Podcast

Future Demands for Arctic Stability

The Arctic region is under drastic change and so is the geopolitical situation. As the ice retracts, new resources are uncovered and accessibility increases. These changes create a new demand to maintain stability in the extreme environment, which is the topic of today’s episode.

Written by: Terma
Podcast Security Arctic

The Arctic region is under drastic change and so is the geopolitical situation. As the ice retracts, new resources are uncovered and accessibility increases. These changes create a new demand to maintain stability in the extreme environment, which is the topic of today’s episode.

Not only is the Arctic an extremely vast area, but the remote location creates an array of technological challenges that must be met. How is this done and what is actually required to keep stability in the Arctic?

To answer these questions today’s guests are Thomas Blom, Senior Vice President for Surveillance and Mission Systems at Terma A/S and Nils Wang, Managing Director at Naval Team Denmark.

Listen to this episode to understand one of the most complex political hotspots in the world right now.

Today’s Guests:

  • Managing Director at Naval Team Denmark, Nils Wang
  • Thomas Blom, Senior Vice President for Surveillance and Mission Systems at Terma A/S

Your Host: Mikkel Svold
Produced for Terma by Montanus

Find it on:

Or anywhere you listen to podcast.

 

Resources

Want to learn more?

In our blog post "Future Demands for Arctic Stability", we are zooming in on the Arctic region around Greenland and the very icy and harsh environment alongside the water between the United States and Europe going south of Greenland to Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

READ ARTICLE

Episode Transcript

Mikkel Svold:
Welcome to Allies in Innovation. I'm Mikkel Svold, and in this episode, we are once again looking north, and we are talking about the Arctic region and the challenges and possibilities that lies ahead up there. Today, we are diving further down into what is demanded to maintain or to keep stability in this extreme environment, in this extreme area where accessibility and also geopolitical interests are quite rapidly increasing. How can Arctic nations obtain situational awareness needed in this vast and remote region? That's what I think is really interesting to hear. To answer this, we've once again invited two brilliant people to join us here at the new headquarters of TERMA in Copenhagen in the atrium. And like in last episode, I want to welcome you first, Thomas Blom, welcome to you. Thomas, you're the senior vice president of surveillance and mission systems here at TERMA.

Thomas Blom:
That is true.

Mikkel Svold:
And also rejoining us from the last episode, we have you, Nils Wang. Welcome to you.

Nils Wang:
Thank you.

Mikkel Svold:
Nils, just like in the last episode, you are the former head of the Royal Danish Navy, and now managing director of the Export Club Naval Team Denmark. Can you just briefly introduce us to what is Naval Team Denmark?

Nils Wang:
Naval Team Denmark is a network organization consisting of the maritime defense industries in Denmark and our members have all supplied equipment to the Royal Danish Navy. With that as a reference, we facilitate that they get export opportunities.

Mikkel Svold:
Perfect. Then also just like in the last episode, I want to start out by kind of defining what is the area that we are talking about because we are talking about the Arctic region, but what does that actually mean?

Nils Wang:
I would say in this episode where we are kind of focusing on the operational requirements, we are talking about the area around Greenland, which is in the Arctic as the definition of very icy and harsh environment. But we are also talking about the stretch of water between United States and Europe going south of Greenland to Iceland, to Faroe Islands, and that is what you normally call the North Atlantic bordering the Arctic region.

Mikkel Svold:
Thomas, maybe can you try to take us through what are the challenges in the Arctic region and how has it developed and what is happening right now?

Thomas Blom:
Well, if we take it basic and talk about challenges, the area itself, it's huge. It's deserted. There's not people. There's no infrastructure. You cannot just put up something and get it to work. Communication is an issue. Energy is an issue. Temperature is an issue. It's cold. It's windy. It's very cold.

Nils Wang:
Logistics…

Thomas Blom:
Logistics. Getting there.

Mikkel Svold:
Can I get you to pull your microphone a little bit closer?

Thomas Blom:
Sure. Sure.

Mikkel Svold:
Just to get a sense on the size, how big is the Arctic region? Now I'm talking like the bigger Arctic region, and then maybe the area that you define, Nils, around Greenland and south of Greenland. How big is that actually compared to, say, Europe?

