CF/Industry Cooperation
Sep 15, 2009

The Canadian Army has quietly and effectively been employing a Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (SUAV) in Afghanistan. The Scan Eagle has now flown over 10,000 hours of persistent, covert airborne surveillance in direct support of its operations in Kandahar Province.

Every day, in the wee hours of the morning, a troop of young Artillery soldiers take control of their small remotely piloted aircraft and go in search of bad folk doing bad things – resulting in the daily delivery of over 30 hours of high-quality airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) to Task Force Afghanistan and Canadian Battle Group Commanders – making this deployment the most successful UAV operation in Canada’s history.

The story of how this success was achieved is a great tale, highlighting how the right mix of people and technology can literally change the world.

The delivery of ScanEagle is the fulfillment of the Army’s longstanding UAV program, now part of Land Force Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (LF ISTAR). It promised to put the right sensor in the right place at the right time according to the immediate needs of the commander, and by all accounts has delivered this capability in spades!

Ultimately, the convergence of three driving factors propelled the ScanEagle into action in Afghanistan: the increasing numbers and frequency of Canadian combat casualties; the resulting desperation on the part of Commanders to bring innovative solutions to the battlefield; and the final straw, recognition in the Manley report of UAVs as an immediate operational requirement.

Driven to deliver this desperately needed asset to the troops in the field as soon as possible, high level teams from Canadian governmental departments, the Canadian Forces, and a determined industry team from Insitu/Boeing and ING Engineering, managed to put together an interim program to provide immediate relief while the full-time solution was being properly drafted.

The first ScanEagle operators from 4 Air Defence Regiment were trained and deployed to Kandahar under the Interim Small UAV program. Unique to this operation, the ISR provided by the ScanEagle was delivered as a turnkey service with an industry team of Field Service Representatives (FSRs) handling all of the flight-critical aspects of getting the small aircraft airborne, to and from designated Handover Points, and performing all system maintenance and logistics.

At the Handover Point, the soldiers take control of the aircraft and proceed to conduct their mission(s) of the day – returning the aircraft to the FSRs’ control some 10 to 14 hours later.

While the military operators are in control, the FSR team fulfills a role not unlike a Super Help Desk, where any technical issues that might arise with the system can be immediately addressed or an alternate aircraft can be ­dispatched to ensure continuity of the ­mission. This arrangement has proved to be exceptionally successful with mission availability statistics in excess of 98% – unprecedented for airborne support to army operations.

With a proven system and highly enthusiastic commanders, operators, and troops in the field, it is not surprising that ScanEagle also won the full-time contract upon completion of the Interim contract. Service has been non-stop since and will continue into the foreseeable future.

This approach has allowed each part of the CF-Industry team to focus on delivering on their part of the operation. The soldiers focus all their energies on manipulating the sensors to provide the imagery that commanders on the ground and back in the headquarters need, and the FSRs focus on preparing for and providing the most reliable and stable platform possible for the customer.

The CF has no worries about inventory, shipping, training maintainers or mishaps during critical phases of flight (launch and recovery) – all of these functions are handled by the Industry team. This results in the pointy end of the stick, field operations, being very sharp indeed.

This truly integrated military/industry team is a first for Canada and it is working exceptionally well. The CF/FSR team is small, less than 20 military and 6 or so FSRs. The ability to concentrate knowledge built from relevant 20-30 year military careers and coupled with some of the brightest young UAV engineers in Canada, in the FSR part of the team, has allowed the military component to really focus on the mission and not the associated technology. As a result, our Canadian team has emerged as one of the top performing ScanEagle deployments worldwide.

As an added benefit, the deployment of ScanEagle has facilitated the growth of a Canadian company, increasing its team of specialists who bring varied backgrounds in aviation, engineering, and intelligence. Ultimately, the result has been the creation of high value, high tech jobs across Canada from Oromocto to Moose Jaw thus far. It is a real Industrial Regional Benefits (IRB) success story.

Ultimately, this operation is about saving Canadian and coalition lives. In a conflict where the adversary is only exposed by their actions, this ability to look from the sky to the ground without being detected is critical. The ability to see and understand when something just doesn’t look right is a key skill that each of the operators must demonstrate daily – and they do.

Another key capability of this system is not only to transmit what is seen back to the various headquarters in real-time, but also to broadcast video directly to soldiers being supported in the field who are equipped with Rover receivers – something I like to call SCTV (ScanEagle Camera TV).

Finally, troops on the ground are able to see directly into the streets and alleyways of the towns they must pass through – powerful stuff. This persistent, covert airborne surveillance delivered directly to troops in contact has made a difference. A significant number of our brave soldiers owe a debt to this new unseen guardian angel silently patrolling the airspace over the battlefield.
Ian Glenn is the Chairman and CEO of ING Engineering Inc.
© FrontLine Defence 2009