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Empire Challenge ’11: Canada Refines Tactical Reconnaissance Processes

Canadian Armed Forces used the occasion of the recent “Empire Challenge ’11,” coupled with the Afghan-like venue of Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, to refine some of the processes and procedures employed by its tactical reconnaissance elements.

According to Lt. Karl Cushing, normally assigned to the Royal Canadian Dragoons in Petawawa, Ontario, and serving as “Recce Troop Leader” for Empire Challenge, Canadian Armed Forces employed two patrols during Empire Challenge, with each patrol carrying two different types of sensor suites.

Lt. Karl Cushing

Lt. Karl Cushing, “Recce Troop Leader” for Empire Challenge ’11. Photo by Scott R. Gourley

“The first one is the standard Coyote surveillance kit,” he explained. “It has a thermal imager, a day camera, and a laser rangefinder. This kit itself is not new but the way we are controlling it now is new. In the past, the information from the sensor suite runs back to the vehicle via a fiber optic cable and in the current system the operator views a grainy black and green image and records the information on a magnetic tape which has to be physically carried back to transfer that information to the higher commander. But the system that we have now controls the entire suite with two laptops that record the information digitally. They can control the sensor movement left/right, up/down, zoom/pan, or whatever they have to do from those laptops. They can also record both still and video images on the laptops. From there the information is digitally transmitted by EPLRS radio back to our command post vehicle where the commanders will look at the information, collate it, filter it as necessary, and be able to pass it to a higher commander.”

“The other system that we have right now is the handheld imager,” he continued. “There are several components to it. It has the Vector binos, which have a laser rangefinder in them; a camera; a GPS; and a laptop hooked up to that. With this system the GPS understands the operator’s position. With the laser rangefinder you can get the target’s position/bearing to the target. They can also record still imagery and overlay geographic data on top of it. That information can then also be transmitted over the air or downloaded at a later date via cable.”

Coyote surveillance kit

Coyote surveillance kit. Photo by Scott R. Gourley

“The command post has a station for one commander and two operators with three laptops running inside. This is where we receive all the information from the two recce patrols and control their movement on the field. Also in the command post we can receive live feeds from both the aerostat sensor and the UAV that is circling overhead, allowing us to better control our troops on the ground, knowing their movement and what they are doing at the time,” he said.

Although the equipment was carried in SUVs during Empire Challenge, Cushing noted that real life scenarios would have the equipment operated from or near a Coyote reconnaissance vehicle.

“That’s a 13-ton vehicle with turret and 25mm cannon on top of it,” he said. “And those patrols operate two vehicles per patrol.”

While many scenarios require the vehicle crew to transport the sensors away from the vehicle, he added that some of the vehicles are equipped “with a mast that will go up 4.9 meters. And you can put all of that on top so that you can keep your vehicle static and then telescope the mast up.”

In addition, sights and sensors on the vehicles themselves allow some level of tactical reconnaissance from mounted operations.

According to Sgt. Raymond Power, a patrol commander with recent experience in theater, the dismountable surveillance equipment is used “very strategically” by Canadian Forces in combat operations.

Vector surveillance package

Vector surveillance package. Photo by Scott R. Gourley

“Dependent on what location you are in, a lot of times we couldn’t deploy it for the simple fact that the area was quite hostile,” he said. “And the fact is that it takes anywhere from 25 – 30 minutes to set up and deploy properly. What we found was that if we took too long to set it up we could come under attack, because we are kind of vulnerable on the ground. But with the new vehicles we have acquired here lately we basically do a lot of mounted OP, so we stay inside the vehicle, move into a location, since the vehicles have most of this equipment incorporated into it we can stay mounted, still get the data that we require, and pull out in the same manner.”

He added that the dismounted sensor capabilities are normally employed in areas slated for occupation longer than one day.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...