Canadian Army keeps close watch on emerging technologies

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Infantry troops in exo-skeletons; microscopic sponges injected into wounds to stop bleeding; soldiers with the ability to see through solid walls; or camouflage that changes to match different backgrounds.

These things may sound like the stuff of science fiction, even in the 21st century, but they’re actually part of a long list of emerging technologies the Canadian Army (CA) is keeping a close eye on.

The CA and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), an agency of the Department of National Defence, recently held a workshop on Emerging Disruptive Technologies at DRDC’s Research Centre in Toronto.

The event brings military officials and researchers together to discuss important new technologies, explained Dr. Alain Auger, who leads the science and technology (S&T) outlook portfolio for the Office of the Chief Scientist at DRDC. This involves “identifying emerging technologies and assessing their potential impact on the operational capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces. The impact can either be opportunities for new operational capabilities or emerging threats in the future operational environment,” he said.

The workshop was distinct from the previous two in that it focused on “social” sciences as opposed to the “hard” science of new technologies. Participants discussed topics in the general areas of influence activities and psychological operations, which involve the tactics and strategy of influencing thinking.

“These topics will have a big impact, mostly on influence activities and psychological operations, but also potentially on things like future ways of doing recruiting, or the command style in the Canadian Army, making it more responsive to cultural diversity,” he said. “There’s a long list of potential impacts within the Canadian Army.”

The Office of the Chief Scientist maintains a list of hundreds of emerging technologies, Dr. Auger explained. They choose between three and five for the workshop each year, with some CA input, for further review. Each year’s selections are determined by a four-step science and technology outlook process.

Two of these, technology watch and horizon scanning, are what Dr. Auger called “radar functions,” which takes a broad look at how technologies are developing to help determine what should to be discussed.

Then, technical assessments are produced by subject matter experts on technologies of interest and used to support the Emerging Disruptive Technologies impact assessment workshop, which Dr. Auger called “a challenge function.”

The technologies assessed with the highest potential impact on operational capabilities are then selected for the final stage..

Results of the workshops have already positively informed both DRDC’s S&T program and capability development in the CA. New S&T projects have been created for high impact emerging technologies in areas such as human effectiveness and quantum sensing.

The annual workshop demonstrates the importance of bringing the scientific and military mindsets together, Dr. Auger said.

“Our scientists are good at assessing where the science is going and what we can expect in the near future, but the venue of the workshop is critical to engage the military operators in assessing the impact on operational capabilities because this is not the kind of thing that scientists can do easily,” Dr. Auger said.

“Some of our scientists have deployed and provided S&T support to operations in the past, but most of them have never deployed, so they cannot fully appreciate or understand the impact of technologies on operational capabilities.”

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