A futuristic first on Operation CARIBBE

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) vehicle controller assembles the UAV onboard HMCS WHITEHORSE during Operation CARIBBE on April 1, 2019. Photo: OP CARIBBE Imagery Technician XC06-2019-0008-006 ~ Un contrôleur de véhicule aérien sans pilote (UAV) assemble l’UAV à bord du NCSM WHITEHORSE au cours de l’opération CARIBBE, le 1er avril 2019. Photo : Technicien en imagerie de l’OP CARIBBE XC06-2019-0008-006

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By Captain Annie Morin, Public Affairs Officer on Op CARIBBE

Maritime operations take place in a complex environment. In order to ensure continued success, technological innovation is critical, as is close partnership between the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and industry partners.

A prime example of success in this area was recently on display during Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s contribution to United States-led efforts to combat illicit drug trafficking at sea.

The new PUMA Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – commonly known as a “drone” – was employed throughout the mission, greatly enhancing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability offered by deployed Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels.

The employment of PUMA onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Whitehorse  was a Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) first; the culmination of many months of effort by CAF and Department of National Defence teams.

The system provided enhanced visibility during boarding operations conducted by the embarked United States Coast Guard Law Enforcement detachment (USCG LEDET), allowing personnel aboard Whitehorse to monitor boarding operations even when no traditional aircraft was present. In one situation, the drone was used to locate a suspect vessel prior to a boarding, and feed real-time video back to the ship while teams conducted a search.

According to Commander Lucas Kenward, Commanding Officer of HMCS Whitehorse, this new technology was a tremendous asset.

“PUMA allowed the LDET Deployed Team Leader to see exactly what was unfolding onboard the vessel as his team was communicating with him on the radio,” he explained.

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“For me, it really helped to reduce the “fog of war”; information that is sometimes difficult to communicate over the radio became easily observable and allowed me to make continuous assessments of safety. PUMA also reduced the requirement for radio communications during critical [periods].”

“The boarding team could focus more on officer safety and executing the search while the team in Whitehorse could collate vessel details making the compilation of the LDET’s reports easier.”

Unmanned systems technology is expected to become an essential part of future Kingston-class missions. Planning is also underway to utilize drones and other innovative technologies in other RCN operations, providing additional means to address security challenges faced by Canadians.

Crewed by 48 members, including members of the United States Coast Guard, HMCS Whitehorse deployed along with HMCS Yellowknife on Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s contribution to Operation MARTILLO, a U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATFS) operation responsible for conducting interagency and international detection and monitoring operations and facilitating the interdiction of illicit trafficking.

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