Lessons From Libya: A Canadian CF-18 fighter lands at an airbase in Sicily after a mission in Libya in March 2011. Concern over civilian deaths during the Libyan campaign has made low collateral damage weapons a priority for the Royal Canadian Air Force. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/ / AFP)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The Royal Canadian Air Force is looking at acquiring new weapons to reduce collateral damage, a key recommendation that emerged from the service’s war in Libya.
In a list of equipment needs provided to industry on June 25, the Air Force outlined a number of proposed munitions acquisitions worth more than CAN $1 billion (US $970 million). The most immediate was what the service is calling a low collateral damage weapon.
“A low collateral damage weapon allows employment in urban and politically sensitive operations with reduced likelihood of unintended weapons effects,” the Defence Acquisition Guide noted. “The weapon must provide weapons effects with a footprint less than a 500 [pound] General Purpose bomb.”
The project would cost up to $100 million, with a contract expected to be awarded in 2018. Delivery of the weapons would take place the following year, according to the guide. The Air Force noted the schedule could be subject to change, depending on its needs and government priorities.
Concern over civilian deaths surfaced in Canada during and after the 2011 NATO-led Libyan war when human rights groups, including Amnesty International Canada, called for a comprehensive investigation into the number of fatalities from bombing during that conflict.
An investigation was not conducted by the Canadian Forces but Air Force 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.
“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 shockwave or, obviously, the impact of a larger-yield weapon,” Bouchard, now president of Lockheed Martin Canada, told journalists in February 2012. “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.”
During an April 9, 2013, meeting with defense industry executives in Ottawa, Royal Canadian Air Force officers listed as a priority of the service’s weapons strategy the purchase of “low collateral damage weapons” as well as network-enabled weapons.
Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Holly Brown said such weapons are being discussed as potential capabilities as the service draws up its future weapon plans. “These technologies and associated weapon system options are under investigation by the RCAF as it continues to establish its future requirements,” she said. “As part of this ongoing pre-identification work, the RCAF is continuing to monitor developments in these technologies and investigate options that may be available for RCAF procurement.”
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 capable of directing the weapon.
The Air Force also has a need for a new advanced short-range missile to replace the current AIM-9M. It was originally to be purchased as part of the upgrade of the CF-18 fighter jets but lack of money delayed that.
The service is looking for a missile with greater range and improved ability to overcome enemy countermeasures, according to the Defence Acquisition Guide. The project, which could cost up to $499 million, is pending the decision to replace Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets. No date has been set for that replacement.
But the Air Force wants the new weapon to be capable on both the CF-18 and the new fighter jet. It hopes to award a contract in 2018, with first deliveries in 2021.
The Air Force is also looking at further purchases of the advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM). The project will replace the semi-active radar homing missiles with the available version of the active radar homing AMRAAM, according to the acquisition guide. Canada would spend $250 million to $499 million, depending on how many Raytheon-made weapons it ultimately buys. It plans to award a contract in 2018, with deliveries starting in 2021.
“For the past two decades, the Royal Canadian Air Force has been a valued partner with Raytheon, and we have provided a unique set of solutions that achieve Canadian defense requirements,” Mike Jarrett, Raytheon Air Warfare Systems vice president, said in an email.
He also said the company is closely watching the Air Force’s proposed procurement of a new fighter aircraft and “looking forward to discussions on weapons options for whatever aircraft is chosen. AMRAAM, Block 2 Sidewinder and [small diameter bomb] II will all be part of the discussions.”
For that future fighter, the RCAF has identified the need for what it is calling a complex weapon — an advanced air-to-ground / air-to-surface weapon for use in a future network-enabled environment.
“This weapon will deliver more precise, flexible and efficient payloads from greater standoff distances and operate in anti-access scenarios in the face of advanced threats,” the Air Force said in the Defence Acquisition Guide. “It will be multi-mode, allowing guidance to the target through multiple methods, ensuring all-weather capability. The weapon must also be in use on the chosen Future Fighter platform to reduce the cost of implementation.”
Options won’t be examined until 2016. A contract would be awarded in 2019 with deliveries in 2021. Preliminary cost estimates range from $50 million to $99 million.
Also needed for the future fighter is a long-range air-to-air missile. The Air Force is looking at spending up to $500 million on that new weapon but the project will not start until after 2026. ■