Special Ops: Wishlist of new gear

By David Pugliese

Canada’s special forces are embarking on a significant push to acquire new equipment over the coming decade. It’s an initiative that could mean up to $600 million in new business for industry. The acquisitions will run the gamut from boots and crew-served weapons to surveillance aircraft to specialized armour vehicles that can be modified in the field for various missions. The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) outlined some of its equipment needs for Esprit de Corps:

New Vehicles

One of the command’s more significant purchases over the coming years will be the acquisition of the next-generation fighting vehicle or NGFV.

CANSOFCOM spokesman Maj. Steve Hawken describes the NGFV as a multi-role vehicle comprising of different variants that can be outfitted for various special forces missions.
CANSOFCOM previously had a special operations vehicle project that was designed to replace the command’s existing fleet of High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) made by American heavy vehicle manufacturer AM General.

The project was cancelled in 2010 after CANSOFCOM procurement specialists determined that the Supacat, the only vehicle that was bid for the procurement, did not meet all its requirements. Sources say CANSOFCOM’s requirements were unrealistic, particularly for the small production run of vehicles it wanted to procure.

Instead, a decision was made to overhaul and extend the life of the existing HMMWV fleet, a process to be finished by the end of this year. This overhaul of the HMMWVs will extend their life to 2024, at which point these vehicles would be replaced by the NGFVs.

Based on current timelines, CANSOFCOM is expected to receive its first deliveries of next-generation fighting vehicles (NGFV) in 2022–2025, Hawken said.

The preliminary budget estimates for this project range between $115 million to $249 million, but a more accurate figure will be determined when CANSOFCOM better determines what it is looking for in a new vehicle.

“At this time, the exact quantities (of NGFVs) have not been finalized as the project is currently in the definition phase,” Hawken explained. “In general terms, the NGFV will comprise a few different variants of vehicles suited to perform CANSOFCOM missions as required.”
Previously though, CANSOFCOM stated the number of vehicles it needed would not exceed 100. The command believes that there are off-the-shelf products that could satisfy its current requirements.

Options for the project will be looked at in 2015 and a request for proposals released to industry two years later. A contract would be awarded in 2018.

Ken Yamashita, General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada’s manager of corporate affairs, said the company is continuing to maintain contact with CANSOFCOM to keep abreast of developments in the project. “We are considering a number of General Dynamics products, including the Ocelot, for this program,” he said.

The Ocelot, which the British military call the Foxhound, has a modular design, allowing for quick modifications of its cabin for specific missions. As its basis, it has a protective pod capable of carrying six soldiers. It was originally developed by Force Protection Europe and Ricardo, a specialist engineering/transport design firm based in the UK.

Ocelot comprises a core automotive armoured spine or “skateboard” onto which one of a number of alternative special role “pods” can be mounted, according to Ricardo. These pods include a patrol, fire support or protected logistics vehicle and the pods are easily interchangeable in the field as the need requires, the company says. The V-shaped hull configuration formed by the combination of skateboard and pod, coupled with the use of the latest in advanced composite technology, provides a practical vehicle package with exceptional manoeuvrability, operational flexibility, and unparalleled levels of occupant protection for a vehicle of its class, the firm noted.
The NGFV isn’t the only new vehicle CANSOFCOM intends to purchase; it will also acquire a new fleet of commercial pattern armoured vehicles. “With the expansion of CANSOFCOM in 2006, it has been identified that there is a shortage of out of area commercial pattern armoured vehicles (CPAV),” Hawken explained.

The armoured SUVs are to be used to transport VIPs as well as be used on other overseas missions where CANSOFCOM personnel need a lower profile.

Different variants will be purchased and the winning contractor would provide integrated logistic support. That would include initial cadre training and the first two years of in-service support, according to CANSOFCOM.

The cost of the project is estimated to be between $20 million and $49 million. A contact would be awarded in 2015, with final delivery of the vehicles taking place in 2017.
Hawken said that, because of operational security issues, the command is not going to provide a specific detailed description of the vehicles and quantities to be purchased.

New equipment for CSOR

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) based in Petawawa, Ont., will receive an influx of new gear over the next several years, allowing it to achieve full operational capability (FOC).
The focus will be on procurement of commercial off-the-shelf or military off-the-shelf equipment. Preliminary estimates for the project run between $50 million to $99 million. Request for proposals will be released next year, with deliveries starting in 2021.
“There are a number of procurements planned to achieve CSOR FOC ranging from boots and radios to crew-served weapons,” Hawken explained. For security reasons, he would not go into specifics.

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

Another area where CANSOFCOM wants to acquire a new capability is with an initiative it is calling the Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (MAISR) Procurement Project.

This will involve the acquisition of a small fleet of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to improve the command’s capability to track and target insurgents on the ground. Four aircraft will be purchased, each outfitted with a signals intercept capability and sensors to target movement on the ground.

The planes would be operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force and be mainly for CANSOFCOM, although they could be made available for any other unit.
Dan Blouin, a Department of National Defence spokesman, said the requirement is for an enduring, operational level, multi-sensor manned airborne ISR capability that would be used to complement existing Canadian Armed Forces intelligence and reconnaissance platforms such as the CP-140 Aurora.

