High-Tech Warriors: The CAF’s Integrated Soldier System Project

Dave Pugliese is an award-winning author and one of Canada's top defence journalists. He currently writes the Ottawa Citizen's defence blog: Defence Watch

Dave Pugliese is an award-winning author and one of Canada's top defence journalists. He currently writes the Ottawa Citizen's defence blog: Defence Watch

By December of this year, the Canadian government expects to award the first phase of a program to purchase a new integrated system of computers, communications and sensors for individual soldiers.

Called the Integrated Soldier System Project or ISSP, the program would provide equipment not only to allow soldiers to navigate on the battlefield as well as track each other, but to feed communications and targeting information to a small personal data device each would carry on their person or in their helmet. This information would also be transmitted back to command centres through a computer network. In addition, the system would be able to interface with various sensors such as laser rangefinders and thermal imaging devices.

The Integrated Soldier System suites will be used by troops of operational task forces, including infantry, artillery forward observers, engineers, and combat support soldiers.

The first phase contract for the project would cover the purchase of up to 6,624 suites of equipment, says Sebastien Bois, a spokesman for Public Works and Government Services Canada.

The successful bidder will receive two contracts. The first will cover a period of about four years and will see the delivery of Integrated Soldier Systems (ISS) for qualification. If the systems pass review, then the government will purchase systems in batches, totalling 1,600 in all.

The military will also have the option of purchasing 5,024 ISS suites, either complete or using a component-by-component procurement, according to the Canadian government.

The second contract, called the Integrated Soldier Systems Optimized Weapon System Support Contract, will also be awarded. It will cover in-service support initially for five years, and further extensions could cover an additional six years.

During this period, the selected company could be called on to make improvements to the system. Modifications might also be needed to allow voice and data integration into new land command support systems.

The overall cost of the ISSP has been estimated at around $310 million.

Interested companies include Elbit Systems with L-3, Thales Canada, Rheinmetall Canada with Saab, General Dynamics Canada, Sagem with Raytheon, DRS Technologies and Selex.

The procurement, however, has had serious problems. First, the project has been going for a lengthy period. ISSP received initial approval from then Defence Minister Peter MacKay in 2008. The government was supposed to announce a winning bid in December 2012, with first deliveries scheduled for the spring of 2014.

But on January 25, 2013 the Canadian government cancelled its original ISSP bidding process after the bids it received were deemed as “non-compliant.” Industry sources say some of the bids were rejected because they did not meet technical specifications, and others were deemed non-compliant because companies failed to provide adequate information about their products.

For example, one bid was rejected because one official involved in the company’s proposal lacked the proper security clearance as the name of a health and safety officer was submitted in the bid in error. Another bid was rejected because information provided in two charts outlining spare parts acquisition did not exactly match up.

The entire process was restarted on February 15, 2013 when a draft request for proposals (RFP) was issued. Subsquently, an industry day was held on March 5, continued engagement with companies took place during the month of March, and a formal RFP was then issued in August of that year.

Various industry representatives consulted by Esprit de Corps warn that the ISSP process continues to remain flawed and Canadian soldiers could get short-changed as a result.

They point out the following:

The ISSP procurement was restarted/re-launched in the absence of post-field trial/request for proposals submission debriefs for each of the companies making submissions. There was also no substantive change in ISSP requirements or specifications (albeit a slight shift to a more rated, less mandatory process and an increased clarity on how field trials would be managed).

The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces have always claimed that this procurement is based on a COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) solution, but that isn’t quite accurate. Each of the bidders responding to the request for proposals have to invest heavily in further development to meet the unique Canadian Army requirements and specifications listed. These requirements were so extensive that most industry bids during the first competition were up to 3,000 pages in length.

Each bidding company was required to invest non-recoverable corporate research and development funding of between $1 million and $2 million to field a complete prototype/demonstration model for the initial stage of ISSP.

Also, even if a company wins the first phase, there is no guarantee it will get the other follow-up phases. 

One of the biggest hurdles facing ISSP, however, focuses on the speed of technology improvements. ISSP equipment could be potentially obsolete even before it is delivered, warn industry representatives. They note that the time gap between when bids are submitted for ISSP and the actual delivery of the winning system in 2016 will be almost two years. Given the pace of technological change, this lag in the procurement process will likely result in the emergence of new technology that will render the system technologically inferior, they worry.

Another serious and emerging issue is that the capability offered by systems being built for ISSP could soon be eclipsed by civilian technology such as smartphones, which could soon find their way on to the battlefield.

