The Distant Early Warning System, known as the DEW Line, was conceived and constructed in the 1950s to provide crucial warning to military forces in Canada and the USA in the event of a bomber attack on North America from the north.
The DEW Line was a critical component in an air defence system comprised of other radar networks (such as the Mid-Canada Line, the Pinetree Line and the Alaska Radar System), fighter interceptor aircraft, as well as manual and semi-automated command and control centres.
With the advent of new capabilities such as supersonic bombers and cruise missiles, the threat of airborne attack on North America evolved. As a result, Canada and the USA determined that there was a need to upgrade several air defence systems. In March 1985 Prime Minister Mulroney and President Reagan signed the North American Aerospace Defence Modernization (NAADM) Agreement at the Shamrock Summit. The Agreement provided for the replacement of the DEW Line by the North Warning System (NWS) and for the establishment of Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) for fighter interceptor aircraft.
Just as the DEW Line used groundbreaking technology when it was built, the NWS used the latest in solid-state radar and communications systems. This enabled the new sites to operate in an unattended mode, without permanent staff on-site, and to automatically process and send radar information by satellite to the military control centre in North Bay, ON. The increase in capability driven by highly reliable systems reduced the logistics support required and the associated staffing requirements.
Unlike the DEW Line, which was entirely US-funded and managed, the costs of building the NWS were shared between Canada and the USA, as are the ongoing operations and maintenance (O&M) costs of the system. The Canadian Government is responsible for managing this sustainment effort, and awarded the first contract in 1987 to Frontec Logistics Corp. Another contract followed in 1995 to Frontec/PAIL Joint Venture.
By 2000, Inuit were expressing a desire to become more involved in management and technical aspects of NWS operations and maintenance. The Joint Venture was restructured to create a 50/50 sharing of all aspects of the enterprise. Nasittuq was created as the Joint Venture’s agent and, in 2001, was awarded a new 10-year contract including options.
The NWS contract includes the operation and maintenance of 47 radar sites from 5 logistics support sites across Canada’s North: Inuvik, Cambridge Bay, Hall Beach, Iqaluit and Goose Bay. Also included are a System Support Center and a System Control Center in North Bay, Ontario, as well as a Contract Management Office in Ottawa, Ontario. The work involves maintenance, logistics, environmental systems management, systems engineering and project management.