Interview with BGen Michael Adamson, Director General Space and the Joint Force Space Component Commander, RCAF


Recently, Vanguard had the opportunity to interview Brigadier-General G. Michael (Mike) Adamson. Since joining the Canadian Air Force in 1993, BGen Adamson has served in numerous posts, including a CP-140(A) Nav/Com, Crew Commander, and Sqn Standards and Training Officer at the 405 (Maritime Patrol) Squadron in Greenwood, NS and at the 404 (Maritime Patrol and Training) Squadron where he served as an Instructor, Simulator Operator, Crew Commander, Standards Officer and Chief Aircrew Instructor.

Other roles were as Deputy Commanding Officer and then as Commanding Officer at 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron, the Strategic Coordination Staff Officer for Chief of Force Development, and Chief of the Air Coordination Element supporting Maritime Security and Counter-Piracy operations in the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean. In 2014, he was the Executive Assistant to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and a year later assumed duties with Chief of Force Development as Director C4ISR. In May 2020, he was promoted to his current rank and assumed the role of RCAF Director General Space and the Joint Force Space Component Commander in June 2020.

To begin, please give us an overview of your responsibilities and how your career has prepared you for your current role?

Currently I wear two different hats, with two distinct sets of responsibilities.  As DG Space, I am responsible to the Commander of the RCAF for the management of the space enterprise in the CAF.  This includes institutional functions, such as liaison and interaction with any number of our partners – whether internal to DND, other Government departments, private industry, and of course our Alliance partners and like-minded nations.  As the JFSCC (Joint Force Space Component Commander), my responsibilities are really the provision and coordination of space effects and enablers for CAF operations, both at home and abroad.  This is mostly accomplished through our personnel at the Canadian Space Operations Centre (CanSpOC) who provide Intelligence, Analysis, and access to both Canadian and Allied capabilities through Space Support Requests.

I think my background on the CP140 and certain HQ tours and deployments have really helped me understand the importance of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Domain Awareness, and Joint/Combined operations. Although the Space enterprise is nested within the Air Force, it is really a Joint capability that requires an understanding of operations across all the domains – including Cyber – and it is important to make sure that we educate our ‘customer base’ (operators) on what Space can provide, and how to best leverage those enablers in the conduct of their operations.

Can you provide update on the internal re-alignment of Space functions within your department? Is Space going to evolve into its own Division of the RCAF, and if so, what will that Division look like? How will personnel be managed, and will there be a Space Operations career field?

All of our allies are recognizing the growing role and importance of Space to National Security, and operations, and we are all undertaking some sort of organizational evolution to reflect that new reality.  The most obvious example would be the creation of the Space Force and Space Command in the United States.  While we may not a transformation quite as extensive as that, we are looking at re-aligning the Space enterprise and functions along lines similar to the conduct of Air operations in the RCAF.  To that end, we are proposing the creation of a Space Division (similar in function to 1 Canadian Air Division) that will be responsible to the Commander of the RCAF for the generation and equipping of Space capabilities for Force Employment missions.  Subordinate to the Division would be a Wing and three Squadrons – Operations, Support, and Advanced Space Effects.  This proposal is currently with the VCDS organization for staffing approvals, and we hope to stand up the new Organization in the next 12-18 months.

We don’t anticipate the creation of formal Space occupation in the near-term, but it is important that we carefully manage the cadre of CAF personnel that currently have experience and expertise in the Domain.  Air Force personnel management now includes representation from DG Space to ensure that our members, regardless of occupation or service, are cycled through appropriate career development opportunities and advancement, with the idea that they will return to the Space enterprise in the future as supervisors and leaders.  This has been well-received, and we are seeing occupations provide credit to those members that have undertaken a tour within the Space organization.  Additionally, those members that have completed over 365 days in a role dedicated to the CAF Space Enterprise are entitled to wear the Space Specialist Skill Badge on their uniforms for the remainder of their career.

What are the most pressing operational problems you see from the perspective of Joint Force Component Commander Space?

I think there are a couple pressing operational concerns at the moment – one is focused on the increased competitiveness, competition, and congestion of the space environment, and a second concern is centered around how we provide Space effects to our operators.  Space capabilities have historically been the purview of nation states, but decreasing costs and technological advancements have changed the playing field dramatically.  Commercial activity in space has increased exponentially – providing a congested and highly competitive marketplace that seeks to provide many of the same capabilities we would normally try to develop ourselves.  We are now faced with options – what space enablers do we need to own and operate, and what can we share or contract in order to provide the effects we desire?  Satellite communications is an obvious contender for competition, but increased private investment in earth observation and space situational awareness has really expanded as well.  All of this commercial activity, with parallel efforts from a number of our allies, has resulted in a myriad of potential solutions for any one issue – so I think we need to understand what capabilities we require, and then figure out the most effective way to get them – ownership, partnership, or a contracted service model.

