We’ve all read the laundry list of goals that Canadian defence procurement policy is meant to achieve: in addition to equipping the Canadian Armed Forces with cutting-edge gear, it includes everything from creating jobs in Canada and driving economic growth, to encouraging Canadian innovation and increasing export opportunities.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the policy arguments and sound bites. But to take stock of how this plan looks in action, we sat down with Rheinmetall Canada’s Vice President Alain Tremblay to get the perspective of industry.
It’s been a busy year for the company, which will begin delivery of the Integrated Soldier System (ISS) later this year, in addition to delivering Canada’s new Medium Range Radar (MRR) System soon, and contributing to the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAPV) program, which began delivery in August.
“A lot of people thought that Rheinmetall Canada would die with the demise and decommissioning of ADATS,” says Tremblay, referring to the Air Defence Anti-Tank System, which the company supplied to the CAF in 1989 and which is now being replaced by the new MRR capability. “But with the TAPV program, MRR, and the soldier systems, Rheinmetall Canada is very healthy.”
Of course, he cautions, “You can’t rest on your laurels.” That’s why the company is increasingly pursuing export opportunities.
In fact, he says, Rheinmetall Canada has been able to leverage its success delivering capabilities in Canada into developing an important niche within the global defence market.
A great example of this has been the Integrated Soldier System program, which will see every soldier in the Canadian Army kitted out with a portable, smartphone-like devise, allowing them to seamlessly interface with command teams. Canada is only the third country in the world to acquire this technology, and that puts Rheinmetall Canada at the top of the list of companies who’ll be hoping to deliver the capability to other militaries.
“We are just at the beginning of exporting it,” explains Tremblay. “But we have already gained tremendous momentum from the announcement of us winning the contract here [in Canada].” In fact, he says, “This is an area where we are very unique, even though there is competition in the field.”
The system, which is being built here in Canada, is already in trials in two countries in the Middle East, in addition to Eastern Europe.
Another niche the company has carved out is in the area of persistent surveillance and critical infrastructure protection.
Increasingly, Rheinmetall Canada has been successful in exporting their systems not just to militaries, but also to industry — and in particular to companies in the oil and gas sector.
“In light of insecurity around the world, this is becoming something a lot of companies and industrial consortiums are starting to look at,” says Tremblay. “We’re bringing a very unique capability with regards to critical infrastructure protection, mainly with our Persistent Surveillance System, because of our involvement in developing such systems for the Canadian Armed Forces. So we are leveraging the expertise that we have acquired in providing that capability in the military.”
It’s an exciting new area for a company that has traditionally focused on serving military clients, but the demand for high-tech systems in high-risk areas (particularly in the Middle East and North Africa) makes it an obvious fit for the company.
“Until a few years ago, the private sector was looking at buying CCTV cameras and things that you could find on the Internet … but that’s not enough any more. They want to have full integration of their systems.”
The company’s Persistent Surveillance System includes both an aerostat (a tethered, lightweight aircraft) and a surveillance tower, which are both equipped with sensors and are operated jointly from a control centre. The capability was used by the Canadian Armed Forces at forward operating bases (FOBs) in Afghanistan, as well as during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
Tremblay explains that the company’s selling point is its ability to deliver sophisticated, proven capabilities. “In the low end [of the market] we are not competitive — the market is well represented — but for the high end, in very high-risk areas, we have a good value proposition to bring to the table.”
In fact, he argues, Rheinmetall Canada is not alone among Canadian companies in this respect. It’s an area that increasingly is seeing greater opportunities for smaller Canadian firms as well.
At any given time Rheinmetall Canada works with 800–900 Canadian subcontractors. The company custom-designs its capabilities — including remote controlled weapon stations, surveillance systems and soldier systems — for individual customers. Tremblay explains that, “Every time a partner or a potential customer is looking for a very unique capability we will go and canvas Canadian industry first, before going anywhere else.” The result, he says, is that the company has served as a launching pad for many smaller firms to achieve international success.
As Rheinmetall Canada looks to the future, they’ll continue to leverage Canadian innovation to make their pitch in the international market. Their focus on exports will include: command and control systems (after more than a decade delivering the capability to the Canadian Armed Forces), system integrations, surveillance systems, integration of sensor packages, and even robotics. In fact, Tremblay says, right now they are competing for a unique program to deliver surveillance robots for use against CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) threats for a Middle Eastern client, based on cutting-edge technologies, all coming from Canada.
Exports aside, Tremblay says, at the end of the day, “Our focus is on remaining a partner of choice for the Canadian Armed Forces … and that’s really a long-term relationship we are trying to establish