Learning to Walk
Nov 15, 2007

The concept of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has been around for decades. Post-World War II conflicts, such as the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, saw widespread use of such vehicles, however, during the close of the last century and opening of the 21st, military use of UAVs has blossomed. Even a cursory search of the internet provides ample proof of the growing number of UAV systems being produced and an equally large number of companies entering this high-tech market place.

Few militaries take the field these days without a UAV capability as one of the necessary tools for the conduct of modern operations. Whether as an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform that extends the “eyes” of a commander, or as a strike asset carrying ever-increasing weapons payloads, the growing use of UAVs is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, most military services, Canada’s included, are going to great lengths and expense to increase their UAV fleets.

October 2007 – Patrol Base Wilson, Zhari District, Afghanistan – Gunner Sebastien Paquet of the 5e Régiment d’artillerie Légère du Canada (5 RALC), launches a new mini UAV which will be used for tactical reconnaissance. (Photo: MCpl Robert Bottrill, CF Combat Camera)

Although elements of the Canadian Forces (CF) have long been interested in UAV development, it was not until October 2003 that the CF undertook its first major operational deployment of a UAV system. When planning began for Operation ATHENA, the CF’s contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the Army identified a requirement for beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) imagery in support of the Kabul Multinational Brigade. Working closely with the Air Force, the Army completed an ‘off-the-shelf’ purchase of SAGEM’s Sperwer UAV system, and the first CF Joint (Army/Air Force) unit was soon flying missions in Afghani skies.

The CF’s first major foray into the operational use of UAVs was a success in that the CU161 Sperwer provided an increased level of situational awareness for the commanders it supported, but as is always the case with the introduction of new technology, it brought with it a host of new challenges, in areas such as training, maintenance, and doctrine, that had to be overcome.

Lessons were learned. This new knowledge, combined with ongoing UAV experiments being conducted in Canada by the CF Experimentation Centre (CFEC), allowed each successive rotation of the Sperwer to become more proficient and adept in reaching its maximum potential. The Sperwer UAV, however, was never envisioned as a permanent system and, as it nears the end of its planned operation life in 2009, the CF is working towards finding a suitable replacement for this capability.

UAV Campaign Plan
One of the greatest Sperwer successes was not achieved in Afghanistan, but in the halls of National Defence Head­quarters (NDHQ). Pressured by commanders in the field who now knew first-hand the importance of such capability, senior leaders and staff within NDHQ and the three services began to seriously examine the issues surrounding the acquisition and employment of a permanent capability for both domestic and expeditionary operations. The result of this activity was the publication of a UAV Campaign Plan in March 2006.

The Campaign Plan situates a CF UAV capability within the overall framework of larger defence programmes such as those for Command, Control, Communica­tions, Computers, ISR (C4ISR), and Command Decision Support. The document also outlines basic responsibilities of the ­various stakeholders with respect to the development of a UAV capability.
May 2007 – Afghanistan – 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group’s Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (TUAV) Detachment performs final checks prior to launch of the Spewer CU161 UAV at the Kandahar Air Field. (Photo: Sgt Craig Fiander, JTF Afganistan)

The Directorate Joint Capability Development (DJCP) acts as the capability manager for all tiers, ensuring CF-wide coordination. The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), on behalf of the Minister of National Defence, is the Airworthiness Authority for the “development, regulation and supervision of all matters related to military aeronautics” as directed by the 1992 Aeronautics Act. Although the CAS has primary responsibility for force generating Tier 1 and Tier 2 UAVs, the Chiefs of the Land and Maritime Staffs (CLS and CMS respectively) may generate Tier 3 UAVs, but must ensure compliance with all airworthiness requirements. Regardless of the type of UAV, the Joint Staff are responsible for the strategic capability development, while a single Weapons System Manager within the Director General Aerospace Equipment Program Management (DGAEPM), guides related engineering and support activities.

Although there is still some discussion with respect to specific details concerning training, maintenance and force generation, the overall guidance provided by the UAV Campaign Plan underpins the activity of current CF initiatives in this area.

The Joint UAV Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) began as an experimental concept in September 2000 and was endorsed as a project by the Senior Review Board in October. Between 2002 and 2004, CFEC conducted a number of experiments using leased UAV resources that focused on the overland and maritime ISR potential of this technology. Using the results of these experiments, and responding to the growing CF commitment in Afghanistan, the JUSTAS project was divided into two phases: Phase One – Expeditionary Overland UAV Capability and Phase Two – A Domestic Maritime UAV Capability.

The ambitious goal was to field a Tier 1 MALE UAV that would satisfy Phase One requirements as soon as possible in order to minimize any ISR capability gap resulting from the planned demise of the Sperwer. The envisioned UAV would have been capable of endurance times greater than 24 hours, flying BLOS missions in theatre, and operated from a Base in Canada. Payloads, either internal or external, could have included Electro-Optical/Infra-red (EO/IR), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) sensors, as well as a laser-designator and weapons.

2004 – Altair CU-163301, a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, taxies to the runway at 5 Wing Goose Bay. (Photo: Cpl Robert Bottrill, CF Combat Camera)

An Air Staff organization, Director Air Requirements (DAR 8), under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Williams, was stood up to develop the project, however, implementation was put on hold early in 2007. Although personnel and budgetary pressures played a role in the delay of the project, a primary consideration was that the level of ambition of the programme was such that the chances of implementing Phase One as close to 2008 as possible were deemed remote.

