A Twin Otter aircraft arrives during the summer with supplies for Camp Gascoyne, the Northern Watch base at Devon Island. ((Dan Hutt/Defence Research and Development Canada Atlantic))

Military scientists are moving ahead with plans to monitor the approaches to the Northwest Passage as part of the federal Northern Watch program.

Northern Watch tests the surveillance devices used to watch for foreign vessels and other craft travelling through the Arctic waterway from the east.

The program was launched in 2008 but scaled back earlier this year because of logistical difficulties.

"We discovered that we needed to do some more planning and preparation," Rick Williams, director general of science and technology operations with Defence Research and Development Canada, told CBC News.

Williams said he had to delay this year's work on Northern Watch to bring the team back together, re-establish expectations and rebuild a base camp on Devon Island.

"There was mould on the inside of some of the buildings and at some of the washing facilities and some of the storage facilities," he said.

The crew also had to find a new path leading to the main camp from a remote lookout site — on an outcrop 300 metres above water — because the existing route turned out to be dangerous.

"The weather conditions are pretty variable," Williams said. "Things can change dramatically and [in a] very short amount of time.

"If someone gets hurt, we had to have plans in place to be able to do things like medical care, evacuations."

Despite the logistical problems, Williams said, the team was able this past summer to install an underwater array of surveillance sensors that gathered data for about four weeks in Barrow Strait.

"We've got pictures of vessels that have actually gone by the test set-up over the course of this summer," he said.

"The kind of information we gather, the kinds of pictures we can take from the shoreline — that demonstrates we're getting smarter about how to do that channel surveillance."

Some of the sensors had problems and had to be removed.

Still, Williams said the Northern Watch team will return in full force next summer, working on developing technology that can operate year-round in the High Arctic.

Williams said the program is important in the North, which is becoming a bigger priority for the military.

"I think we're playing a key role to understand how we can bring all this high technology into the North and use it effectively," he said.

With files from Patricia Bell