Extreme expedition: testing prototype vehicles in Canada’s Arctic

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July 7, 2016

Operation NUNALIVUT proved an ideal circumstance for a Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) team to test prototype vehicles in the extreme environment of the high Arctic and during active Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operations.

The Light Over Snow Vehicles (LOSV) trial was part of the 2016 Canadian Armed Forces Joint Arctic Experiment (CAFJAE) series. First, teams tested the vehicles at DRDC’s Suffield Research Centre. In phase two of the trial they were able to integrate into Op NUNALIVUT in Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

Taking place every two years, CAFJAE promotes the development of CAF joint capabilities to support operations in the Canadian Arctic. Many of the CAFJAE experiments align directly with DRDC programs.

“Our biggest benefit in being part of Op NUNALIVUT is being able to take advantage of the unique environment in the Arctic and getting that direct feedback from the soldiers. We couldn’t have done this anywhere else in the world,” explains Defence Scientist Jared Giesbrecht, the trial lead from DRDC.

“When you deploy on an operation you move at a CAF tempo, much faster than in a non-operational environment. It certainly had benefits and opportunities - a lot of resources and access that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” added Giesbrecht.

The LOSV trial tested three vehicles designed for different unique tasks in the Arctic environment. Ontario Drive and Gear Argo XTs and DEW Engineering D900s vehicles were purchased by the Canadian Army as part of a “buy and try” arrangement and the Polaris Rampage vehicles were jointly developed by DRDC and Polaris Industries.

They cannot be directly compared explains Giesbrecht - “each one has their own unique roles and capabilities so we are not comparing apples to apples.”

The Argo XT is a tracked small unit support vehicle. It can move through varied terrains such as streams, tundra, and ice as well as in -40 C temperatures. The Argo models purchased are gasoline-powered and have a large cargo capacity.

“With the Argo you can haul anything but you move at a slower pace.  It proved useful as ‘go-for’ around camp,” explains Giesbrecht.

The DEW D900 is a diesel powered version of a regular snowmobile.  The main advantages of a diesel engine are improved towing capacity at low speed, and better fuel economy.

The Polaris Rampage is a tracked vehicle with a fully enclosed heated cab that can allow for laptops and other electronics to be used safely within. It has a high towing capacity, on-board storage, is amphibious, and can travel up to 80 km/hr.

Op NUNALIVUT 2016 ran from April 1-22 in and around Resolute Bay and Alert, Nunavut involving more than 230 CAF personnel from across Canada.

The vehicles were tested for technological performance, potential to strengthen the CAF’s capability for Arctic taskings and the practicality of deploying these vehicles from Canada’s North. Roughly 20 of the CAF members involved were able to test out the vehicles ranging in rank from private to lieutenant colonel. After testing the vehicles CAF members filled out a questionnaire and DRDC scientists and technologists had conversational interviews with drivers to get additional anecdotal information.

DRDC has a long history in the Arctic that stretches back to the early 1950s when scientist from  the Defence Research Board a precursor to DRDC were among the first to establish research camps and programs that made advancements which still impact our knowledge of glaciers and ice movement, navigation, and protective clothing for operating in the Arctic today.  

Bob Thwaites, Project Manager for CAFJAE 2016 described some of the other experiments that are planned for the fiscal year involving DRDC’s Atlantic and Valcartier Research Centres.

This August 2016 a defence science team from DRDC will be participating is an experiment charting the waters of Canada’s eastern seaboard for safe depth ahead of the ship using as an unmanned surface vehicle with an echo sounder and dual side scan sonar system for passing real time information back to the ship.

In October 2016 DRDC will be participating in an experiment where manned and unmanned systems will be tasked with detecting and neutralizing a subsurface minefield.  It is part of The Technical Cooperation Progam with participants from Canada, Australia, UK and US.

 Lastly in March 2017 DRDC will also be participating in a  Trilateral experiment involving  Canada,  Sweden and Norway in Nanoose Bay, BC.  They will be using sea bed sensors for martime surface and subsurface detection, identification and tracking.

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