Nils Wang:
Well, I would say that if you are traveling from Iceland to the northeastern tip of Greenland, it's a distance that is comparable to the distance from Northern Jutland to the Strait of Gibraltar. And there is no gas station, by the way, up there. So, that is part of the challenges. When we are talking about logistics, you need endurance, you need long-range capabilities that is self-sustained and all the rest of it. Yeah.

Mikkel Svold:
Again, I know that we talked about this last episode, but why is it interesting to look at the Arctics at all? Because if it's just like a large, barren icy wasteland...

Nils Wang:
Well, it's opening up and there you will have more and more human activities. When you have human activities, you are also interested in finding out whether something is going on that you don't like. In order to identify irregularities, you need to have surveillance, as Thomas said, and you also need to have active resources that can actually do something about it and stop if there is something going on that you don't like. So it's not only surveillance, it's also the ability to kind of interfere if there's something going on that you would not allow.

Thomas Blom:
Yeah. We tend to talk a lot about tensions, super powers, but there's also other types of operations, search and rescue. You have more people there. You have more ships. What if an accident occur? What do you do?

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. You still have less ships to come to aid if something happens.

Thomas Blom:
Absolutely. And you need to have communication in order to operate something like that, which is also a difficult thing. What we use to just turn on your mobile phone, you might have a satellite phone if you want, and if you're lucky that you have the right connection. But things like satellites that we are used to working in Denmark, when you go high up north, all that are in the stationary track around the earth, that doesn't work when you go high up north, because you cannot see the satellites anymore.

Mikkel Svold:
Just briefly explain that, because I find that quite interesting. I think we have a lot of engineers listening to this podcast as well. So why is that? So you can't see them. What does that mean?

Thomas Blom:
Well, because they actually go around equator. They go out, I think it's 36,000 kilometers out where you can have them stationary, i.e. that means that they stay over the same point of the earth at all the time. That makes it very easy for you because the antenna that you use will point at the satellite as a stationary point. That is in essence what we know for those that have satellites for TV connections. But the more you go up north, the lower the satellite would be at horizon. At a certain point, when you reach something of the 90s, you cannot actually see it anymore because of the land in front of it.

Nils Wang:
The trouble will start at 78 degrees north, then you start to have problems with communications.

Mikkel Svold:
Okay. Simply because it's not able, whatever satellite phone or whatever-

Mikkel Svold:
-phone you have.

Thomas Blom:
It's not able to.

Nils Wang:
You need to mitigate that by sending satellites in a polar orbit, which is more difficult and more expensive, and I think a more technical, challenging effort.

Thomas Blom:
It is, but it's also expensive because you need to build satellites, especially for your communication up in the Arctic area. As we talked about before, there isn't a lot of people up there.

Mikkel Svold:
No. So there are a few people-

Thomas Blom:
So, exactly.

Mikkel Svold:
-only a few companies to pay for it, basically, or people to pay for it.

Thomas Blom:
Exactly. That's also why Denmark will have to consider whether we need our own satellite in order to communicate and later also use them for surveillance because when you are talking about national security, it's also about who owns these assets and are you guaranteed communication in a critical situation? So these are some of the questions you need to ask yourself as an independent country, that you are actually able to operate in the Arctic region also in a situation of crisis.

Mikkel Svold:
I want to come into what is actually necessary. So, what level of awareness, what level of active resources are necessary to keep the area stable? In the last episode, we talked about basically the borders or the waterfront borders of the Arctic nations and the economic exclusion zones and all the interests that cross over here. But how do you maintain a level of, I guess, situational awareness that is good enough, and what does that mean, good enough?

Nils Wang:
It's an extremely difficult question to answer, because-

Mikkel Svold:
Thank you.

Nils Wang:
-because I think you are hitting the nail here because you need to establish a system that is good enough, because if you strive for perfection in this area, you can use all the money there is, and you will still not get there. I mean, that is how big this area is. So, you need basically to define how can I identify if there is something going on that is of great importance to me and to be able to track every ship and every aircraft coming into the area so that you cannot systematically violate Danish sovereignty, neither on the surface, in the air, or below the surface, without it getting detected. That is a very elastic definition. You need to find out also in which priority you want to actually establish these, the capabilities that is required for this.

