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A scientist in Afghanistan: In-theatre experience helps strengthen support to deployed troops

Afghanistan, where war and danger are rife, is far from being a holiday camp. However, despite all the sacrifices associated with living in those parts, scientist Dr. Alain Auger from Defence Research and Development Canada Valcartier felt a pressing need to go there.

“For me, it was imperative to know how science and technology are experienced in daily life in a theatre of operations and where the real needs are. Your prime goal as a defence scientist is to develop technology that is directly linked to the needs and realities encountered by our Canadian troops.”

The opportunity to join the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan was presented through the Support to Operations Program of DRDC. Since 2005, the Assistant Deputy Minister (S&T) has been tasked with increasing its involvement in operations carried out by the Canadian Forces, so that it can have a concrete impact on operations while they are under way. The program, which deploys operational analysts and scientific advisers directly to Afghanistan, was designed as one of the responses to this request.

Among its goals, DRDC hopes to provide scientific recommendations and advice concerning problems encountered by Canadian troops, perform analyses and studies that will be useful to the CF, and build bridges with S&T personnel from other coalition countries also in the theatre of operations.

For Auger, being deployed as a scientific adviser for nine months and directly supporting Joint Task Force Afghanistan Headquarters was an enriching and rewarding experience. Day after day, he could see how DRDC’s presence in Afghanistan was a plus, both for the CF in theatre and for DRDC’s research and development programs.

Free electron
Besides working hand-in-hand with the Forces to improve the protection provided to soldiers against such things as improvised explosive devices, he enjoyed a freedom of movement that made profitable scientific collaborations and achievements possible.

This is because one of the opportunities associated with the position of DRDC scientific adviser is the ability to obtain assistance from S&T personnel from other allied countries. While the CF must respect the chain of command when communicating with American, Australian or British allied forces, the scientific adviser is the only person on site who can easily tap into the scientific resources of other coalition countries. The ability to turn to international colleagues as soon as a problem arises and ask them about the methods that their countries already use to deal with it is an invaluable asset.

It was through one of Auger’s collaborations that the Canadian Forces were able to take advantage of foreign advances in detection. “Enabling our Canadian troops to access British technology was very gratifying for me. And that happened because I was on site,” he says.

Mutual benefit
According to Auger, having a representative working at Headquarters and watching how the government’s integrated approach takes shape can be beneficial for DRDC and for the other organizations on site.

Since military operations in Afghanistan are carried out in cooperation with several agencies, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and the Canadian International Development Agency, an adviser present on site can observe and note the technical and strategic solutions put into place by each partner in the context of supporting the Forces. And access to this privileged information can go a long way.

“Besides bringing back useful information that would have been difficult to obtain otherwise, my presence there enabled me to identify and submit 23 proposals for future investments in research and development at DRDC,” Auger reports.

Added value
Now that he’s back in Canada, what does Auger take away from his deployment, besides memories of temperatures verging on 50 degrees Celsius?

“Of course, the operations support program in which I participated provides direct and immediate support for certain challenges encountered by the troops deployed in Afghanistan. More than that, though, through the richness of the scientific collaboration that it facilitates, it stimulates research and enables us to be ever more relevant in our support efforts.”

Added value, wouldn’t you say?

Nancy L’Étoile is a public affairs officer with Defence Research and Development Canada.

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