Canadian Forces to spend $100 million to detect roadside bombs in Afghanistan; Surveillance balloons, towers to be installed near Kandahar bases

By David Pugliese 

The Ottawa Citizen

 Monday, October 20, 2008




The Canadian military will spend $100 million on surveillance balloons and towers equipped with high-tech sensors, as well as other related equipment, as it tries to deal with the ongoing threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan.


Up to five balloons and as many as 20 towers could be purchased for installation around Canadian bases in Kandahar province. They would be equipped with various sensors and long-range cameras, capable of providing surveillance of the surrounding countryside potentially as far out as 20 kilometres.


The U.S. military uses similar equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The Defence Department project, which has already received approval from Treasury Board, also includes the purchase of new flail-equipped vehicles. The specialized vehicles churn up the ground, destroying landmines and improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, in the process.


In addition, the project would see the purchase of equipment to outfit a forensic laboratory that could be used to uncover clues that might lead to the identity of insurgent bombmakers.


IEDs are the weapon of choice of insurgents in Afghanistan.


Roadside bombs and landmines have contributed to a large number of the Canadian deaths and injuries in the war.


Defence Department officials did not respond to several requests for information about the new project.


It is expected that a contract for the equipment would be signed by next summer, with deliveries to follow quickly after that. The flails would be the first to be purchased, but it is expected that the surveillance towers and balloons could be installed in Kandahar by late next year.


The balloons, or aerostats, as they are called, would likely be used around the main Canadian installation at Kandahar Air Field, while the towers could be installed at forward operating bases.


There are a number of firms that can provide such equipment. At least one, Raytheon Canada of Ottawa, has indicated it is interested in providing towers and balloons once the Defence Department releases further details to industry.


The company’s RAID (Rapid Aerostat Initial Detection) system, which includes surveillance balloons and towers, is already in wide use in Iraq. Company officials said the U.S. military in Afghanistan is also using the tower version of RAID.


If selected for the project, Raytheon would be the prime contractor, integrating surveillance systems from other firms onto the towers and balloons.


“We’re talking about having the capability of 24/7 coverage where you can monitor an area or a road over that period,” said Raytheon official Mike Pulchny. “It will also give you an indication of what has changed within that 24-hour period. Are there new mounds of dirt or areas that have been disturbed? Or you could see the people actually planting (IEDs).”


Depending on the type of surveillance equipment installed, the systems could have a range of five to 20 kilometres.


Luc Petit, business development manager for Raytheon Canada, said RAID’s ability to provide early warning about IEDs has made a big difference to the U.S. army, particularly in Iraq. He said such equipment is a logical next step for Canada in its attempts to reduce casualties from roadside bombs.


“They’ve put as much armour on people and on vehicles as practical,” said Mr. Petit. “The next step is to conduct police-type work, where you do protection and early detection.”


Last year, the Canadian Forces launched a new strategy aimed at dealing with IEDs. It is focusing its efforts on defeating the IED networks, going after not only those who build the bombs, but those who finance them. Military officers are working closely with RCMP forensic specialists to try to identify telltale signs that might indicate the source of the weapons.


In an earlier interview, Col. Omer Lavoie, head of a special IED task force, said the effort also involves working closely with Afghan civilians. “This really speaks to targeting networks and winning the support of the people so that they’re reporting the builders and the transporters before they do put (IEDs) in place,” said Col. Lavoie. “It’s also trying to change the mindset,” he said. “This is not an undefeatable bogeyman out there.”


Members of the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 and the Petawawa-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment have also been tracking down bombmakers. A team from the government’s Communications Security Establishment, also from Ottawa, has been using its skills to intercept insurgent radio and cellphone transmissions in an effort to locate those who are involved in the IED networks. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has also been contributing with its agents in Afghanistan.


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






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