Mikkel Svold:
Thomas, this is where you really enter the stage. So how do you get a sufficient situational awareness? What's required?

Thomas Blom:
As Nils says, there's a lot of elastics in what you call sufficient or good enough, but you have to look a little bit in the different domains. I would say, you need to start really on the surface. What is actually on the surface of ships operating in the Arctic regions? That's truly where you start, and then the next step would be what is then in the air? What is in the space? And probably the most difficult part, that is what is below the surface because that requires expensive, sophisticated equipment, sonars, and there obviously you would be interested in seeing is there any strategic nuclear submarines operating below the ice or at the surface in Greenland.

Thomas Blom:
But let's start with the more easy ones and talk about the huge area of water. We're not just talking about warships. We also talking about fishers, illegal fishing, obviously. We're interested in protecting our economical interests as well. There might be Chinese fishers. There might be Spanish fishers of all that are interested in the vast nature resources that we have up there, and which is also a very important income for Greenland. I think, in fact, the biggest income is the fishery up there, and you can't avoid it. You need to talk about satellites. I would love to put radars up along the coast of Greenland and you can see some things along it, but there's no doubt that you need to use the space for your advantage. Initially, it would be about the ships that corroborates with you using a beacons that say, "I'm here," so you can get a picture of all the larger ships that actually-

Mikkel Svold:
But that, I guess, only applies for the ships who has nothing to hide, right? Because if you don't want to be discovered, you wouldn't put up a beacon, would you?

Thomas Blom:
That is absolutely true. But if you discover a lot of different satellites... Sorry. If you, by using satellites, discover a lot of different ships, it’s always nice to know which one are actually friendly because then you can take them out of the game and see what is actually remaining of there? What is it that I need to investigate? So, the first will be to get the friendly ships, and actually also aircraft that they have today a similar beacon system, so that you can actually track all passenger aircrafts flying over the area. Then you need to use other sensors to find out what is left. That can be cameras on satellites, subject to the weather is good. It can be emissions from the ships that normally operate their radars up there. I would say it's a little bit dangerous just to sail around there in bad weather or in the dark without having your radar turned on. These are things you can actually register from space and slowly build a picture of what do you have of emissions. It can also be…

Mikkel Svold:
So, now when you say emissions, we are not talking about CO2 emissions. We are talking about radar waves and emissions?

Thomas Blom:
Radar emissions.

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah.

Thomas Blom:
It can be radar. It can also be communication emissions that you monitor and you can actually track the position whether that come from, and then you can correlate it with your friendly picture and say, "Hey, there is something that I need to investigate in this area."

Nils Wang:
I think all the things that Thomas is mentioning there is emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, which is basically the tools you need in order to connect all the dots. So, you will get something from the satellites, something from the radar, satellites, something from the communication satellites. You will get something from the surveillance aircraft, you will get something from the ships. So, knitting all this together and creating this recognized picture is the whole drill, isn't it, Thomas?

Thomas Blom:
Exactly. Exactly.

Mikkel Svold:
What-

Thomas Blom:
That is what is actually is suspected to happen in the next two or three years. You have today one level of picture, but Denmark is going to invest significant over the next years in additional types of sensors and obviously their satellites is on the first step to go. But as Nils said, when you sort of establish that there is something you need to look at, you need to use your other assets to task your different assets, and that can be some of the Danish Navy ships that you then say, "Could you please sail out and check what is it actually we are seeing out there?"

Mikkel Svold:
But, but as a small country with, I guess, very limited resources compared to many of the other Arctic nations, or at least some of the other Arctic nations, is a country like Denmark, are they actually able to uphold that kind of capability in an area that is so remote? Because you say you need to patrol with naval ships. And I mean, we don't have thousands of naval ships.

Nils Wang:
No. And that is the reason why you need all the tools that Thomas is talking about because you can actually do the job with a reasonable amount of ships if you know exactly where they have to be stationed in order to interfere with the issue that you want to deal with. But if you just go around with ships without having any knowledge of what is going on, I mean, then it's pointless as you say.

Thomas Blom:
It's a needle in the haystack.

