Canadian Air Force Plans to Issue UAV Fleet Upgrade Contracts this Summer
[Satellite News 02-14-12] The Canadian military has launched a review of the country’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs in an effort to determine the right combination of unmanned planes, maritime patrol aircraft and satellites under the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Joint UAV Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) program.
JUSTAS includes the procurement of UAVs, spare parts, ground stations and a 20-year in-service support package that will be provided by the winning bidder of a private-sector contract expected to exceed 1.5 billion Canadian dollars ($1.45 billion). A contract for JUSTAS was supposed to have been awarded in the fall of 2010, with operating capability for the Canadian UAV fleet scheduled for February 2012.
JUSTAS Deputy Project Director Maj. Mark Wuennenberg said the Canadian Air Force would eventually begin the JUSTAS initiative after the program’s C4ISR strategy is hammered out in the summer of this year. “Initial operating capability is expected in 2017, with full operational capability in 2019,” he says. “It’s understood that all the UAV capabilities outlined in the JUSTAS program are out there and are all needed because they bring their own specific capabilities to the table. It’s just the mix that needs to be validated.”
Canada also uses the Radarsat 2 satellite for UAV programs. The satellite was built by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) and launched by Starsem on a Soyuz rocket for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in December 2007. The Canadian Air Force is planning a follow-on constellation of Radarsats and wants to buy new maritime patrol aircraft.
Wuennenberg said there’s a reason why the military hasn’t released many details about that future acquisition. “The C4ISR Strategy is in the process of determining which surveillance assets are best suited for particular roles.The questions that have come up are, how many manned [aircraft] do we need, how many unmanned, how many satellites, and what do each provide?”
Canada is currently in the midst of a $1.5 billion program to upgrade its existing Aurora maritime patrol planes that will allow the fleet to continue operating beyond 2020. The Auroras will be upgraded with structural and sensor improvements by 2014 to provide improved capability in conducting surveillance operations along Canadian coastlines and overseas. While Wuennenberg says the UAVs to be purchased under the JUSTAS program would be capable of carrying weapons, the primary role for the aircraft is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“JUSTAS will be used for overland and maritime surveillance, both in an expeditionary role and for domestic operations,” he said. “[The Canadian Air Force] wants its UAVs to carry a range of sensors, including a gyro-stabilized sensor turret to enable crew to covertly detect, identify and track targets at least as small as humans with weapons, and obtain targeting data at any time of the day.”
Satellite information solutions company MDA is one of a number of companies that are preparing to bid on the JUSTAS project once a request for proposals is issued. MDA delivers operational airborne imaging systems designed as a variant of the Heron vehicle and based on Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capability.
“Our airborne systems capabilities have been at the leading edge of operational and experimental surveillance programs for more than three decades,” MDA said in a company statement. “These systems are used for wide area surveillance as well as target tracking, in both maritime and inland applications. Our systems operate at a long stand-off range and provide strip maps as well as spotlight modes. Moving target detection and tracking are accomplished using advanced, radar signal and data processing algorithms and architectures.”
MDA’s UAV services have been deployed around the world. In 2011, MDA was awarded a contract extension from the Australian Defense Force (ADF) to continue providing UAV capabilities in Afghanistan for a third year. The contract, first issued in September 2010, will now run through December 2012. MDA received its previous ADF contract extension in July 2010.
MDA feels confident it can win the UAV upgrade contract in its native country over U.S.-based technology firm General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which will bid its Predator UAV to the Canadian Air Force. Canada did lease MDA tactical UAVs in January 2008 for its own Afghanistan mission, along with Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron aircraft. Contractors provided by MDA helped the Canadian Forces operate those aircraft.
Regardless of who wins the new upgrade contract, Wuennenberg affirmed that Canada’s military is committed to acquiring a UAV capability. “We’re fully resourced. We have the money we need. We have the people we need to go ahead to put forth a good robust capability for a UAV squadron.”