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Future soldier: adding an "eye in the sky" capability to standard assault rifles. New high-tech developments in firearms capabilities include micro unmanned aerial vehicles and global positioning systems.

AS COLT CANADA and other firms wait for the Canadian military's new small arms programs to get underway in earnest, work is being conducted to advance firearms capabilities.

Colt Canada is aiming to give the individual soldier more than just firepower on the battlefield by transforming rifles into networked platforms that can operate aerial surveillance systems. The company has developed a new system that links a soldier's rifle to a micro-unmanned aerial vehicle, allowing the soldier to receive data from a UAV as well as control it in flight.

The "rail" system now common on assault rifles and other weapons is usually outfitted with laser rangefinders, flashlights or infrared sensors. But Colt Canada has taken that a step further by installing what it is calling a network data and power system for small arms. It provides an open source network data interface and central power source for various accessories that can be attached to the weapon.

The technology includes a global positioning system (GPS) and navigation capability, so the rifle's geographic position and pointing angles are known and communicated to various accessories on the weapon via the network data interface. The computer and power system is installed in the pistol grip of the rifle.

The system on a rifle can also control a micro-UAV that is launched by the soldier. Surveillance data from the UAV is then transmitted to either a laptop carried by the soldier or to a nearby armoured vehicle.

"We're taking the rifle from being a Spitfire to being a CF-18 fighter," said Warren Downing of Colt Canada. "We have a target acquisition device that has a data link. We power the data link using the power and data rail."

A prototype of the system was unveiled at the CANSEC military trade show in Ottawa last May. Colt Canada expects to further refine the system. progressing to an actual product sometime in 2014.

The micro-UAV is manufactured by Sky-Watch, a Danish firm. Its Huggin X1 UAV is electric-powered and has a flight time of 25 minutes. The micro-UAV can reach altitudes of more than 3,000 metres, is outfitted with a global positioning system and can carry various sensors including thermal or video cameras.

Downing said Colt Canada has integrated Sky-Watch's Target Acquisition System (TAS). which directly communicates with the UAV. The TAS, installed on the weapon as an accessory, is used to designate the target and command the drone to survey the designated target. The TAS is the first device in the world to control a UAV from a small arms platform, he added.

The soldier can control the aircraft's movements from his or her rifle. Imagery from the UAV is observed on a separate display.

The TAS receives its power and navigation data from the rifle via the small arms network data and power system. located in the grip.

Downing noted a potential scenario where an infantry commander might launch the UAV to conduct reconnaissance of potential enemy activity behind a hill. If the UAV observes a target of interest, the corn-mander can call in indirect fire to hit that position, using data provided by the micro-aircraft. The UAV can also observe the battle damage from the attack.

Once the mission is finished a simple press of the button on the TAS will direct the UAV to return to the point of take-off. Downing added.

At the same time, General Dynamics Canada and Colt Canada are working on employing Smartphone technology with small arms.

In December, the two companies announced their collaboration to network Colt's Sniper (Soldier) Weapon & Observer Reconnaissance Devices (SWORD) system, which integrates weapon-mounted surveillance and targeting devices with ruggedized Smartphone-like technology.

The two firms see the SWORD system being used to bring critical situational-awareness information directly to the soldier via his weapon. It will be offered as an alternative to radio-centric individual soldier systems, they note.

"SWORD makes sense as an integrated soldier system," Jeff MacLeod. general manager of Colt Canada, said in a statement. "By combining modern Smartphone technology with weapon-mounted scopes and laser rangefinders. soldiers have all the information they need, literally at their fingertips. SWORD is not about simply delivering a computer or a display to soldiers; it delivers an entirely new capability centred on the rifle."

David I bbetson, vice president of General Dynamics C4 Systems International, explained that the cooperation between both firms builds on the strengths of each. "Colt has worldwide expertise in developing and delivering rifles, while General Dynamics has the networking experience needed to connect individual soldiers," he noted. "The combined solution gives soldiers the Smartphone capability they have been asking for in the form of an Android-networked rifle."

SWORD is based on commercial off-the-shelf components. It provides power, data and navigation infrastructure within the weapon, including GPS and inertial navigation for GPS-denied situations, according to the companies.

Colt Canada highlighted the SWORD system at AUSA 2013 in Washington, DC in October as well as at the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries' (CADSI) Soldier System Showcase in Ottawa in December.

Caption: Colt Canada's Warren Downing (left) explains the company's new small arms power rail and micro-UAV system to Esprit de Cotps writer David Pugliese during CANSEC 2013. (PHOTO COURTESY COLT CANADA)

Caption: The Sky-Watch Huginn X1 is a light helicopter UAV solution designed and manufactured in Denmark. The Huginn X1 is designed as a total solution capable of handling both exterior and interior reconnaissance flights. Thanks to its interconnection of sensors, the Huggin X1 is also the first of its kind to use a multi-platform system that makes it possible to change airframe and upgrade the system without adjusting the autopilot. Its total autonomy ensures that the system can be used by everyone--ranging from the experienced pilot to the person who has never used the system before. The Sky-Watch Huginn X1 can be used for visual reconnaissance in disaster areas, fence patrol and indoor inspection. (ANTHEA TECHNOLOGIES)
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Author:Pugliese David
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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