BY DAVE PUGLIESE
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.