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The Canadian Military Wants to Revamp Its ‘Precision Weapons’

The bid for new 'precision weapons' research comes at a time when Canada has increased its military action and presence in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
July 9, 2015, 4:55pm
Photo courtesy of Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND

Amid an increase in Canadian military operations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the country's military research wing is looking to refine its precision weapons systems.

In a recently tendered contract, Defense Research and Development Canada is seeking private sector players to provide "specialized technical and engineering services in the area of guidance, navigation and control for precision weapons." The work, it states, "will involve literature reviews, analytical developments, numerical modeling, simulation experimentation and data analyses, as well as design, construction, installation and use of test beds."

Part of those services will be technical and engineering expertise in designing "navigation and guidance systems of various platforms: missiles, projectiles, shells, mortars." The research wing also says it is looking for venders with project experience on unmanned aerial systems, guided rockets, and weapons.

Canada has made good use of its high-tech munitions in recent years in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Its bombing campaign against targets in Iraq and Syria often use "precision guided munitions," according to DND releases on the latest sorties by Canadian CF-18s. DRDC wouldn't comment, however, on whether the new tendering process is a result of the controversial mission against the so-called Islamic State.

The Canadian military research outfit also refused to say if the resulting technologies will aid in future airstrikes, arguing that providing additional details could disrupt the "integrity of the tender process." Department of National Defense spokespeople similarly declined comment and instead referred VICE News back to its research wing.

According to the federal government contract, the tender is worth $2 million for five years of research and specifically names "guided and unguided 120 mm mortars" — portable short range, explosive projectiles typically fired by muzzle-loading cannons carried by soldiers — as one of the prime focuses of the research.

The tender also asks the as-of-yet unawarded private sector player to develop "guidance, navigation and control system design and study for multiple/collaborating weapons" that will analyze future "advanced weapons systems" coordinating simultaneously. Again, DRDC and DND would not clarify if this involved airstrike technologies working with other guided munitions in theatre.

In January, controversy erupted in Canada when it was revealed Canadian special forces operators were identifying IS targets on the ground with Kurdish forces, using laser technology that coordinated with bombers in the sky.

DRDC is already known for developing smart weapons "unmatched for precision". In December 2014 it successfully test fired "smart" Excalibur artillery rounds touted for saving lives, reducing collateral damage and pinpoint marksmanship.

More precise munitions is as much a boon to effectiveness and the monetary value of a single explosive as it is to avoiding civilian deaths. When the Canadian bombing missions in Iraq first began, questions arose about the potential for unintended civilian deaths in a region wrought with bad blood because of western intervention. General Tom Lawson, Canada's Chief of the Defense Staff, said in March that weapons used by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the battle against IS "will be amongst the most advanced precision-guided munitions in the world," and are equipped with laser and GPS guidance systems that allow Canada to "strike targets in all types of weather."

At the moment, smart weapons are all the rage in defense circles with smart rifles, self-shooting weapons, combat suits that can intake and display battlefield intelligence, and bombs guided by camera feeds dominating future military budgets.

Upgrading mortar and airstrike precision technologies is of particular interest for NATO forces, as Canada looks to play catch up with its allies already pursuing similar technologies. For example, the US Marine Corps has its own precision extended range mortar program that looks for ways to immeasurably improve the accuracy of existing mortar rounds.

Raytheon, the major American defense contractor, tested new precision mortar rounds in December 2014 while developing new GPS-guided smart rounds in a joint venture with Israeli Military Industries for the American Marine Corps.

Follow Ben Makuch on Twitter: @bmakuch