Unmanned systems conference moves beyond military
This year’s Unmanned Systems Canada conference marks a turning point, says USC chairman Pip Rudkin. For the first time since the annual event began in Ottawa in 2003, both military and civil activity will receive equal weight.

Though commercial applications have been part of the featured presentations each year, much of the focus has been on the military as unmanned aerial vehicles gain greater prominence in theatres such as Afghanistan and Iraq. “The chair, Ulrich Jaggi, and the technical chair, Kevin O’Keefe, and their committee have done a fantastic job with a program that highlights the sector’s capabilities and potential,” Ripkin said. “This is an event that gets better every year.”

The conference, November 7-10 in Halifax, has advanced as well. According to Leah McGroggan, who coordinates the event at USC, “we actually had to add extra streams this year due to the overwhelming response to the call for presentations.” In fact, because of that interest to present, she encourages potential attendees to keep a close eye on the evolving conference agenda for updates and additions on the association’s website: www.unmannedsystems.ca

As of late July, the November 7 sessions included streams on technical interoperability standards, regulatory advancements and civil and commercial applications. The remaining three days will focus on, respectively: civil, military and defence research, driven by Defence R&D Canada.

Among the civil applications, presentations will look at the use of unmanned systems to inspect power utility assets, assist with seabed mapping, aid mining exploration, and survey Artic sea ice.

The military theme day, November 9, will include a keynote address from RAdm Dave Gardam, Commander MARLANT, as well as presentations from MGen Jon Vance, Chief of Staff, Land Strategy, on unmanned systems in combat operations, and Bill Kelly, director general for Aerospace Equipment Program Management, on the lessons learned about Canadian Forces UAV capability.

For many, the highlight of the conference might be the DRDC Demonstration Day on November 10. DRDC’s goal is to assemble both indoor and outdoor demonstrations that exemplify research being conducted by the agency throughout Canada in all three unmanned environments – air, land and sea.

“DRDC’s demonstration day marks another first for this conference and certainly adds a great opportunity for attendees to engage with more of the defence research community, in addition to a full program,” Jaggi said.

The demonstrations will take place at Osborne Head, about 30 minutes from the conference; return transportation will be provided from the World Trade & Convention Centre. As with the conference agenda, Unmanned Systems promises more details on the demonstrations as they become available, but McGroggan assures that “it will only get better.”

Exercising army interoperability
Since Canadian engagement in international operations involves coalitions, interoperability with allies is a critical issue. Whether it is communications equipment, call signs or standard operating procedures, differences can mean disaster.

In 1947, the three armies of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada – later joined by Australia and New Zealand – created the ABCA program to further the gains of cooperation made during WWII.

Last month, all five countries plus the U.S. Marine Corps gathered in a virtual environment to conduct a command and control (C2) exercise to test the capability of a synthetic environment, identify possible simulation interoperability gaps, and develop an outline for standard operating procedures for distributed activities.

“There are a whole litany of plays on the battlefield that require close interoperability. If everybody has their own way of doing it, you can waste a lot of time and in some cases are unable to execute the mission,” observed MGen Alan Howard, Assistant Chief of the Land Staff.

The simulated exercise, Allied Auroras, conducted over a secure military distribution network called the Combined Federated Battle Lab, was held in a modified version of Kandahar province. Each participant was responsible for a specific area and scenarios included responses to incidents in and across those areas of responsibility: convoys, IED events, medevac, close air support, joint fire support, etc.

Though the “concept is proving to be valid,” said LCol Rusty Bassarab, director of the Directorate of Land Synthetic Environments, “we are discovering a number of issues and figuring out how to handle [them] better.”

Since each army buys and builds its C2 systems independently, the first hurdle of any operation is overcoming communication and information exchange barriers.

“No matter what happens, we’re always buying new kit,” said Col Shane Amor of the ABCA program office in Virginia, “so there is always that challenge of maintaining technical interoperability.” ABCA, though, goes further, helping a task force commander understand partner capabilities. It is also developing standards and documents to influence national capability development.