canada could do its bit saving lives without dropping bombs.
Among the equipment cuts announced in Britain's Oct 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review is the Royal
Air Force's small force of Sentinel R1s, reconnaissance aircraft that provide detailed radar
surveillance data to commanders on the battlefield. Sentinels are providing reconnaissance support to British
and Allied troops in Afghanistan and, from the outset of NATO's air operations over Libya, Sentinel R1s
have operated to enforce the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. [ Ed: surveillance data gathered by orbiting RAF Sentinels is relayed from
fighter-controllers aboard AWACS to NATO strike aircraft.]
As useful as Sentinel R1s have been, the decision was taken to withdraw these aircraft from RAF service  once
Britain's current military involvement in Afghanistan comes to an end. So, would Canada benefit from acquiring
'near-new' Sentinel R1s? To answer that question, we'd need to examine the Canada First Defence
Strategy and the six core missions outlined.
"1. Conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through
Sentinel R1s would be ideal for Arctic surveillance. Its high-endurance, coupled with high speed and a
powerful radar, makes Arctic sovereignty patrols a natural fit. And the crewed Sentinel R1 also avoids problems inherent
in operating UAVs at high latitude in the Arctic.
"2. Support a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Olympics."
Sentinel R1's surveillance radar capability would lend itself equally well to monitoring traffic patterns at
major events or surveilling cordons sanitaire surrounding G8-style conferences.
"3. Respond to a major terrorist attack."
Obviously, much would depend on the exact nature of any terrorist attack. Sentinel's strong suite would be in
enforcement of a safety- or investigative perimeter around an attack site.
"4. Support civilian authorities during a crisis in Canada such as a natural disaster"
Sentinel R1's radar is based on sets in service with the US Air Force. Both U-2S and Global Hawk
radar have been employed as aids to civil authorities (as in determining the extent of flood damage). The CF
Sentinel R1s could perform similar services over Canadian territory.
"5. Lead and/or conduct a major international operation for an extended period"
Sentinel R1 use in Afghanistan represents extended use in a major international operation.
[Ed: it's worth noting that Sentinel R1s are operated by mixed
RAF/British Army personnel and, in Afghanistan, Sentinels fly alongside the RAF's smaller Shadow R1s
aka King Airs.]
"6. Deploy forces in response to crises elsewhere in the world for shorter periods"
The long range of the Global Express airframe allows a Sentinel R1 to reach between most
airports on the globe with only a single refueling stop. This means that Sentinel can deploy quickly and be
operational sooner than similar assets. And high cruising speeds mean that the Sentinel R1 can also
realistically operate from airfields quite distant from the crisis zone.
If the Sentinel R1 is so good, why are the British selling? ...
or the Up Side for Canada
The advantages of the Sentinel R1s are fairly obvious. With its powerful surveillance radar, a deployed
Sentinel R1 can develop a picture of the situation on the ground – literally and
figuratively – even before other personnel arrive, thereby affording the luxury of a detailed
understanding of the crisis in its critical early stages. So, with such advantages, why have the British
decided to retire their Sentinel R1s after such short service? Partly
this is service 'politics' (Air Force working for the Army). Partly it's the downsides of operating a
relatively small fleet of only five aircraft – with all the costs involved with training, parts
If the Canadian government decided to buy the soon-to-be-surplus RAF Sentinel R1s, there are advantages – beyond
nationalism – to operating a 'home' product. The most obvious is that spares and technical support are available
from Bombardier in Montreal. Another is the potential for expanding any Government fleet of Global
Express-based aircraft. At present, the Government's aerial fleet consists of Global Express' smaller brother,
Transport Canada- owned CC-144 Challenger bizjets or
the large Airbus CC-150 Polaris airliner –
with nothing in between. Beyond being more economical to operate, 2-or-3 'transport' Global
Expresses would also take some pressure off of that aging Canadian Forces fleet of CC-150
In the past, there has also been some discussion of a new Canadian Forces maritime patrol Global Express derivative to replace the aging CP-140 Aurora fleet. But, in the absense of any additional interest from a foreign
government, that seems an unlikely development. By contrast, CF Sentinel R1s would not be competitors to, or
replacement for, those surviving CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft. Instead, Sentinel R1 would be a
compliment. The Aurora fleet is being upgraded (AIMP)
but also reduced in numbers. As a result, there are now too many tasks for too few airframes. If
Northern Patrols became the stock-in-trade of Sentinel R1s, that aged maritime patrol fleet could
concentrate on securing Canada's oceanic approaches.
In Part 2 Sentinel Sidekick, Mr.
Daly describes the BACN Airborne Communication Node.
 The five Sentinel R1s are operated by No. 5 (AC) Squadron, RAF Waddington. The five aircraft are:
ZJ690/cn 9107, ZJ691/cn 9123, ZJ692/cn 9131, ZJ693/cn 9132, and ZJ694/cn 9135.