OTTAWA – Canada's special forces, which are becoming the government's go-to organization for international missions, will purchase new fleets of vehicles and upgrade its ability to direct airstrikes.

The projects come as special forces units are being called on more by the government to take on key roles in operations against Islamic militants. Various units from the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) are involved in training Kurdish troops in the war against the Islamic State. Over the last several years, the command also has sent training teams to Kenya, Jordan, Niger and Mali to help militaries develop counterterrorism skills.

CANSOFCOM is now looking at various options for what it is calling its Next Generation Fighting Vehicle (NGFV) program. That acquisition will provide special forces units with a tactical multirole vehicle, explained Brig. Gen. Mike Rouleau, CANSOFCOM's commander.

Industry will be asked to provide bids on the project in 2017. The project is estimated to cost up to CAN $249 million (US $180 million). A contract would be awarded in 2018 and Rouleau said deliveries will coincide with the withdrawal from service of the command's existing fleet of high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWV).

Some of the CANSOFCOM HMMWVs are currently being used in Iraq.

Companies have already expressed interest in the NGFV project. General Dynamics Land Systems Canada of London, Ontario, will examine whether the Ocelot would fit the requirements. The Ocelot, which the British military calls the Foxhound, has a modular design, allowing for quick modifications of its cabin for specific missions

Ryan Werling, president of Mack Defense, Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the firm would be interested in the NGFV program. But he noted that CANSOFCOM still has to outline what exactly it is looking for in a vehicle.

"We are expecting an RFI to be released to industry this year," he explained. "It's hard to figure out what the offer is at this point."

At the CANSEC 2015 military trade show in Ottawa in late May, the firm highlighted both its Sherpa vehicles and the special forces variant of the Acmat Light Tactical Vehicle.

CANSOFCOM spokesman Maj. Steve Hawken said the command has not yet determined the exact quantities of NGFVs that it needs.

The command believes there are off-the-shelf products that could satisfy its current requirements and have been talking to allied special forces about what vehicles they use.

CANSOFCOM has also added two new vehicle programs to its procurement list.

Hawken said the command is interested in acquiring an enhanced all-terrain vehicle (EATV) and an ultra-light combat vehicle (ULCV).

CANSOFCOM has already been conducting trials for the EATV with a Polaris MRZR-4 all-terrain vehicle, which it purchased from the Medina, Minnesota, firm.

But Hawken emphasized that does not mean Polaris has an inside track on the procurement.

"This will be an open competitive bid process to ensure the government of Canada obtains the best vehicle for the best value," he said.

The ULCV and the EATV are seen as complementary vehicle platforms.

"The ULCV's requirements will provide for increased payload, range, and will mount crew-served weapons, communications and sensors," Hawken explained. "Both of these procurements are running in parallel and are expected to be delivered during the same two- to five-year time frame," he added.

CANSOFCOM has yet to finalize numbers of ULCV and EATV systems to be purchased. But the acquisitions are expected to be of off-the-shelf military technology, Hawken noted.

In addition, the command, along with the Canadian Army, is upgrading its ability to coordinate airstrikes, said industry representatives.

Both have acquired the Digital Precision Strike Suite for evaluation although the numbers of systems obtained have not been released.

The equipment was acquired through a government-to-government agreement with the US Naval Air Warfare Center, said Krysthle Poitras, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Army.

"The Digital Precision Strike Suite is used by tactical observers to integrate high-resolution ground imagery, synthetic aperture radar data, forward-looking infrared and specialized algorithms in order to provide precise coordinates for precision guided munitions," she added.

The Canadian Forces did not provide further information on the acquisition for special forces.

The Digital Precision Strike Suite is a collection of technologies that increases the success for first-pass attacks with smart weapons, according to the Naval Air Warfare Weapons Division in China Lake, California. One of the programs to come out of this development is the Precision Strike Suite for Special Operations Forces, it noted.

That system uses a laptop that correlates real-time target images with existing geographical database imagery and assigns a latitude, longitude and elevation to any part of the target, according to information on the Naval Air Warfare Weapons Division's website. Such targeting data is then transmitted quickly to the aircraft and precision guided munitions.

Canadian special forces are currently in northern Iraq teaching Kurdish forces there how to call in airstrikes.

Up to $99 million would be spent by the Canadian Army on acquiring the new equipment, according to industry sources. But CANSOFCOM may move ahead with its own purchase, they said.