Tech by VICE

The Canadian Army Is Worried Russia Will Spy on Us With Drones In the Arctic

Drones could even the odds in the race for the Arctic.

by Jordan Pearson
Jun 15 2016, 6:00pm

Image: Flickr/Ville Hyvonen

The Canadian army is worried that foreign militaries or "privately-armed forces" will use hobby drones to spy on soldiers patrolling the Arctic to maintain Canada's claim of ownership over the vast, sparsely populated region.

Global militaries love the camera-carrying, remote-controlled quadcopters for the same reasons that dads do: they're cheap, and very capable. "This allows the users to push its operating envelop [sic] to the extreme limit," a Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) report from May of this year states, "even to the point of sacrificing the drone when the acquisition of critical intelligence information is urgently sought."

A slew of countries including Canada and Russia are vying for control over the resource-rich Arctic, and a big part of bolstering any claim of sovereignty is being able to keep tabs on what's going on in the region. Canada itself has looked into using drone technology (albeit military drones) to monitor the snowy expanse, but the affordability of drones means that any potential adversaries can easily access this technology, too.

"Russia could operate a drone from a submarine"

As for which country, specifically, the Canadian government is worried about, the DRDC report only names one global power currently using hobby drones for surveillance in the battlefield: Russia.

"Russia could operate a drone from a submarine," said Rob Huebert, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary with a focus on Arctic sovereignty. "You could be going along the waters and pop up to utilize the drone without necessarily betraying the fact that you're there as a sub."

Canada is attempting to stay one step ahead by coming up with a few ways for soldiers in the Arctic to detect any drones that might be hovering nearby. This isn't the simplest task, the DRDC report notes, since drones flying at a height of 500 meters have a surveillance range of around 80 kilometers—soldiers on the ground might not be able to hear or see the drone overhead.

The DRDC report states that the agency has been undertaking "extensive modeling and simulation work" on using radar to track drones, as well as detecting the radio signals that drones emit to transmit video over the airwaves.

"Advances in drone technology‎—in many cases commercially-available devices—could potentially have an impact on [Canadian Armed Forces] operations," a DRDC spokesperson wrote Motherboard in an email. "As such, it absolutely behooves us to understand the technology, be aware of the existing capabilities a‎nd examine detection [and] counter-measure methodologies so that the institution may build expertise to support future [Canadian Armed Forces] requirements."

Hobby drones are much more than just toys for the BBQ and Curry 2 set—the affordable gadgets are expected to level the playing field between governments and private armies at sea, just like in the Arctic. It's a double-edged sword in the truest sense, and Canada hopes to be prepared for the shift.