FUTURE FORCES: Unmanned Vehicle Systems
BY PIP RODKIN
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 5)

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Canada has a unique opportunity to become a global leader in the transition of military unmanned systems into the civil and commercial sector. Currently, Canadian companies are operating mini, small, and large Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in support of our troops in their mission in Afghanistan.
 
As a country, therefore, we are already ahead in many UAS applications. One that is very much in the public eye is the increasing use by Canadian police forces of small UAS for forensic and crime scene investigations, accident investigations and other missions. Canada is not only leading the way in the police use of UAS at home, it is also providing advice and acting as a catalyst for foreign police forces to adopt that technology.
 
Several other civil applications are being actively pursued or conducted by Canadian companies, including wildfire monitoring and various commercial operations ranging from near-shore coastal monitoring and geophysical surveys to other mission types where unmanned aircraft can bring significant benefits. All of this civil and commercial work is giving Canada a reputation as a global leader in the civil and commercial use of unmanned systems.
 
The major obstacle to an explosive growth in the use of unmanned aircraft is the ability of regulators worldwide to develop rules and standards to allow for normalized and routine UAV flights. Unmanned Systems Canada has mobilized its membership to work with Transport Canada in recommending revisions to the Canadian Air Regulations that will allow a full integration of manned and unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace. This effort follows two previous stages of cooperation in the development of processes required to bring this integration to fruition.
 
Another driving force for airspace access is the Canada First Defence Strategy of the federal government. Canada’s vast, sparsely populated arctic shoreline – with little in the way of infrastructure to support manned platforms – provides the perfect environment for unmanned craft to conduct arctic monitoring and surveillance. These encompass such diverse multi-mission requirements as vessel detection, identification and monitoring, ice mapping, search and rescue, and all the components of an effective arctic monitoring program.
 
It is important to better understand the requirements of potential civil and commercial users as well as the benefits of unmanned vehicle technologies and capabilities.  First responders such as police, fire fighters and other emergency response organizations are realizing the benefits of unmanned vehicle systems when working in hazardous conditions.
 
Emphasis must be placed on increasing the awareness of other potential user groups to the possible commercial applications of unmanned vehicle systems where workers on the ground sometimes find themselves in high risk situations.  Unmanned systems may be able to replace the human in many of these situations and provide data leading to much improved situational awareness to reduce risk in other situations.
 
To expand on this new approach, Unmanned Systems Canada is about to embark on a national education program where we will be hosting focused workshops that bring together end user groups with solution providers. It is our hope that these workshops will provide an improved business environment for the solution providers, improved safety and efficiency for the end users, and finally an improved understanding of the importance of these missions by the regulators.

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Pip Rudkin is the Chair of Unmanned Systems Canada
© FrontLine Defence 2010

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