In January, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced that it had signed a $100 million, 15-year contract with Motorola Solutions that will see the Israeli defence forces being equipped over the next several years with encrypted smartphones. These small, hand-held devices will offer not only the ability for individual soldiers to make encrypted calls and receive emails, but they will also come equipped with a built-in GPS system and be capable of sending and receiving digital media (the phone will have an eight-mega-pixel camera) as well as navigation information.

“The new military mobile network will be based on a smartphone device with a touch screen, similar to the advanced smartphone devices available on the market today, adapted to the needs of the combat soldier in the field,“ the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The smartphone will also be equipped with a robust battery and durable casing.

As for what network the smartphones will operate on, Israel is looking at using an existing civilian network, with added security features. It will also continue to use its existing military-grade networks.

The U.S. Army has also launched its Nett Warrior program, which also uses smartphone technology. In this case, soldiers carry Samsung Galaxy Note commercial phones in a chest-mounted harness. The phones can receive and send text messages and other data as well as track other users on the battlefield.

By increasing the user's situational awareness through the use of precise navigation, the soldiers should have a greater synchronization of activity, thereby improving the soldier's capability and survivability on operations. In this photo, Master Corporal Adam Rymes, Reconnaissance Squadron of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, radios a situation report during a dismounted patrol in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province aimed to further develop knowledge of the area. (Cpl Shilo Adamson, Combat Camera).

By increasing the user's situational awareness through the use of precise navigation, the soldiers should have a greater synchronization of activity, thereby improving the soldier's capability and survivability on operations. In this photo, Master Corporal Adam Rymes, Reconnaissance Squadron of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, radios a situation report during a dismounted patrol in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province aimed to further develop knowledge of the area. (Cpl Shilo Adamson, Combat Camera).

In July 2013, the U.S. Army announced it was starting to field the Nett Warrior system with Army Rangers and soldiers within the 10th Mountain Division. One of the selling points of the system is the cost savings. The army purchases Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphones at around $700 each and installs the Nett Warrior software at substantially less cost than what contractors would charge to develop original devices. 

Intelligence. Surveillance. Reconnaissance.


Dave Pugliese is an award-winning author and one of Canada's top defence journalists. He currently writes the Ottawa Citizen's defence blog: Defence Watch.

Dave Pugliese is an award-winning author and one of Canada's top defence journalists. He currently writes the Ottawa Citizen's defence blog: Defence Watch.

Old technology and equipment to be replaced by new high-tech systems

The Canadian Armed Forces’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance projects may not be as high profile as some of the major re-equipment programs under way, but the systems they will provide are seen as essential to a well-functioning military.

High-tech equipment and systems can provide both the eyes and ears of the soldier, and the vital protection needed for the modern battlefield. Key among such projects for the Canadian Army is the acquisition of a new vehicle-mounted surveillance system that can feed its data into command and control networks.

The Army currently uses the Coyote reconnaissance vehicle, but its systems are not able to transmit information directly to headquarters. Delivered in 1997, the Coyote’s main drawback is that the data it collects is stored on 8mm cassettes, which are then hand-delivered to commanders.

But that will change with a new project that not only improves the range and capability of the surveillance systems, but also allows that surveillance data to be transmitted into various battlefield networks.

That project will replace the Coyote with the Light Armoured Vehicle – Reconnaissance: Surveillance Systems Upgrade Project (LRSS UP). Industry representatives have estimated the LRRS UP contract could be worth around $250 million.

Sixty-six surveillance systems will be purchased and integrated into the upgraded LAV-IIIs by General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada (GDLS-C) of London, Ontario. General Dynamics is also in the midst of upgrading the LAV IIIs for the army (these new vehicles will be known as LAV 6).

The government intends to have General Dynamics solicit proposals for the surveillance system and following a successful definition phase for the program, they will negotiate an implementation phase contract with GDLSC. That would see the delivery of the 66 recce vehicles.

The Army has said it wants initial operating capability of the LRSS UP by 2015. Full operating capability would be in 2017. Evaluation of surveillance systems is expected in early 2014, said Doug Wilson-Hodge of GDLS-C. A contract award is expected in late 2014 or early 2015, he added.

When it was delivered in 1997, the Coyote was considered state-of-the-art and soon became the backbone of the Canadian Army’s battlefield surveillance capabilities. But Army Major Frank Lozanski of the office of the Director of Land Requirements told industry representatives during a May 28, 2012 presentation that the Coyote now faces obsolescence.

Surveillance information is recorded on 8mm cassettes and transferred by hand to higher headquarters, he noted in his presentation. The Coyote also does not have any connectivity to the Army’s current network that displays intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance information.

