Industry sharpens defsec technology

The day of the military developing its own technology and end products is long gone. It is now more likely to buy a fully developed solution outright or build on existing technology, using small, specialized teams equipped with development tools and commercial components.

CoverPix-135X160.jpgBy James Bowen
From SCAN's Print Edition

Security and defence aren’t what they used to be. Enemies get technology from non-traditional places, they can mount asymmetric threats, and many have access to the same technology we do.

From a technology perspective, defence and security might be viewed as a common market, though some differences remain. According to John Leggat of CFN Consultants, defence projects tend to be large, long-term and marked by a focus on defining requirements. They also tend to have a high level of customer involvement. Security projects tend to be smaller, have diverse requirements, and rely on more off-the-shelf products. So, in large part, the security market is driven by common requirements rather than those of a single customer. With this in mind, suppliers of security technology focus on finding a single “magic-bullet” solution that will meet the various needs of a wide range of customers.


The big challenge for defence and security is information, which must be collected and digested without trampling on human rights and privacy as defined by courts and society. On the defence side, though weapons and transportation get much of the attention, there is a constant need for real-time information. On the security side, information is harder to get and verify, according to Leggat, because there is a “natural camouflage” for the sources of information, i.e. those who know something about a security threat, that enables them to hide within the civilization population.

Looking at defence, Leggat points out that Canada’s strength in systems integration gives us an advantage in a market where convergence of capability is today’s game. He anticipates more emphasis on personal protection in the future, including injury protection and human performance enhancement in the form of improved, faster information retrieval, which will be needed as more, newer sensors are developed. On the security side there is also much emphasis on how best to use information. Security reconnaissance is also focused on data mining and extracting valuable information from the meaningless, i.e. finding threats within everyday phone conversations.
The next five years will see a far greater use of biometrics for identification and security. More and more it will be used not only to secure physical space, like the home and workplace, but will play a key role in protecting identity and information in a digital world fraught with security violators. Another issue is the need to monitor mass movement of people, allowing the international community to better manage the spread of disease while keeping in mind people’s basic rights. Biometrics is only one of many technologies originally developed for the sake of defence and security now finding application in areas such as personal communications, new materials, genomics, machine intelligence and miniaturization and, of course, the convergence of these technologies. Defence Science and Technology Strategy, a document released by the Department of National Defence last December, concludes that solutions will come from a variety and blending of sources.

Robert Walker, CEO of Defence R&D Canada (DRDC) and assistant deputy minister of science & technology within DND, says that the new strategy comes in part from the recent understanding that security and defence are conjoint problems. The strategy focuses not just on the technology but also on its use with regards to information, physics and human behaviour. Defence and security isn’t just equipment but also the need to understand an adversary’s culture and people so that we can work with them to end a conflict. This means a broader scope of interest within the defence and security market, says Walker, demanding a “whole-of-government” approach, with more integration of technologies.

According to Tim Page, president of the 550-member Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, Canada produces a wide range of technological solutions and capabilities, from avionics to sensors. In Ottawa alone there are dozens of defsec tech companies, such as personal protective equipment maker Med-Eng (med-eng.com) and counter-terrorist system provider Allen-Vanguard (allen-vanguard.com). But to fully get Canadian solutions into play, Canada needs a “long-range capability plan,” says Page, backed up by an implementation strategy that identities key technologies of strategic interest (i.e. strategies that will supply future military and security needs, stimulate jobs and innovation in the Canadian economy and that can be exported to international markets). The current deployment of Canadian troops in Afghanistan is a case in point. Faced with the threat of improvised explosive devices, the military has turned to industry in search of technology based solutions which better anticipate, protect and mitigate injury to personnel and equipment.

Gilles Dupont, director of the Ottawa branch of Technopole , agrees with Page and is helping to find such solutions. Established in 2006, Technopole has its members – from industry, government departments and universities – focused on identifying, qualifying and promoting business opportunities that bring innovative solutions into the defence and security markets. One way of doing this is by attracting U.S. investment in Canadian technology projects. Technopole took a giant step in that direction when Industry Canada qualified Technopole projects for the IRB (industrial regional benefits) program, which obliges a foreign company to spend a certain amount of credits/dollars in Canada after winning a federal contract. Carleton University is drawing up a list of projects that Dupont will take to Boeing in the hope of getting funding. There will likely be some interest because the IRB program favours university projects, allowing the plane manufacturer to use up more of its IRB credits than it would by buying goods and services from a commercial enterprise. Dupont says the Technopole approach enables Canadian companies to secure longer-term contracts or investment to help undewrite product development.

DRDC’s deputy DG Brian Eatock says that that the day of the military developing its own technology and end products is long gone. Military and security groups, they point out, are now more likely to buy a fully developed solution outright or build on existing technology, using small, specialized teams equipped with development tools and commercial components. In other words, they are increasingly looking to industry for the stick, then sharpening it to a point.

James Bowen, PhD, PMP, CMC is an Ottawa technology entrepreneur and adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Management.


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