Mikkel Svold:
Absolutely. It's a large haystack.

Thomas Blom:
Yeah.

Nils Wang:
You can actually do the job with two or three ships on each side of Greenland if you know exactly where to place them.

Thomas Blom:
That is where the technology and especially the development of technology in the last 10, 15 years. 20 years ago, Denmark having their own satellite that was more or less beyond our financial capabilities. Are you willing to sacrifice something to get it? But what we see is that the development of surveillance technology is getting better and better and price is coming down. The cost of sending a satellite out in space, I guess, thank to Mr. Musk for one of the companies that puts the prices down, actually makes it possible for Denmark to build our own small cube satellites with the technology that we want and then actually put them into space and build a receiving station or more up in Greenland and take these signals down there. As Nils said, one of the enabling technologies for that will be something like artificial intelligence, both in Greenland up in the Arctic land, but actually also off in the satellite where you need to sort all the data that you get before you actually transmit it down.

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. Because what is the role of artificial intelligence here, just to kind of make that clear to people?

Thomas Blom:
In many ways, initially you will be using it to sort through all the massive amounts of data that you have to look for. What is interesting out there? If you take a look at an imaging satellite and you scan 300 kilometers of land, 300 by 300 every hour, the vast amounts of data is so huge that you cannot have any operator looking at that. You don't have the number of people for doing it, and it will be financially very expensive. So, that's where you need technology to sort through all the data that you get and say, "Oops, that looks interesting. That was not an iceberg on the surface. That was actually something different."

Thomas Blom:
Then at that point, you get the people to look at it and say, "That was really interesting. That looks like a Russian fishing boat. We better take a look at what that really is there," so that you can actually correlate and fuse the data you get from the different data until you get a meaningful picture that makes it possible for you to make real decisions on where I'm going to deploy my ships or aircrafts or UAVs that is also on the shopping list. So that if you see something that's interesting that you need to survey, or you have a certain rescue operation, you will task your UAV, unmanned aerial vehicle, to actually go out and take a look at the situation and be on station for maybe 12 or 14 hours to understand what is going on in that area.

Mikkel Svold:
And a UAV is basically a drone.

Thomas Blom:
Yeah. Called a drone. Yeah.
Mikkel Svold:
In layman term. Yeah.

Thomas Blom:
It's a drone in layman term, but usually when you use the drone, you think of something small and UAVs can actually be quite big, and they can operate-

Mikkel Svold:
Yep. But it's unmanned.

Thomas Blom:
Yeah. Unmanned. Some of them are also quite autonomous, so they can do a lot of things themselves. Again, connecting with the drone up in the Arctic is more difficult than it is in Europe because you don't have the same infrastructure facilities up there. So, now we connect set the space with aircraft and with UAVs, with ships as sort of the next part. I think that we are there, which is good enough to really make sure that you know what happens on the surface and actually also go out and be active in policing these areas there. And already-

Mikkel Svold:
I'm quite amazed that you say that the two, three ships along both sides of Greenland is sufficient, but I guess it's because it's in combination with other factors and other-

Nils Wang:
But when you look at the ice movements along the coast of Greenland, you will have polar ice drifting along south outside the Greenland eastern coast. During the wintertime, when you have that drifting ice, there is no human activities there. So there, you would probably kind of reduce your presence at sea and have the air reconnaissance or the air surveillance still going on. During the fishing seasons in different areas, you would probably have more ships in that area. So what I mean is that if your way of operating your ships is governed or directed by the data collection that Thomas is talking about, then you can actually position your ships so that there is a good deal of likelihood that you are in the vicinity of reaching any abnormality in due time. Of course it has also something to do with where do you have the biggest probability of sea accidents, that is where you have most traffic and of course you would-

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. So that's when we were talking search-

Mikkel Svold:
-and rescue missions as well. Yep.

Nils Wang:
Yeah. But speaking about the drones that Thomas talked about is the long range drones, that is a part of this strategic surveillance pattern. But you also have tactical drones on the ships that is operated by the ships in order to enhance the reach of the ship sensors, so that you can expand your area of surveillance beyond what you can see with your organic sensors. That requires also naval platforms that can adapt new technology, new drone technology, both when you're talking about drones in the air, but also drones on the surface, drones under the surface.

