VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada's special operations forces are focusing on acquiring ISR aircraft and new vehicles as it develops its future equipment needs, according to its commander.
Both projects are in their early phases but are already attracting interest from international and domestic companies.
The purchase of a small fleet of ISR intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft would improve special operations forces capability to track and target insurgents on the ground. Four aircraft will be bought and outfitted with signals intelligence intercept capability and sensors to target ground movement on the ground.
"I would say that the manned airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform is very, very significant to me," said explained Brig.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). "It's a co-sponsored project between us and the Air Force, but that for me represents a real generational capability leap from an operational perspective."
The planes would be flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force but special operations forces personnel would be in the rear of the aircraft to operate the specialized equipment, Rouleau said.
He said the ISR aircraft would be connected to a new special operations forces command-and-control system to allow forces on the ground to receive data.
No specific timelines have been set for the acquisition, but there have has been discussions about purchasing the planes through US foreign military sales from the U.S. through a Foreign Military Sale and having companies provide the specialized on board equipment.
Boeing had been promoting its Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System (RAMIS) to the Canadian Forces for the project. RAMIS can provide an array of payloads, including a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) as well as communications intercept capabilities, said Mike Ferguson, the Boeing official in charge of business development for RAMIS.
It has plug-and-play software and sensors can be quickly added or removed. "You can fly one sortie in the morning and fly another module in the afternoon," Ferguson said.
He said Boeing remains flexible in responding to the Canadian special operations forces acquisition. "If it's modifying existing aircraft, we're ready to do that and we have programs do that," Ferguson said. "Or if it is buying new aircraft from the United States through [a foreign military sales] an FMS case, we're ready to support them on that."
Ferguson noted that RAMIS can be installed on any air platform, but the most common pairing would be with a Beechcraft King Air 350.
Boeing brought the RAMIS production prototype aircraft to Ottawa in August 2014 for a demonstration for Royal Canadian Air Force officers, including Chief of the Air Staff Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin.
At this point, industry officials have not been provided with details on when the project would proceed.
Mike Greenley, vice president for CAE Canada Military, said if CANSOFCOM does acquire the aircraft as a direct purchase from the US government, there could be additional work for Canadian firms. That could involve provision of specific sensors or long-term maintenance and support of the planes. "We would have the capability to support an ISR platform in Canada," Greenley noted.
L-3, which was involved in modifying King Air 350s for the US Air Force as part of the Project Liberty Aircraft program, has also expressed interest in the Canadian program. A company official said it is unclear at this point on how Canadian special operations forces will proceed with the acquisition.
Rouleau did not get into specific details about the aircraft purchase.
In addition, Rouleau noted that his command is also looking to acquire a new vehicle to replace its existing fleet of Humvees. High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
It has dubbed the replacement as the Next Generation Fighting Vehicle or NGFV. NGFV will be a multi-role vehicle comprising of different variants that can be outfitted for various special operations forces missions.
CANSOFCOM has just finished upgrading its Humvees, HMMWVs which will extend their life until 2024, Rouleau said.
"We're looking at various options," for the NGFV, Rouleau explained. "That project is scheduled to start delivering in 2023, 2024 when the Humvee fleet fades out."
The examination of vehicle options will proceed this year. A request for proposals will be released to industry in 2017 and a contract awarded in 2018.
The preliminary budget estimates for the project range between CAN $115 million (US $106 million) to (CAN) $249 million, but a more accurate figure will be determined when CANSOFCOM better understands what it is looking for in a new vehicle.
CANSOFCOM spokesman Maj. Steve Hawken said the command has not yet determined exact quantities of NGFVs that it needs at this point.
The command believes that there are off-the-shelf products that could satisfy its current requirements and have been talking to allied special operations forces about what vehicles they use.
General Dynamics has already noted that it is interested in the Canadian acquisition.
Ken Yamashita, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada's manager of corporate affairs, said the company is continuing to maintain contact with CANSOFCOM to keep abreast of developments in the project. "We are considering a number of General Dynamics products, including the Ocelot, for this program," he said.
The Ocelot, which the British military calls the Foxhound, has a modular design, allowing for quick modifications of its cabin for specific missions.