OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Colt Canada wants to give the individual soldier more than just firepower on the battlefield. It is transforming rifles into networked platforms than can operate aerial surveillance systems.
The Kitchener, Ontario-based company has developed a system that links a soldier’s rifle to a micro-unmanned aerial vehicle, allowing the soldier to receive data from a UAV as well as control it in flight.
The “rail” system common on assault rifles and other weapons is usually outfitted with laser rangefinders, flashlights or infrared sensors. But Colt Canada has taken that a step further by installing what it is calling a network data and power system for small arms.
It provides an open-source network data interface and central power source for accessories that can be attached to the weapon. The technology includes a GPS receiver and navigation capability, so the rifle’s geographic position and pointing angles are communicated to accessories on the weapon via the network data interface.
The system on the rifle also can control a micro-UAV that is launched by the soldier. Surveillance data from the UAV is transmitted to a laptop computer carried by the soldier or to a nearby armored vehicle.
“We’re taking the rifle from being a Spitfire to being a CF-18 fighter,” said Warren Downing, an advanced systems engineer at Colt Canada. “We have a target acquisition device that has a data link. We power the data link using the power and data rail.”
The system, in a prototype stage, was unveiled at the CANSEC military trade show here on May 29. Colt Canada expects to further refine the system over the next six to 12 months, progressing to an actual product within a year.
The computer and power system are installed in the pistol grip of the rifle.
The electric-powered Huggin X1 UAV that is part of the system is manufactured by Sky-Watch, a Danish company. The micro-UAV can fly for 25 minutes and reach altitudes of 10,000 feet. Just 19.7 inches wide and weighing 1.39 kilograms, it is GPS-outfitted and can carry various sensors, including thermal or video cameras.
Downing said Colt Canada has integrated Sky-Watch’s target acquisition system (TAS), which directly communicates with the UAV. The TAS, installed on the weapon as an accessory, is used to designate the target and command the drone to survey the designated target. The TAS is the first device in the world to control a UAV from a small arms platform, he said.
The soldier can control the aircraft’s movements from his or her rifle. Imagery from the UAV is observed on a separate display.
The TAS receives its power and navigation data from the rifle via the small arms network data and power system.
Downing noted a potential scenario in which an infantry commander launches the UAV to conduct reconnaissance of potential enemy activity behind a hill. If the UAV observes a target of interest, the commander can call in indirect fire to hit that position, using data provided by the micro-aircraft. The UAV also can observe the battle damage from the attack.
Once the mission is finished, a simple press of the button on the TAS will direct the UAV to return to its point of takeoff, Downing said.
Colt Canada has designed this system to be ITAR-free, meaning that it is all non-US technology, said Francis Bleeker, Colt Canada’s director of sales and marketing. When the company has used US technology in the past, it experienced delays in sales to foreign nations, since under the US government’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) protocols, it needed approval from the State Department in Washington for any transaction that involved military-related products that originated in the US.
The company has supplied Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark with small arms. It also has supplied special forces units from various nations, although it declines to name those countries.
Colt Canada recently demonstrated the small arms network data and power system to Canadian Army officers and snipers.
The company originally joined forces with Sky-Watch to fulfill an offset obligation to Denmark. But Bleeker said the Danish company’s technology has impressed Colt, which has begun marketing Sky-Watch products to the North American security and defense market.
Bleeker said the UAV-rifle combination is being developed independently from Colt in the US.
“We have the lead,” he said. “We’re doing it for our prime customer — [Canada’s] Department of National Defence.”
Bleeker said the system is being designed to be interoperable with other equipment expected to be fielded for Canadian soldiers. Canada has a program to outfit its troops in the next two years with what it is calling the Integrated Soldier System Project. ISSP would provide equipment not only to allow troops to track each other as they move about the battlefield, but also to feed communications and targeting information into their helmets or to a small personal data device.
“We can take the weapon and plug it into any soldier system,” Bleeker said.
The Canadian Forces uses Colt’s C-7 family of rifles, and the company is the country’s center of small arms excellence. Over the last seven years, Colt has modernized the C-7, adding laser-aiming devices and infrared illuminators to the weapon. In some cases, C-7 variants were equipped with heavier barrels and grenade launchers.
Colt Canada also is preparing for the Canadian Forces procurement of a new generation of small arms.
The project, called Next Generation Small Arms, would see the replacement of all of the Canadian military’s rifles, carbines and light machine guns. As many as 90,000 new weapons would be purchased.
Canadian military officers have said the emphasis will be on greater accuracy, making weapons lighter and smaller, as well as tailoring the lethality of the small arms to specific scenarios.
Although some initial work has been done on that project, it is not expected to proceed until 2017. The small arms replacement program is estimated to cost at least CAN $800 million (US $799 million).