Nils Wang:
That also creates challenges and demands of the flexibility of the ship so that they can actually… They can utilize the newest technology throughout their 30 years of life cycle because the development within the systems that Thomas is talking about is going so fast, and a ship platform, when you invest in that, it will last for 30 years. So if you have to have benefit of the newest generation of the equipment that is actually available throughout these 30 years, you need to have platforms that is much more adaptable to new technology than you would have in naval platforms in the last 30 years.

Mikkel Svold:
And-

Thomas Blom:
I agree with what Nils is saying, that the platforms last a long time, that you really to thinking the next generation, again, of technologies. I would like to return there to the development in autonomous technologies. Especially when we talk below the surface, that there's, to me, no doubt that we are standing in front of a lot of development of autonomous ships or submarines that can actually operate below the surface. They could be listening devices for submarines, for example, so that they would actually quiet, go a 100, 1,000 of kilometers, nautical miles up and along the coast to scan for activity below the surface. If they see something they would slowly raise up and actually use a satellite communication link to return back to headquarters, say, "Actually, I found this here," and in there you really need a lot of new technologies and AI is going to be a prime technology there.

Mikkel Svold:
But Thomas, how at the moment, what you're working on in TERMA, what TERMA is working on, how do you include these thoughts into your development process now? What are the steps that you're taking now to be future proof, so to say?

Thomas Blom:
We are investing significantly in artificial intelligence. It's artificial intelligence as we talked a little bit about before. It's for the sorting through a lot of data, finding the needle in the haystack of data that you got. These are the technologies that we're already is working on and can do today. But we can also see that these are really moving forward. We are doing prototypes with AI op in satellites today, where you collect a lot of data and then actually sent only the necessary data on the limited downlink that you have, as I talked about before. The sensors is getting better and better, but the communication technology, especially in Greenland, does not hold up with that. So you need to move the intelligence from the ground, where it's been traditionally, up in the smaller satellites up there, and we are actually doing that. You might also know that we are, in fact, the biggest Danish space company. So, we do different types of space technologies, processing, downlink, receiver stations, post-processing, and pre-processing up in the satellite.

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. Actually, where we sit here in the atrium, we have two models of some of what you've been involved in the newest one, the ASIM part for the International Space Station, which we've talked about already in, I think, it was episode two, which was a very, very interesting episode.

Mikkel Svold:
I want touch upon, Nils, you said earlier in this episode, what is important to me, as in what is important to Denmark and to the Danish kingdom, but how does the corporation, the international corporation affect... Because I'm guessing that it's not just about looking at what's important to me. It's also important to look at the allies or our allies in NATO. How does that mean, and how does it also, maybe to you, afterwards, Thomas, how does it manifest in the technologies that should kind of communicate with each other, I guess?

Nils Wang:
I think that you are touching upon a Danish US perspective and a Danish NATO perspective because when we are talking about Greenland and the United States concern about the close distance to Russian offensive missile capability, the United States have a concern that you can exploit surveilled Greenlandic airspace in order to attack the continental United States. That has been a US concern throughout the whole Cold War. And as Thomas mentioned in the beginning, or was it in the last episode?

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah.

Nils Wang:
That the very reason for the Thule Air Base is basically to give this early warning. But I think that United States would probably also use more surveillance capability in Greenland in order to solve or to mitigate this concern.

Thomas Blom:
If we just talk very recent events, this is in fact true that the US has come out with that requirement that you need to look at the airspace. We have to remember, we talk about the Thule Air Base, that that is actually ballistic missile defense that we are talking about, that's seen high up in space. But we also need to look at the lower air space with aircraft and with cruise missiles, where there today is an open gap through Greenland. That's why we are closing part of the gap with a radar in the Faroe Island, which is also recently agreed between Denmark and the Faroe government that you will reinstate the radar that you had at that time.

Thomas Blom:
Actually, again going back to history, US had what's called a due line that was built in the '50s as radar stations on the ice in Greenland, as a chain from Canada over Greenland to Iceland, to Faroe Island to UK. Now we are on the way to reinstate that as we are unfolding it right now. There is an interest in actually building new radar systems across Greenland to look up in the air and see what is coming in the air space.

