HDT Global: Engineering the future of deployable shelters
By Evelyn Brotherston
“It’s not just a tent,” says Bob Parsons emphatically, describing the design of HDT Global’s expeditionary shelters.
At first glance, HDT’s shelters certainly look like tents. On closer inspection, however, they are a far cry from the stiff canvas and unwieldy poles of the old-school structures still widely in use by the Canadian Armed Forces.
Parsons, an ex-army man with more than 20 years in the military, is the Managing Director of HDT Canada, a company currently bidding on the Headquarters Shelter Systems (HQSS) program. The program will see the Canadian Armed Forces outfitted with between 1,435 and 2,225 next-generation, soft-walled tactical shelters that will serve as command posts and field hospitals in operational areas.
HDT is putting forward their meticulously engineered shelters, which boast cutting edge technology in heating and cooling, power management, energy efficiency, and their ability to withstand harsh environments.
“I grew up in the era of what are called ‘mod-tents,’” says Parsons, who vividly recalls wrestling with the heavy — and often wet — sheets of canvas that were draped across aluminum frames and took hours to put up. “When I came and worked for HDT five years ago, and I first saw their tents, I thought ‘God, I so wish we'd had this!’”
While the traditional army-issue tent can take 10 people over an hour to put up, Parsons explains, HDT’s shelters can be put up by just four to six people in less than ten minutes. “Our guys can put up an 18 x 24 foot shelter inside of five minutes,” he says.
“Our new generation of deployable shelters are a quantum leap from what’s in the field now,” he says. “They're designed to stay up under extreme snow loads or in 120 km/hour winds and still do their job.”
Unlike their competitors, HDT won’t have to modify the core design of their shelters to meet the stringent requirements for the HQSS. The company has a strong record of deploying shelters in just about every type of challenging environment. When it comes to the Arctic, for instance, the company has already supplied complete shelter systems for the Swedish Army — “they regularly operate north of the Arctic Circle,” says Parson — and, closer to home, the U.S. Armed Forces operating in Alaska.
HDT also recently delivered shelters to the Canadian special forces, and these structures have been deployed during current special forces operations. At the request of the Canadian government, the company was able to bring forward delivery by several months. “Canada turned to us and said we have a mission requirement overseas that means we need this equipment quickly, and we were able to respond,” explains Parsons. Feedback from DND on the shelters’ performance in the field has been very positive.
HDT products, Parsons explains, “need to be able to go into an area where absolutely nothing exists and be set up with all the infrastructure that is needed in terms of power, heat, light and air conditioning.”
Energy efficiency is one of the primary considerations while operating in the field. Transporting fuel costs money, and if that fuel is transported in a convoy, there’s the added risk that the convoy could be hit. HDT has engineered a variety of different strategies that mean their tents require less energy to operate and can therefore go unsupplied longer. These include: engineering air flow to insure heat is dissipated, the use of shades placed above shelters, insulation for use in extreme cold, self-powered heating and custom-designed air conditioning units. Power management systems also allow for power to be directed seamlessly to wherever it is needed within the shelter system, and include energy drawn from wind, solar and water power (where possible).
As HDT prepares to make their bid on HQSS, one of the primary selling points they’ll be highlighting for the Canadian government is the company’s longstanding investment in Canada. Under the terms of the government’s current defence procurement strategy, one of the biggest considerations for companies bidding on procurement projects is the requirement to contribute industrial benefits to the Canadian economy, including job creation and connecting domestic companies to the international market.
For HDT, this will be easy. The company is the largest supplier of shelters in the world, with over 100,000 currently deployed in 60 countries. They currently involve companies from across Canada in their supply chain. Canadian subcontractors contribute everything from lighting and heating to air purification systems in HDT shelter systems.
One of their best success stories is a small sub-contractor called CSML, based in Winnipeg, which has been producing key components for HDT’s heaters for 10 years now. “That's a total of about $25-million worth of business,” says Parsons. “They’re a small company, but we’ve equipped them with tooling and manufacturing know-how because they’re a core component of a lot of our major products which are exported worldwide.”
If HDT is awarded the HQSS contract, the shelters will be assembled at the company’s facility in Belleville, Ontario, which already manufactures the same products required for HQSS. In service support will also happen in Canada.
“It’s a fantastic program,” says Parsons. “It’s going to take the focus away from setting up the camp and that sort of thing to enabling soldiers to very quickly achieve a readiness state and focus on the mission.” Not to mention enabling soldiers to deploy anywhere in the world, under any conditions.
“It’s taken a while to come to fruition, but whatever we can do to get good quality, effective equipment in the hands of our troops is what it’s all about.”