Work continues on the JUSTAS project by both Joint and CAS staff, albeit at a much reduced level. The newly created Air Force Experimentation Centre (AFEC), co-located with CFEC at Shirley’s Bay, Ottawa, continues to refine JUSTAS operational concepts using both live and ­synthetic environment experimentation.

LCol Williams and his staff were directed to focus their efforts on the new Joint Airborne ISR Capability (JAIC) project. JAIC was developed in response to both resource and time constraints. The project will provide an interim capability to support a broad spectrum of activities from tactical-level engagements involving CF Land and Special Operations Forces to theatre-level intelligence requirements.

The goal is to provide a deployable UAV capability, operated in theatre, to ranges of approximately 600 kilometres. The JAIC project places a high emphasis on the provision of gyro-stabilized, colour EO, IR and low-light (LL) full motion video (FMV), suitable for day/night operations. The selected UAV system must also be capable of carrying select classified payloads and a laser designator. Unlike JUSTAS, the provision of a SAR and weapons capability, although important, are not mandatory requirements.

Building upon work completed for the JUSTAS project, a Letter of Interest (LOI) outlining the JAIC requirements was released to industry in July 2007. Companies interested in the project ­submitted replies by September and these are currently being evaluated.
March 2006 – Sperwer UAV is launched from its platform at Kandahar Airfield. (Photo: Sgt Roxanne Clowe, CF Combat Camera)

The Concept of Operations is being developed by the CF Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC), at 8 Wing, Trenton, while A3 UAV at 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters, 17 Wing, Winnipeg, is working on the Statement of Operating Intent (SOI), training, manning and maintenance issues. The goal is to have the required documentation as complete as possible to support an aggressive schedule that seeks to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) this winter, with a contract awarded by the spring of 2008.

Recognizing the need to bridge the capability gap between the removal of the Sperwer from the CF’s Order of Battle and the arrival of a UAV provided by the JAIC project, the Air Staff is exploring additional options to maintain a credible and effective ISR capability in theatre. One option being examined is the leasing of an appropriate UAV system directly from a company. Regardless of the course of action is adopted, both the JAIC and JUSTAS programs will undoubtedly be reviewed in order to take advantage of the additional knowledge and expertise thus gained.

The Sperwer continues to provide yeoman service to deployed CF forces in Afghanistan. It will remain in theatre until at least 2009. Currently, training is conducted by 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron located at CFB Edmonton, Alberta, on an “as required” basis. In essence, this means that personnel for each rotation are force generated for the specific tour of duty. Maintenance and support is undertaken in theatre primarily by a mixture of Army and Air Force ­personnel as part of the Joint unit. Maintenance in Canada is undertaken either by the contractor or through the efforts of 8 Aerospace and Telecom­mu­ni­cations Engineering Support Squadron (8 ATESS) at 8 Wing.
CU161 Sperwer (Photo: Sgt Carole Morissette, TFA Roto 1)

The Air Force Experimentation Centre is supporting Tier 1 through 3 UAV efforts using both live-flying and synthetic environment experiments (SEE). They recently completed a Concept Development and Experimentation (CD&E) project focusing on the employment of a mini-UAV in the airfield defence/security role that went from a SEE using a UAV simulator (human-in-the-loop) to a flying phase at CFB Suffield, Alberta. This was followed by a SEE event that focused on UAVs in the maritime environment. AFEC is currently working on a SEE in support of JAIC that will combine computer simulation with a hand-on UAV simulator. As well, AFEC is exploring the provision of UAV training / developmental support to Land Force training at CFB Wainwright, Alberta, in 2008.

Army Family of UAVs
The Army is pursuing a Family of UAVs (FUAVs) as a sub-project of their Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acqui­si­tion and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) program. The program was developed in response to an operational requirement to provide indigenous surveillance and target acquisition support to CF units ranging from section to Battle Group in size. Consisting of Tier 3 assets, the FUAV project has delivered the SKLARK, a mini-UAV (MUAV) for use by sub-units, and will deliver small-UAVs (SUAV) to be employed by a Unit Task Force. An LOI was released to industry in October 2007 for systems that would come complete with the air vehicle, payloads, datalinks and all necessary ground support equipment. Responses to the LOI, which will include a leasing or ‘power-by-the-hour’ option, are expected by the end of November 2007. The goal is to provide this capability to the troops in theatre as quickly as possible with a target date of February 2009.

The CF continues to develop its Tier 1 and Tier 2 UAV capabilities. However, as with most projects, reality (primarily in the form of time and resource constraints) keeps changing both the playing field and the ultimate goal. And while, with respect to UAVs, it may look like the CF is just learning to walk while the rest of the world is running, the direction is steadily forward. As noted in the Campaign Plan, “as new technology is introduced, care must be taken... to successfully integrate innovation into existing CF doctrine while also recognizing the desirable effect of aligning with similar government and allied programs.” The net result will be an affordable, maintainable and effective CF UAV capability.
Major WA March is working on C4ISR Concepts and Doctrine Development for Space and UAVs, for the Department of National Defence, at the CF Aerospace Warfare Centre, 8 Wing, Trenton.
© FrontLine Defence 2007