CANADIAN FORCES EMBARKS ON FUTURE SOLDIER PROGRAM

  

 

 

 

Firms battle to build future warrior; $310M program seeks to integrate key equipment into a package straight out of sci-fi

 

The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, July 21, 2008

Page: A1 / FRONT

 

By David Pugliese

 

Two Ottawa-based companies and a Montreal-area firm plan to enter the race to provide the Canadian military with a new soldier ensemble straight out of a sci-fi film.

 

The $310-million program would provide equipment not only to allow troops to track each other as they move throughout the battlefield, but feed communications and targeting information into their helmets or to a small personal data device they would each carry.

 

The Integrated Soldier System Project has received approval from Defence Minister Peter MacKay and will now proceed to Treasury Board to get the OK for initial funding. The project is expected to unfold over the next 10 years with various changes in the gear being brought in as technology improves.

 

But the first of the new systems could be in use in Afghanistan before the Canadian military is scheduled to pull out in 2011, according to defence insiders.

 

“It’s clearly a priority for the army,” said Luc Bentolila, vice-president for Canadian sales for EADS Defence and Security of Ottawa, one of the firms that will bid on the project.

 

Currently, Canadian soldiers carry, or at least have access to, equipment such as radios, night-vision goggles and global positioning systems to indicate their locations. Some of their weapons are also outfitted with targeting systems using lasers. Other gear can include thermal imaging systems that can locate objects by the heat they radiate.

 

But all of this gear is separately operated and each needs to be powered by batteries carried by the troops. A Canadian soldier fighting in Afghanistan is carrying a minimum of 16 batteries to operate the equipment and it’s not uncommon for them to each carry another 24 batteries for backup, according to officers.

 

The future soldier system would combine equipment into an integrated package with a single power unit and a data-bus. Communications and information downloaded from everything from aerial drones to satellite data from global positioning systems could be fed into the integrated system and displayed on an eye-piece mounted on a helmet or onto a personal data assistant.

 

Some of the systems already proposed look similar to those worn by the future soldiers in the film Aliens.

 

Not only would the weight troops carry be significantly reduced, but a soldier would be able to communicate with fellow soldiers more quickly. As many as 17,000 integrated soldier systems would be bought by the Department of National Defence.

 

Besides EADS, Thales Canada of Ottawa and Rheinmetall Canada of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., are all interested in bidding on the program. General Dynamics Canada, of Ottawa, has been identified as another firm that could provide such equipment, but the company declined to comment.

 

Mr. Bentolila said his company is looking at using its “Warrior 21” system as a base to build on for a Canadian bid. That system has been or is being provided to the German, Spanish and Swiss militaries.

 

“Because we have an operational and proven capability, we believe this might be of interest to Canada,” he said.

 

Mr. Bentolila said the firm has an agreement with xwave of Stittsville and is looking for other industrial team members. The company has also purchased another firm in Gatineau, PlantCML, which could be involved in service support for the soldier system.

 

Rheinmetall Canada, which provides future soldier equipment for the French and German militaries, has a system that weighs less than five kilograms, said Sylvain Lefrançois, director of battle management projects for the firm.

 

“We feel it’s the right time to procure these type of system because the technology has matured,” he added.

 

Mr. Lefrançois said the Canadian military is emphasizing power consumption and lightweight systems for its future soldier gear. Interoperability with other armies and soldiers’ acceptance of the equipment are also key.

 

Rheinmetall Canada has already worked on technology demonstration projects for the Canadian military that highlighted how the future troops might be outfitted.

 

Bud Walsh of Thales Canada in Ottawa said the firm is still waiting to get more specific details from the military and is closely watching how the project develops before it determines how to proceed. “We’ve got a lot of capability in the company and we’ve done programs of a similar nature in the United Kingdom and Germany and throughout Europe,” he added.

 

Mr. Walsh said the technological needs of the project may require a number of companies to join forces to meet the military’s requirements.

 

He said the Canadian Forces is not looking to get locked into one type of technology, but will be introducing the equipment in cycles so it can take advantage of developments as they come. For instance, new technology might provide a lightweight fuel cell troops could carry to power their equipment.

 

Thales Canada, like EADS and Rheinmetall, is owned by a European parent firm. Another company, SAGEM of France, is also seen as a potential supplier for the soldier system.

 

Asked about the project, the Defence Department issued an e-mail stating that the Integrated Soldier System will significantly enhance the capabilities of the troops. “The project will allow the CF soldier to operate in coalition operations with advanced situational awareness, increased target acquisition and lethality so that mission success can be achieved,” the e-mail said.

 

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

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