Unlocking blast exposure effects
Through the persistence of IEDs and suicide bombers, military doctors have become experts in treating blast wounds. Less, however, is known about the longer-term effects of such injuries.

Dr. Stephen Bjarnason, head of Defence Research and Development Canada’s (DRDC) casualty management section, is hoping to change that. At a NATO symposium in Halifax this month, he launched a blast injury program to allied military scientists.

“The immediate effects exposure to these threats can cause may not be apparent and may persist long after the soldier has left service and returns to civilian life,” Bjarnason wrote in an explanation to Vanguard. “What might come as a surprise to many is the fact that there is very little known about what happens to a body that has experienced blast trauma.”

The unique multi-disciplinary program, he said, would “conduct experimental research that will harvest conclusive scientific information and also feed in expertise from the brightest experts in their fields.” It would also “provide operationally relevant information on the health-related effects of blast to the CF Surgeon General and Veterans Affairs Canada.”

The program involves the merger of two scientific capabilities at DRDC Suffield – blast physics engineering and physiological models – but will eventually include the work of four DRDC centres across the country. “Collaborations are already developing between DRDC Suffield and DRDC Toronto to test imaging devices for non-invasive assessment of neurotrauma using DRDC Suffield designed models,” Bjarnason said.

To ensure projects are operationally relevant, critical first steps include integration of CF researchers into research studies and the formation of a scientific advisory board.

“The Blast Injury Program is ambitious but it will provide information that will aid decision makers on the best practices to prevent, treat and mitigate the immediate and long-term health effects from blast-related injury,” he said.

Defence white paper in order
With all the talk of transformation, strategic reviews, reassessments of the Canada First Defence Strategy and even shifts in defence priorities, are we in need a of defence white paper?

David Pratt, former Minister of National Defence and now a senior vice-president with GCI Group, floated the idea before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in a discussion on the role of the army reserve.

“If we are serious about the reserve force and if we are truly thankful for the contributions they have made, we will ensure that in a period of fiscal restraint their needs and issues are not shoved aside,” he told the committee.

From the pay system to medical care, training, equipment, support for reserve units and protection of civilian jobs while on deployment, Pratt pointed to a range of issues that need “further examination and analysis.”

But he suggested such a study be “part of a larger defence white paper, possibly in conjunction with an overall review of diplomacy, defence and development assistance. With the Afghanistan mission slowly winding down, there is a need to recalibrate our foreign and defence policy to reflect the changes that have occurred in the strategic environment a decade after 9/11.”

Allies like the U.S. and U.K. undertake such reviews on a regular basis, but Canadian governments have tended “to take a more lackadaisical approach to defence and foreign policy,” he noted. Reviews, however, play an important role in stimulating public debate and defining “foreign policy objectives and…the type of military we will need in the future.”

Navy fleet renewal: Time to start the next watch
The deputy minister committee evaluating the three shipyard bids under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) is expected to deliver its verdict sometime in October, but for Canada’s navy and coast guard, the sound of cutting steel can’t come soon enough.

Speaking at DEFSEC Atlantic in September, Capt (N) Richard Gravel, commanding officer for Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Scott in Halifax, said the maritime service needs replacements. Take its aging auxiliary oiler replenishment ships. “We need the JSS (Joint Support Ship),” he said. “I think we’ve given HMCS Preserver her last refit – three times now.” And the Canadian Patrol Frigates, designed in the ’80s and built in the ’90s, “aren’t new ships anymore,” he noted, though the navy still expects many more good years of service from them. “We need to start thinking about the next watch.”

Canada has been close to cutting steel on more than one occasion, but now it needs to actually do it, Gravel said. “The NSPS is absolutely what the navy needs. We’re positively chomping at the bit.”

Derek Buxton, project manager for the coast guard’s polar icebreaker program, was equally keen on the NSPS, which he called a “game changer” that has firmly planted shipbuilding at all levels of the government’s agenda.

He too noted the age of the coast guard fleet, saying 71 percent of large vessels have exceeded their operational life. The youngest, the Henry Larsen, was built 24 years ago. More ominous, “many of the ships are making the decision for themselves by taking themselves out of service,” he said. Consequently, “fleet renewal is our number one priority.”

Peter Cairns, president of the Canadian Shipbuilding Association, had some words of caution about what tightening government budgets might mean for the $35 billion shipbuilding plan. On the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, for example, he predicts six rather than eight will be built. Likewise with the JSS, expect two rather than the previous requirement of three.

However, should additional funding become available, there is a sizeable list of ships waiting in the wings, including perhaps an amphibious ship, another JSS or a second polar icebreaker. Cairns noted, though, that the government has reserved the right to bid each additional ship separately, so it’s not a given they would be incorporated into the NSPS.

Bulking up the new LAV
Not long ago, the Canadian army had a fleet of 650 Light Armoured Vehicles. Not any more, Dan Ross, ADM Materiel, told a Halifax conference recently. “Some are burnt wrecks.”

But the 550 LAVs due for an upgrade will look nothing like their current selves when they roll out the door of General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada sometime in the next two years. From new suspensions to thicker hulls and new turrets, most of the vehicles will be more mobile, better protected and far more lethal.

One of the most significant changes will be weight. The old baseline training LAV operated at 36.6K pounds, with an expected combat weight of 42K pounds. Requirements in theatre resulted in all sorts of bolt-on solutions, some of which the Land Force admits it knew little about, Major Pierre Larivee, the LAV III upgrade project director, admitted to a vehicle summit in Ottawa. Before long LAVs looked like a “gypsy” caravan and the weight often exceeded 52K. But “even at that weight it was doing the job.”

The upgraded LAV will operate at a baseline of 55K, with anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of payload. It will also have a great deal of human factors engineering behind it – wider hatches, for example – accommodating today’s larger and heavier equipped soldier.