Vanguard Magazine

Jun/Jul 2015

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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s sPaCe 14 JUNE/JULY 2015 Ian Coutts is a freelance writer, the author of four books, and a frequent contributor to Vanguard. N ew ways of fighting demand new ways of communi- cating. When the Canadian Army looks to the chal- lenges it will face in the future, there is a lot of talk about "adaptive dispersed operations" – situations where land forces will be working while disperse widely, reacting to and anticipating the actions of, as the army puts it "an adept, adaptive foe." Such a style of fighting will see forces scattered over wider areas than previously – even in some cases beyond the range of con- ventional VHF radios, creating command and control challenges. To deal with this the army is, to mangle the words of TV's Friendly Giant, looking up – way up. If all goes well, in the next few years the army will gain an excit- ing new communications capability, one that will help it overcome the limitations of its current VHF radios and stay in contact with headquarters – even if that headquarter is Canadian Joint Opera- tions Command and the mission is half a world away. In September 2014, Rheinmetall Canada was awarded a contract to provide the army with a "satellite on the move" communica- tions system. This work connects with National Defence's Mercury Global project, its name for Canada's contribution to the Wide- band Global SATCOM satellite system (WGS), a constellation of military communications satellites. In 2012 Canada agreed to contribute $337.3 million to the development of the new system, launched by the United States and used by nine different military partners, including Canada. Under the terms of the $21.8 million first part of the contract, Rheinmetall, which is charged with developing the system and managing the program and its logistics, will provide the army with 37 vehicular systems and two hub terminals, developed by sub- contractors Elbit Systems and Rockwell Collins, respectively. These will enable the army to take advantage of Canada's dedicated band- width on the new Wideband Global SATCOM constellation. Elbit Systems' ELBAT-2100 satellite-on-the-move system is a portable antennae that can be fitted on a LAV or similar armored vehicle, generally one serving as a command vehicle. In design, the antennae is not unlike the sort of thing used to pick up satel- lite TV – although covered with a protective plastic radome, and created with a very low profile that doesn't really single out the vehicle so equipped. The antenna is designed to constantly track the most convenient WGS satellite. (A modem connects it to the vehicle's communica- tions systems.) The antenna is reconfigurable, which allows it to use different frequencies. The larger hubs, created by Rockwell Collins, are intended for use at headquarters units and lack the portability of the Elbit antennae. The hubs can connect via WGS to three "anchor sites" in Canada. Major Michael Bell of the army's Directorate of Land Require- ments, says the system's "primary use is going to extend voice and data communications beyond line of sight." "VHF is good for about 30 kilometres without retransmitting," says Bell. "It will go through forests and so on, but it is essentially line of sight." The new system, by using the satellites, will be able to connect vehicles scattered over a much larger area, something needed for the kind of fast-moving, rapidly changing missions the army expects to be undertaking in the future. In addition, the new system will allow vehicles equipped with the antennae to send data other than voice communications. Compatible with Canada's existing communications systems, our involvement with WGS gives us guaranteed access to lot of bandwidth. Our initial investment means that, unlike with com- mercial systems, we don't pay as we go. "If an infantry battalion wants to go out and train with it," says Bell, "satellite time is es- sentially free for the unit." The first phase of delivery is currently underway. Delivery of the vehicle systems, the Elbit piece, should all be rolling out by February 2016, says Jean-Pierre Couturier, account manager for BMC4I and ISTAR at Rheinmetall Canada. Both Elbit and Rockwell Collins must be certified to use the WGS system, but this process should be complete by March 2016 for both firms. If it is successful, says Couturier, Rheinmetall Can- ada will enter into contract negotiations with National Defence for phase two of the program: three additional sub hubs and 373 more antennae to equip a wide variety of vehicles. Connecting an army on the move

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