In addition, the vehicle’s surveillance sensors cannot be operated if the Coyote is moving, Lozanski pointed out. Low to medium winds can cause the vehicle’s surveillance mast, erected while stationary, to sway. Because of that, the imagery being collected can become unstable.

The surveillance system takes between 20 to 40 minutes to set up and tear down, too much time in a combat situation, army officers point out. In addition, the Coyote chassis does not provide sufficient protection against improvised explosive devices and because of that the vehicles played a limited role during the Afghanistan war, Lozanski noted in his presentation. In addition, personnel are required to dismount from the vehicle to set up the surveillance system, putting them at risk.

LRSS UP will acquire a system that produces digital information that can be fed into various Canadian Armed Forces networks. The detection range and identification capabilities of surveillance systems will be improved. The time to set up the systems will be decreased, and the new vehicles will be able to transmit data while on the move.

The operator control station will be designed so it can accept the future integration of data from unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned ground systems, industry representatives have been told.

The surveillance suite will consist of day and night surveillance systems, a near infrared illuminator, a global position system receiver as well as other range detection equipment.

In a separate ISR program, the Canadian Armed Forces also has a project underway to procure a Medium Range Radar (MRR) system. The MRR system must be capable of conducting air surveillance and detecting and locating indirect fire weapons, such as artillery, mortars, and rockets, according to Public Works and Government Services Canada.

A wide range of defence firms have expressed interest in the project, including Lockheed Martin, Saab, Raytheon Canada, Thales Canada, Rheinmetall and IAI Elta.

Ongoing since 2008, the project’s requirements were later changed to include air surveillance. The military wants a radar with a range of 30 kilometres. Initial operating capability is expected to be achieved in 2014, with full operating capability by 2015, although some industry sources say that timetable is highly optimistic.

The Royal Canadian Air Force is also eyeing improvements to some of its ISR capabilities. Its tactical air control units are expected to get a new mission suite to equip them for duties applicable for both Canadian and coalition operations.

The new equipment would include mounted and dismounted wideband radios. Additional capabilities would integrate full motion video streaming, night vision equipment and rangefinders, as well as ruggedized laptops and software for battle planning and tracking.

The project is currently in an options-analysis phase, but DND procurement specialists are looking at merging its needs with a program to modernize the equipment for the Canadian Army’s forward air controllers. Military planners are hoping for an initial operating capability of 2017–2018 for the new systems.

But as new Canadian military ISR capabilities are developed, others are being cut.

The Conservative government has decided to withdraw from two major NATO ISR programs: a joint unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance project called the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system and the airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) program. Withdrawal from both AWACS and AGS is expected to save the government around $90 million, but some defence analysts have questioned why such key ISR projects would be on the chopping block when the information they can produce is so valuable to military planners.

The Canadian Armed Forces has around 100 people in Germany assigned to NATO AWACS, its last significant presence of military personnel on the European continent. However, they will be withdrawn from the program by mid-2014.

Canadian aircrews have worked aboard the NATO E-3A Airborne Early Warning Radar System aircraft for more than 25 years. The E-3A Component is NATO’s first integrated, multi-national flying unit, according to the alliance. It provides airborne surveillance, command, control and communication for NATO operations, and played a key role in the Libyan civil war.

The Canadian Armed Forces had been part of the AGS system since 2009. That project will acquire five unmanned aerial vehicles for NATO operations.

The AGS system is expected to be acquired by 13 allies — Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States — and then will be made available to NATO in the 2015–2017 timeframe, according to the alliance. NATO intends to operate and maintain them on behalf of all alliance nations.

Military analysts say that, although the moves are designed to save money, they also further lessen Canada’s presence in NATO. “Our NATO connections have been slowly eroding over the years and this further distances us from NATO,” said Martin Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto.

Besides the potential impact on NATO relations, the decision to pull out of AWACS also hits Canada’s defence industry.

A January 23, 2012 briefing note for then Defence Minister Peter MacKay pointed out that between 1992 and 2010, Canada’s contribution to depot level maintenance for the aircraft was $161 million. But Canadian firms received $180 million in work from that program, stated the briefing note obtained by Esprit de Corps through the Access to Information Act. Among the companies receiving work were General Dynamics Canada, Heroux Devtek, and L3, it added.

When it came to modernization programs for the AWACS, Canadian firms were also well represented. The briefing note pointed out that during the last major upgrade, the Canadian government contributed US$136 million to that program. But Canadian firms received work totalling US$146 million, the briefing pointed out.