THE NRC HAS A LONG AND PROUD HISTORY OF SUPPORTING THE CAF AND CANADA'S SECURITY
By Kevin F. Hayes, Military Liaison, Nation Research Council
Canadians have reasons to celebrate their heritage. Not only are we celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, but Canada’s go-to research and technology organization — the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) — is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
What ties these milestones together is that NRC can trace its roots back to when it rallied the nation’s science and technology resources and expertise to counter wartime threats faced by Canadians and their allies. So it is apropos to journey back in time and pay tribute to a century of innovation that advanced our Military’s capability to defend Canadians, both at home and abroad.
We begin our journey during the Second World War era. The anti-gravity suit (or G-suit), invented by Dr. Wilbur R. Franks, emerged from a project initiated by NRC to protect air crews fighting in Europe. The G-suit counteracted the effects of high gravity forces so pilots remained conscious while in flight. Today’s G-suits evolved from Dr. Franks’ original design and are worn by pilots and astronauts around the globe.
The G-suit was not the only invention to ensure the health and safety of Canadians and their allies on the front lines. NRC’s scientists and engineers developed and tested anti-gas fabrics, masks, and machines to protect military personnel from weaponized gas. They were also proficient in creating preservation techniques and designing portable refrigeration units for supply ships, to carry perishable foods to Allied men and women in uniform stationed in the British Isles.
In addition to innovations for the health and safety of military personnel, other breakthroughs were made in military communications, weaponry and general equipment. While at NRC, Donald Hings, inventor of a portable two-way radio for bush pilots, adapted the technology for a robust military application known as the walkie-talkie. NRC experts also improved the design of the Weasel, an all-terrain vehicle used by the elite American–Canadian First Special Service Force, nicknamed the Devil’s Brigade, to easily glide through snow, mud, swamp and underbrush.
Another technology developed by NRC included the “Night Watchman,” a land-based defence system installed near Halifax. It was the first operational coastal radar system on the North American continent. In fact, NRC led the development of 30 different types of radar, helped to create degaussing (the process of decreasing or eliminating a remnant magnetic field) countermeasures for Allied ships against torpedoes, and was responsible for perfecting the detonation mechanism of the proximity fuse, used in various arms of our military forces.
Leading up to and during the Second World War, NRC experts conducted research to support industry, as well as the Department of National Defence (DND). After 1945, a number of NRC labs became part of the Defence Research Board, which has since morphed into what is known today as Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). This research and development arm of DND addresses specific needs of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and turns to NRC to complement those capabilities.
Our journey leads us to the modern era, where scientific and technological innovations for military applications continue to benefit from the involvement of NRC. In the 1980s, NRC researcher Lorne Elias invented bomb-sniffing devices, which the CAF has adapted for use to ferret out improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Later on NRC would help Canadian manufacturers test and develop lightweight materials for both protective armour and to fortify military vehicles.
In the early 2000s, the Canadian arm of General Motors Defense (now General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada) sought NRC’s expertise in virtual environment technologies to build the Stryker LAV (light armoured vehicle) weapons systems. At the same time, NRC experts engineered unique improvements to night-vision goggles for the CAF and rescue pilots.
In 2007, members of the CAF expressed concerns with the use of Leopard tanks in Afghanistan’s scorching summer climate, which is known to reach temperatures as high as 49°C. Their main cause for concern was the effect of the heat on the military personnel manning the tanks. NRC’s experts responded by testing a cooling vest developed by a Canadian manufacturer in one of its environmental testing facilities. They tested the vest’s performance at 50°C with full solar loading—simulating human experience under the Afghan sun at noon. A week of testing allowed NRC researchers to validate the effectiveness of the vests, enabling DND to deliver the systems to Afghanistan for the summer months. Interestingly, during the week of testing, the average high at the test site in Ottawa was -10°C with about 10 cm of snow on the ground, thus demonstrating the value of NRC’s unique environmental testing facility.
In recent years, DRDC enlisted NRC’s experts to help with a customized onboard data acquisition system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to collect and use real-time data to take off and land autonomously. The NRC experts helped to develop and test the new sensors, electronics and computer programs, which will enable future military UAVs to perform above and beyond their original design specifications.
Speaking of autonomous and autopilot technology, NRC also contributed to upgrading the submarines that Canada purchased from Britain. A collaborative partnership among DND, DRDC Atlantic, Montreal’s L-3 MAPPS, and NRC, resulted in designing, building and testing a modernized, state-of-the-art autopilot system for four naval submarines acquired by the Royal Canadian Navy.
These technological advancements are just a few of many examples over the past century of successful collaborative partnerships between NRC and other leading research and development agencies. The NRC is an important part of the Canadian Defence community and works with original equipment manufacturers, DND, and DRDC with the goal of propelling Canadian industry forward. In the years to come, we will see more technology from NRC collaborations that will help the Canadian military defend Canada and our allies. This will include advances in mobility, in situ 3-D printing, health and usage monitoring, automated vehicles, armoured vehicles, and personal protective equipment (PPE). These technologies are vital to our military community.
DRDC and NRC have a strategic joint program on security materials technology, put in place to develop, transition and integrate transformational materials technologies to improve the performance of armoured vehicles and PPEs. Today, NRC is the only organization in Canada — and one of few in the world — with integrated expertise in the processing and performance validation of nano-engineered, hybrid and other advanced security materials. The unique capabilities offered through NRC provide government departments, as well as Canadian armoured vehicles and PPE suppliers, access to world-class expertise in the design, prototyping and testing of advanced protection systems.
Throughout NRC’s history, its mandate has remained steadfast: to best serve the needs of Canada and Canadians, both at home and abroad. With a century of achievements and innovation behind it, NRC looks forward to advancing Canada’s military needs over the next 100 years. Close ties and shared objectives with DND help to ensure Canada remains safe and secure.
Looking for more information on NRC’s centennial activities, visit: www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/about/centennial/index.html.