DND steps up hunt for IEDs; New surveillance aircraft to patrol Afghanistan’s skies by summer

The Ottawa Citizen

Jan 2 2010

By David Pugliese

The Canadian Forces plans to have new surveillance aircraft operating out of Kandahar by the summer to help hunt down insurgents planting improvised explosive devices.

The aircraft will be flown by private contractors, but the Department of National Defence is declining, for reasons of national security, to name what firm it has hired for the job.

The U.S. has used similar aircraft to detect Iraqi insurgents as they planted IEDs. Those aircraft are now also being used in Afghanistan by the Americans.

The U.S. army had originally reported that work on the surveillance planes to be used by Canada would not be finished until June 2011. Canada’s military mission is scheduled to end in July that year.

But according to information provided to the Citizen by Canada’s Defence Department, the aircraft are expected to be ready by mid-2010.

The aircraft will be leased by Canada, but the surveillance equipment has been purchased outright by the military.

The department declined to discuss many of the details about the project; the type of equipment to be used and the firm providing the pilots is considered secret.

Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have claimed the lives of more than half the 138 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

On Dec. 30, four Canadian soldiers and a journalist were killed when an IED exploded as their vehicle passed through what was supposed to be a safe area just south of Kandahar City.

Killed were Sgt. George Miok, Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack and Pte. Garrett William Chidley.

Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, on secondment to Canwest News Service, also died in the blast. Four other Canadian soldiers and one Canadian civilian official were seriously injured.

York University strategic studies professor Martin Shadwick said the Canadian air force has pilots who could operate the propeller-driven planes, similar to those currently being used at CFB Trenton.

But DND spokeswoman Lynne Rattray noted that it made more sense to use contract pilots.

“The aircraft will be flown by civilian contractors, who would be employed on a dedicated basis, as it is more efficient than training and diverting CF pilots to this short-term task,” Rattray said.

“These planes will see significant use in Afghanistan and are anticipated to be an extremely valuable surveillance asset,” she added.

The King Air 300 commercial aircraft will not stay in Afghanistan after the end of the Canadian military mission. Telford Aviation in Bangor, Maine, was awarded the $12-million contract to outfit the surveillance systems on the planes. The bulk of the installation on the small propeller-driven aircraft will be done in the U.S., but about a quarter of the work will be done in Afghanistan.

No details are being released at this point on how much the hiring of the pilots or purchasing of the surveillance equipment is costing.

The aircraft are available to, and in support of, Joint Task Force Afghanistan, Rattray noted.

A DND official close to the project said the equipment on board the planes is extremely sophisticated and marks a significant increase in the capability of such systems, even over that currently used by allied forces. Once the Afghan mission is finished, the surveillance equipment will be removed from the leased planes, but will stay in the Canadian military’s inventory for use in other operations.

The U.S. military flies similar aircraft as part of its Task Force ODIN, which has been used in Iraq and is now in Afghanistan. The task force’s aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles use various sensors to detect insurgents as they are planting roadside bombs. After the insurgents are spotted, other aircraft are used to hunt them down and kill them. The U.S. army is also using a private firm to conduct some of its surveillance in Afghanistan. It recently hired L-3 Communications to provide and fly King Air 350s outfitted with high-resolution cameras for intelligence missions.

The company will begin operating three such aircraft in Afghanistan in 2010. As part of its $99-million deal, L-3 Communications will provide maintenance crews as well as intelligence specialists to interpret the data.

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


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