VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The Canadian military’s concern about civilian casualties, as well as improving its operational capabilities on land, sea and air, is driving a push toward more precision strike weapons.
The Canadian Forces has projects underway to acquire precision-guided artillery shells for the Army, upgraded torpedoes for the Navy and is planning for a family of network-enabled weapons for its future fighter aircraft, said military officers and industry representatives.
The Canadian Forces declined to comment on future precision strike plans. But at an April 9 meeting with defense industry executives in Ottawa, Royal Canadian Air Force officers listed the purchase of “low collateral damage weapons” and network-enabled weapons as service priorities. Network-enabled weapons are precision munitions with the ability to have targeting information updated in flight using a common data link, as well as allowing other aircraft to direct the weapon.
“The bottom line is that it comes down to return on investment — making sure these expensive weapons hit their target — and return on morality,” said Randall Wakelam, a professor at the Canadian Forces Royal Military College who specializes in precision effects on the battlefield.
That return on morality, he noted, is based on the desire to avoid civilian casualties, both for political and public relations purposes and because of moral issues.
The Army plans to order more Excalibur precision-guided artillery rounds, with a contract expected in the summer. Canada was among the first nations to use the BAE-Raytheon round in combat.
In the realm of improving operations, the Navy is upgrading the accuracy of its Mk-48 torpedoes. Through the US Navy this summer, the Royal Canadian Navy will order 36 Mod 7 advanced technology torpedo conversion kits to upgrade some of its existing Mk-48 torpedoes. Those torpedoes will be used by Canada’s Victoria-class submarines, and the conversion kits will provide the weapons with improved accuracy in shallow waters.
Denny Roberts, vice president of Raytheon Canada, said the Air Force has purchased the company’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and plans to acquire more air-to-ground Enhanced Paveway II weapons to replace the stocks used during the Libyan war.
He noted that the next-generation fighter aircraft that Canada hopes to purchase within five years will also need its own precision weapons.
The military estimates it will spend CAN $270 million (US $267 million) to CAN $300 million for its initial purchase of new weapons for those aircraft, according to the two-page report, “Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets.” The report was released Feb. 13 by the Library of Parliament’s research organization.
The Air Force has asked for and received briefings on extended-range AMRAAMs and small-diameter bombs, which improve striking at moving targets in all-weather conditions.
“They’ve been doing their homework,” Roberts said. “The use of so-called dumb weapons is over for Canada, and you’re seeing all three services go for more precision effects.”
Lessons learned from Canada’s participation in the 2011 Libyan war are partially behind the move to boost precision-strike capability.
Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, who helped coordinate the NATO air campaign over Libya, highlighted in 2011 and 2012 the need for acquiring munitions that limited damage to vital infrastructure while allowing for precision targeting. Bouchard, now retired, has pointed out that NATO forces were, at times, restricted in their ability to attack targets because of the proximity of civilians.
“We have to be able to operate in an environment where targets will be between two buildings, beside a school, between a school and a hospital,” Bouchard told journalists in February 2012. “We must have systems that can actually make the difference, attack the target you have to attack with minimal collateral damage being caused by a shock wave or, obviously, the impact of a larger-yield weapon.”
During the conflict, Canada introduced a number of measures aimed at improving strike capability or limiting civilian deaths.
Roberts, a former CF-18 fighter pilot, pointed out that the Air Force outfitted its Paveway IIs with a “height of burst” capability. That allowed pilots to determine the altitude at which the bomb exploded, controlling its range of lethality.
Air Force CF-18s also dropped joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs) during the campaign. The JDAM system uses GPS signals to guide the weapon.
Brig. Gen. Derek Joyce said in 2011 that the JDAMs were used because weather conditions over Libya made the use of laser-guided munitions more difficult.
He said Canada introduced JDAMs in the final days of the fighting, dropping 13 of the weapons. ■