The new aircraft could be deployed on short notice and, unlike the Aurora, which is largely a maritime surveillance plane, the fleet would be designed to support ground operations.
“It is being examined as a dedicated ISR platform capable of direct support to ground troops, however, it shall also be capable of support for all (Canadian Armed Forces) operations,” Blouin said.

“This Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (MAISR) program will permit the (Canadian Armed Forces) to expand its ISR capabilities to meet the emerging and additional demands of the ever-changing battle space.”

At this time, there are no firm milestones publicly available for the program, Blouin added.
CANSOFCOM initially met with industry representatives in August 2013 to discuss in general terms what it wanted in an aircraft. But in August of this year, CANSOFCOM changed its procurement process, indicating it would now proceed with the purchase of airframes through a foreign military sale with the U.S. government.

Canadian military sources say the special forces command is interested in acquiring MC-12W Liberty surveillance aircraft. The MC-12 program began in 2008 as a way to quickly outfit Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprop aircraft with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment for the Iraq war. The planes also operated in Afghanistan in support of special forces and conventional troops.

Boeing had been promoting its Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System (RAMIS) to the Canadian Armed Forces for the project. RAMIS can provide an array of payloads, including a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) as well as communications intercept capabilities. The aircraft being marketed by Boeing has four payload bays for maximum flexibility and optimum sensor mix.

In addition, the aircraft has plug-and-play software and sensors that can be quickly added or removed. “You can fly one sortie in the morning and fly another module in the afternoon,” said Mike Ferguson, the Boeing official in charge of business development for RAMIS.
Ferguson also said RAMIS is not “platform-centric,” but the King Air aircraft is the most popular. In addition, Ferguson said the change in Canada’s procurement plan — moving from the purchase of aircraft from a company to the purchase of aircraft through a foreign military sale (FMS) — doesn’t affect Boeing’s interest in the program.

“If it’s modifying existing aircraft, we’re ready to do that and we have programs do that,” Ferguson said. “Or if it is buying new aircraft from the United States through an FMS case, we’re ready to support them on that ... We’re ready to support them, no matter what their decision is.”
Boeing brought the RAMIS production prototype aircraft to Ottawa in August for a demonstration for Royal Canadian Air Force officers. Chief of the Air Staff LGen Yvan Blondin was also on hand for the demonstration.

The Canadian Armed Forces plans to base the special forces surveillance aircraft in Ontario, either at an RCAF location or an international airport (CFB Trenton and Ottawa’s airport come to mind).

Ferguson said no details have been provided on when the project would proceed. “One of the biggest issues is the Canadian budgeting process,” he explained. “They really didn’t give an indication on when they’ll be moving forward on the program.”

Mike Greenley, vice president for CAE Canada Military, said if CANSOFCOM does acquire the aircraft in a direct purchase from the U.S. government, there could be work for Canadian firms in maintaining the planes. “We would have the capability to support an ISR platform in Canada,” he noted.

Command and Control

CANSOFCOM also hopes to improve its command and control capabilities. A new project dubbed the Special Operations Task Forces Command and Control Communication Information System would involve the purchase of new hardware, software as well as contractor support. Cost is estimated to be between $50 million and $99 million. Options analysis is currently being conducted and a request for proposals will be issued in 2015. A contract will be awarded that same year, but the deliverables won’t all be in place until 2020.

Hawken said the new system “must provide operators and higher echelon staff with the means to share mission-critical information anywhere in the world. It must accommodate the rapid integration of emerging technologies and products, some of which are not within the scope of conventional forces.”

Because of security reasons, he declined to provide specifics about the equipment being sought by the command.

New CBRNE equipment

CANSOFCOM’s Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) will receive new equipment through what is being called the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Enhancement Project.

The project will procure systems currently in use by CJIRU as well invest in opportunities that will provide improvements for those systems. Defence Research and Development Canada, the Directorate of CBRN Defence and Operational Support and other DND organizations will be involved.

Product improvements provided by industry and universities will also be considered. The total price tag for the new purchases is estimated to be between $50 million to $99 million. Requests for proposals are expected in 2016. However, this hasn’t stopped CANSOFCOM from already upgrading such equipment.

On September 8, U.S.-based iRobot Corp. announced it had received contracts totalling $9.6 million from DND. One contract is for 20 iRobot 510 PackBot CBRN Recce Systems, including training and future product life cycle support, said Tom Phelps, director of Robotic Products – North America for iRobot’s defence and security business unit. All systems under the contract are expected to be delivered by April 2015.

The iRobot 510 PackBot CBRN Recce System is a modular expansion to the company’s 510 PackBot multi-mission robot platform; it is designed to meet specific requirements from Canada’s Department of National Defence, the company noted.

It includes a CBRN suite that integrates five primary sensors to detect, alert and report on chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, volatile gases, explosives and radiation. It has enhanced mobility through the addition of rear flippers to allow it to climb up stairs.

DND spokesman Dan LeBouthillier said the CBRN sensors currently in service in the Canadian military do not incorporate the inherent remote operation, mobility and communication capabilities that would allow close reconnaissance tasks in confined spaces to be carried out safely. The remote reconnaissance capability provided by the iRobot systems would reduce the operator’s risk of exposure since the analysis of potentially harmful CBRN agents can be performed at a safe distance, he added.

Phelps said the firm is delivering the robots to DND but doesn’t know what specific unit they will be used by. Military sources, however, say the robots are destined for CANSOFCOM.