Canada is likely to acquire additional Sagem Sperwer tactical unmanned air vehicles to meet longstanding army reconnaissance and surveillance requirements, despite experiencing problems with introducing the system into service in Afghanistan.

Canada is also expected to proceed with the acquisition of a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) platform within the next two years, and it plans to buy a high-altitude UAV in the longer term.

According to Dr Paul Pace, head scientist in the Canadian Department of National Defence's Future Forces Synthetic Laboratory, the Sperwer acquisition is proving successful, despite the teething problems experienced in Afghanistan. While two of Canada's Sperwer UAVs have been destroyed in crashes, 40 missions had been successfully completed by the end of March, Pace told last month's Unmanned Vehicles Asia Pacific 2004conference in Sydney.

"The future of the [army's] tactical UAV may not be Sperwer, but it probably will be," he says. "It is rosy with the Canadian forces. I think we are going to move forward with acquiring more, [and] keeping the ones we have functioning. They really like these capabilities."

Canada acquired four Sperwers and ground systems in August 2003, just before deploying to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Two further air vehicles were purchased soon afterwards, when airframe cracking problems were found in two of its initial aircraft.

The Sperwer acquisition was intended to provide an interim capability ahead of a proposed major tactical UAV purchase from early 2006.

"The [Sperwer] air vehicle has proved to be very safe. We are flying over populated areas and we have had no problems at all," says Pace. However, he notes "we have had problems with recovery [and] I must admit the launcher has been a problem for us. We have had 30% availability." The system has been available for all critical missions, he says.

Pace says the Afghanistan deployment has highlighted the need for an ISO 9001-standard paper trail to ensure effective maintenance and repairs for the UAVs. There is also a need for crews to have access to "a comprehensive simulation capability in theatre", he says. This should be available for mission rehearsal before deployment and to maintain currency in theatre, and should be rapidly reconfigurable, he believes.

The Canadian army is also considering the acquisition of mini- and micro-UAVs, although formal requirements are still to be developed and decided upon.



Source: Flight International