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FrontLine interview on the LRSS – Surveillance system upgrade for the LAV III

Battlefield Technologies

Article by Ken Pole
© FrontLine Defence (Vol 11, No 3)

The increasing need for accurate threat information is a given on the battlefield. Modern technologies enable the Canadian Army and its allies to not only secure that information but also integrate it into useful intelligence for timely response.

Enhancing this capability is the aim of a plan to enhance the surveillance capability of 66 of the Army’s fleet of more than 550 LAV III light armoured vehicles, which entered service in 1999. Built by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS-C) as the army’s primary mechanized infantry vehicle, it is a beefed-up version of the Swiss MOWAG Piranha IIIH 8x8. However, the need for improved threat ­detection and response was graphically demonstrated during the Army’s recently concluded combat mission in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

London-based GDLS-C was awarded a $1.064-billion contract in October 2011 to upgrade the LAV IIIs (LAV UP); the first with improved armour, weapons, powertrain, suspension and brakes, was delivered in February 2013. Last November, the government exercised a $204-million option to further upgrade the LAV IIIs, which are used principally for surveillance, and a ­contract is expected to be awarded later this year.

Four teams have submitted demonstrators for the LAV Reconnaissance: Surveillance System Upgrade (LRSS UP) through GDLS-C, which has a project management mandate from the government. The prospective prime contractors are DRS Technologies Canada (Ottawa), Raytheon Canada (Calgary), Rheinmetall Canada (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu), and well as General Dynamics Canada (Ottawa).

With GDLS-C managing the project (a decision by the government, which evidently felt it had neither the time nor the necessary in-house expertise), does that present a challenge for other companies? Alain Tremblay, a 33-year Canadian Army veteran and Rheinmetall Canada’s vice-president of business development since 2011, explained that PWGSC has appointed a “fairness monitor” to oversee the process, “so we have no reason to be concerned.”

Established 28 years ago as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dusseldorf-based Rheinmetall AG, the company and its 250 employees have earned a reputation for their expertise in systems integration. “Almost a third of our workforce are engineers because of our system integration capability,” Tremblay told FrontLine. “Our engineering expertise gives us a unique strength in our core business.”

An unclassified version of Rheinmetall’s presentation to GDLS-C shows a robust telescoping carbon fibre mast from Falck Schmidt Defence Systems in Denmark, mounted aft of the LAV’s gun turret. It is surmounted by L-3 WESCAM’s MX-Series sensor package, comprising a day light imager, no-light imager, a SWIR (short-wave infrared) imager, a laser range finder and a laser pointer. Below that, is a Ranger R20SS V2 solid sate electronic scanning ground surveillance radar from FLIR Systems of Laval, Quebec. The radar can track vehicles out to 24 kilometres.

A binocular-style sensor housing helps to ensure that one side remains operational if the other is damaged by enemy fire. “You have separate sensors, so you have more robustness,” remarked Jean-Pierre Couturier, Rheinmetall Canada’s Account Manager for BMC4I and ISTAR. The setup also minimizes how much of the system has to be internal to the LAV III, where space is at a premium.

Couturier demurred when asked whether the sensors could be compromised in a close-combat urban conflict among buildings. “Your range is diminished, yes, but the fact that you can elevate it, 10 metres in some areas, means you can actually help the troops by being able to see over some buildings” or compound walls. And, typically, the LAV’s gun can be slaved to the sensor suite.

In addition, “We believe the team of Rheinmetall Canada, L-3 WESCAM, and FLIR’s facility in Québec, provide the most Canadian content of any technical solution proposed for LRSS”, said Couturier.

Asked what a successful LRSS bid would mean for Rheinmetall Canada, Tremblay expressed confidence in the company’s “very competitive technical solution to the Canadian Army program.” And if accepted by GDLS-C, and ultimately the government, he expects it to lead to market opportunities elsewhere.

“That will certainly create a certain synergy, a momentum, toward exporting the systems for other programs around the world in the near or mid-term horizon that are also looking for cutting-edge long-range land-based surveillance systems,” he said. “There’s an incoming program in Australia in a few years, the Middle East is a big consumer of those capabilities, there’s also potential for programs in Asia. Winning a program at home is usually a very important calling card when you’re trying to market the product internationally.”

Whether that would lead to global product mandates for its subcontractors remains to be seen. “It’s not necessarily that simple,” Tremblay said. “It’s always on a market-by-market basis because L-3 is already well established as a component provider. But the ability to do a comprehensive fully-integrated system is a different thing. And there’s also the FLIR radar which is part of this. It’s all about the specific market, but anywhere a client will be looking for a comprehensive fully-integrated system, we do expect that L-3 will have a tendency to also seek our partnership for other international requirements with a similar statement of work.”

Rheinmetall Canada has been following the evolution of the LRSS for five years. “Initially, we were going with our own internal Rheinmetall Defence (product),” Couturier volunteered. “As the SOIQ (Solicitation of Interest and Qualification) phase came, and the RFP (Request for Proposal) was published, we soon realized that we had to look at an alternative. That’s how the partnership with L-3 started.”

In its heyday, the Coyote LAV Reconnaissance vehicle was considered one of the best surveillance vehicles in the world. By leveraging numerous advances in defence electronics, the LAV UP with LRSS will certainly be a worthy successor.

Ken Pole is a contributing editor at FrontLine Magazines.
© FrontLine Magazines 2014

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