Mikkel Svold:
But I can't but think, is that seen from other Arctic nations as an aggressive move? Or is it like the way to do it?

Nils Wang:
I mean, if you are putting up radars, it can never be aggressive. That is a passive mean in order to detect something coming at you. I think the task of getting this air surveillance installed is more than Denmark can manage alone. It will be in a corporation between the US and Denmark, I'm sure.

Nils Wang:
We also talked about the Danish NATO perspective, and I think that is relevant in relation to what is called the GI UK gap, which is the Greenland, Iceland, UK stretch of water reaching from the icy east coast of Greenland all the way to the British islands. And that is because this is the part of water where you will have Russian submarines coming down in launch positions and to attack reinforcement from US to Europe. In Denmark, I think we should be very careful not to be the weakest link in that international and Alliance strive to get a barrier towards Russian submarines because right now there is no NATO countries that has ASW frigates that is ice reinforced, and in order to conduct-

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah, so that means that we basically have no fire power.

Nils Wang:
So, you would have, if you can't cover ASW-wise the area also close to the ice at the east coast of Greenland, you will have a way to slip out of the barrier, so to speak. I think that you would never get any other NATO countries that is not having the requirement for ice reinforced ships to invest in that, but we need to be there anyway. So, it would be very natural if Denmark is taking care of that part.

Mikkel Svold:
Would we also be obliged, do you think?

Nils Wang:
I think so. Yes.

Mikkel Svold:
Seen from a US-

Nils Wang:
Of course.

Mikkel Svold:
-maybe also a NATO perspective.

Nils Wang:
Of course, and also to use some of the new technology that Thomas talked about to actually look for underwater activities close to shore in the deep fjords. We have fjords on the east coast of Greenland that is bigger than Denmark. So, it is a huge challenge. At least you need to set up something so that a submarine cannot exclude that we will have something to detect it. As soon as you just create a little suspicion that there might be something that can detect it, then you need to take it into consideration when you are doing planning of your operations from the opponent side. That is at least a beginning.

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. I think we'll make those the last words because our time actually has run out now. And once again, it's been super interesting to talk to you about this very interesting topic. Again, Nils, where are you getting your information? Where do you keep yourself updated on these matters, the Arctic matters? What would you recommend the listeners to go?

Nils Wang:
I can't really recommend a specific site. This is an area where there's so many meanings and there's so many so-called experts, and you need to kind of get your information from various sources in order to create your own opinion.

Mikkel Svold:
And also the people talking and writing about it, they have their own political interests, some of them, I guess.

Nils Wang:
Some of them, some of them. I mean, we were very few Arctic experts, 10, 15 years ago, but today there is many.

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. Thomas, if people are more interested in the technical side of things, do you have a go-to media or should you just go to terma.com and stay updated?

Thomas Blom:
There is so much technical information out there that you need to sort through. The internet itself is a huge information library although some of it can be difficult. It's a matter of really spending some time in order to understand how all these very, very different technologies... We touched a little bit on the underwater drone technology. That itself is huge export area that is going to develop fast in the next couple of years.

Thomas Blom:
I just had one small final remark, which sort of shows how things are developing. Just yesterday, there was an announcement from Canada about investing into the North American air defense and air surveillance network, which is sort of the Canadian US side that goes into Greenland. They're talking about investing billions of dollars into modernizing that surveillance network for the next 10 years. So it shows it's a lot of money and there's a big attention on making sure that you can actually see what's happening up there.

Mikkel Svold:
And people are willing to spend a lot of money as well.

Thomas Blom:
Exactly.

Mikkel Svold:
It is really truly an area of high interest.

Thomas Blom:
Yeah.

Mikkel Svold:
Yeah. It's going to be really, really exciting to see. Nils Wang and Thomas Blom, thank you again for joining us here-

Nils Wang:
You're welcome.

Mikkel Svold:
And to you, dear listener, if you do like this episode, don't forget to hit the subscribe button and of course leave us a comment if you like it. And also, if you don't like it, we'll try to change things. Rate this episode; it'll help us spread the word and make it available for more people. So thank you so much for listening.