Eyes in the Sky: A US soldier prepares an RQ-11 Raven miniature UAV during a mission in Afghanistan. The Canadian Army will obtain Ravens to assist gunners in artillery close support regiments and troops in armored reconnaissance squadrons. (Liu Jin/AFP)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — While the Canadian Air Force struggles with a long-delayed UAV project, the Army and Navy are making steady progress in developing plans for a variety of unmanned systems.
The Navy is looking at fixed-wing or rotary-wing UAVs for regular force operations and for use in the Arctic.
The Army is hoping to acquire unmanned ground systems for a variety of missions and micro-UAVs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, according to officers.
Building on lessons learned in the Afghan war, the Army also is looking for air and ground unmanned systems to detect improvised explosive devices.
Since 2000, the Air Force’s Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) has been the primary unmanned systems acquisition goal for the Canadian Forces.
JUSTAS includes the procurement of the air vehicles, spare parts, ground stations and a 20-year in-service support package to be provided by the winning bidder. The total cost is expected to exceed CAN $1.5 billion (US $1.4 billion), according to aerospace industry officials.
But Department of National Defence sources said the program to purchase a medium-altitude aerial vehicle is at a standstill and faces delays because of a lack of funding and personnel to operate the UAVs.
The Air Force declined to comment on JUSTAS or provide information on when such a procurement would proceed.
“This project is still [in] pre-definition phase,” noted Air Force spokesman Maj. James Simiana. Pre-definition means the project is still years from being approved.
While JUSTAS has sputtered along for 14 years, the Army and Navy are proceeding more quickly on smaller unmanned systems efforts, according to industry representatives and military officers.
Navy Capt. Wade Carter, director of naval requirements, briefed industry representatives in Ottawa on April 8 about the service’s new intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance program.
It will involve the purchase of six unmanned systems, which could be either rotary-wing or fixed-wing.
The craft would be able to operate in a variety of environments, such as at sea or in littoral waters. Carter said the Navy hopes to have the systems operating by 2018, but he did not provide a specific timeline or cost estimates.
The Army has a larger number of projects, either on the go or planned, involving unmanned systems for both land and air. It has two underway — the Miniature Unmanned Aircraft Systems (MUAS) project and the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) project.
Having two classes of unmanned systems — small and miniature — will enable the Army to conduct surveillance and target acquisition at multiple command layers, Army spokeswoman Courtney Laidler wrote in an email.
“The two platforms, MUAS and SUAS, will generate valuable information, specifically imagery, to commanders on the ground, and will provide the [Canadian Army] with unique capabilities,” she said.
MUAS will be operated by gunners from artillery close support regiments and by troops in armored reconnaissance squadrons. SUAS will be operated by the artillery general support regiment, she added.
“The project aims to acquire and possess full ownership of MUAS and SUAS systems, as opposed to contracting an external company to support our operations like the [Army] is currently doing with the SUAS Scan Eagle,” Laidler said. “Given that technology evolves at rapid speeds, the project will allow the [Army] to modernize its capabilities by procuring new systems with potentially better image quality and information fidelity.”
The MUAS contract was awarded to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) on Oct. 25. MDA will provide the Canadian military with Aerovironment’s RQ-11B Raven B, along with support for the systems. No cost details were released.
The plan calls for the acquisition of 35 to 45 systems; the program has the option to buy up to 90 more systems.
The SUAS project is still being implemented with no further details available, Laidler said.
The Army also is looking at fielding additional systems to improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Possible sensors include unmanned ground vehicles, micro-UAVs and micro-robots, Army Maj. Jason Vaughan of the Directorate of Land Requirements told industry representatives during a meeting in Ottawa on April 9.
Funding for the project — the total amount is still unknown — is expected to start in 2018, he said. The systems would be purchased starting in 2019 with full operating capability in 2023.
Lt. Col. Jake Galuga, who also works in the directorate, told industry officials the service is exploring the acquisition of unmanned ground vehicles for explosive ordnance disposal, search and other applications.
That effort would be part of an advanced improvised explosive device “detection and defeat capability,” and would examine land- and air-based remote detection systems, as well as multisensor systems to detect land mines, he added.
Initial operating capability, however, would not come until 2024. ■