The Enhanced Satellite Communication Project – Polar (ESCP-P) will provide the CAF with capabilities for Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) narrowband and wideband satellite communications (SATCOM), that are essential for Beyond Line of Sight communications in the Arctic. What is the current timeline for this project, and can it be accelerated? Also, should industry be given the task of project management of this project and would this get the project moving faster?

A Request for Information (RFI), open to all interested parties, has been active on Buy and Sell since December 2017, and an update to this RFI was published by PSPC on 16 November 2020.  The ESCP-P is currently in the Options Analysis Phase, where it continues to research and evaluate possible solutions to meet the project’s high level mandatory requirements and programmatic considerations.  The next step will see the team continue to research and develop options through consultation with Allies and other Government of Canada Subject Matter Experts from research and space organizations, conducting detailed technical and costing studies, and through Industry engagement activities. These activities will result in a recommended option being selected and the commencement of Definition Phase activities, which are anticipated to begin in Fiscal Year 2021/2022.

We don’t anticipate accelerated timelines, but part of the evaluation process is to understand the options available, and given the pace of technological advancement, there is a potential that industry could propose a solution led by them that could deliver the capability sooner.  In that eventuality, we would have to consider the operational requirements for the project in order to make sure we were still going to meet our mission needs.

What is the current status on the Surveillance of Space 2 (SofS 2) project that will replace the current capability being provided by the Sapphire satellite? And when can we expect the Ground Based Observation and Space Based Operations to be operational?

SofS 2 is currently seeking Project Approval and Expenditure Authority for its definition stage from a Ministerial decision in October 2021.  The proposed date for full operational capability of the ground-based sensor is 2025, and the space-based component should be operational in 2030.

The Defence Enhanced Surveillance from Space – Project (DESSP) is the next big programme to replace the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) and Polar Epsilon 2. Is Canada looking to showcase unique capabilities in this new mission/project?

Canada is a world-leader in space-based synthetic aperture radar earth observation.  This capability currently found in Radarsat2 and RCM, coupled with the Automatic Identification System (AIS), provides valuable and critical maritime domain awareness for Canada and our allies.  DESSP is intended to further include Common Maritime Transmission functionality which will better enable users to locate, identify, and classify vessels at sea – highlighting potential threats, or assisting to locate those in distress.

What are some of the capabilities that the RCAF is looking to industry to supply in the next few years and what are some of the capabilities that Canada is willing to outsource?

This is a tough question to answer.  The CAF has typically focused on specific operational capabilities when it comes to space.  At the moment, we have projects on the books for SATCOM, Surveillance from Space, and Space situational awareness.  These are systems that will deliver, enhance or supplement important operational effects in support of Canadian and Allied operations worldwide.  For other capabilities, such as GPS, we will continue to partner with the US and like-minded nations to achieve common operating systems and procedures, and economy of effort.

Beyond that – it is extremely hard to forecast.  The aforementioned rate of technological change means that there will be solutions in the future that we can’t begin to imagine today.   Advances in AI and quantum computing will undoubtedly change how we collect, analyze, and disseminate data.  And increased expansion of commercial interests will continue to re-frame how the CAF looks at capability delivery.  Whether that results in an ‘outsourcing’ model or practice is presently a novel concept, and remains to be seen.

In closing, what are some of the programmes that the RCAF Space is cooperating with the US Space Force and do we have Canadian officers serving with them?

Canada cooperates with the US across the whole gamut of space operations in national security – whether that is through our longstanding partnership in NORAD, or through other alliance bodies that seek to leverage partner-nation strengths and capabilities.  We work closely with the US Space Force in the Combined Space Operations initiative (CSpO), a 7-nation alliance that supports varied national operational requirements through shared intelligence, analysis, and space support requests (SSR).  We will also be working with the US and other allies to help establish a new Space organizational structure within NATO.

We have Canadians working at all levels as part of these endeavours, and most recently we established a new Canadian General Officer billet working with USSF in Colorado Springs – currently filled by my predecessor, BGen Kevin Whale.