Canadian Army Veteran Champions Open Systems and Interoperability into his Civilian Career

Canadian Army

Modern Integrated Warfare is celebrating Military Appreciation Month with a series featuring both active-duty and veteran service members that are shaping the battlespace as we know it. This week, we share the story of Robert S. Dunn, Business Development, Missions Systems at Collins Aerospace and a 34-year veteran of the Canadian Army. Dunn currently operates out of Ottawa, Ontario, and lends his vast military acumen to the various endeavors he and his team are pursuing with the Canadian military.  

Here’s what he had to share about his career, how it’s informed his transition to civilian life, and how it shapes his predictions for the global defense industry: 

Modern Integrated Warfare (MIW) Editors: Tell us about your career path and your experience in the defense world. What attracted you to the military? 

Canadian Army
Robert S. Dunn, Business Development, Missions Systems at Collins Aerospace

Robert Dunn: Like much of the Canadian military service, I have several family members that served. My grandfathers served in World War I and World War II and my father and stepfather both served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I was also able to visit many of the battlefields in North-West Europe while completing high school in Brussels, Belgium, which fostered my passion for military history. But Hollywood got the deciding vote for my next adventure with The Right Stuff and Top Gun at the top of the blockbuster list when I joined in the mid-1980s.

Over my 34-year career with the Canadian Army, specifically as an Officer in the Royal Canadian Artillery, I came across many important decision-making opportunities and lessons learned. From a field soldier to part of the Army’s procurement staff, I learned a great deal about the needs and thought process of the warfighter throughout my career, and each position taught me something important about the battlespace.  

As part of the procurement staff, my goal was to modernize and improve the soldier’s equipment. For example, in the early 2000s, I was part of the team that fielded the ballistic protective eyewear that actually saved soldiers’ eyesight (including one of my personal friends) despite some of the horrific explosive devices used by the insurgent forces. The benefits of realistic testing and human factors proved to be key enablers in fielding “good kit.”  

As an Artillery Officer, I worked with joint coalition forces as a Joint Terminal Attack Coordinator (JTAC) and was the Chief Instructor for Canada’s JTAC School where we used live and simulated scenarios to prepare these soldiers to become proficient before hitting the field and/or deploying on operations. The lives of the soldiers you are working with depend upon your skills, but more importantly, they rely upon the functionality and interoperability of their equipment to communicate with fighter aircraft to deliver joint effects in a timely manner. 

I was also in charge of the Canadian Army’s procurement for a Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS) system, which essentially allows the JTAC to share targeting information with the fighter aircraft with a digital message. The DACAS system requires that all coalition partners have common standards, digital interoperability, and the ability to operate together regardless of nationality. At the time, I worked with the Collins Aerospace team to help field a world-class system for Canada’s JTACs in 2016-2017.  

In January 2020, I retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, took the weekend off, and joined Collins Aerospace. In my first year with Collins Aerospace, I worked with that same team and we have delivered a modern and updated DACAS system for the Special Forces. This is a big win for both the JTACs in the field as well as the partnerships that we built to deliver a technically advanced and updated android targeting capability.  

Overall, I am very proud of my service with the Canadian Army and have a great deal of professional satisfaction for delivering world-class, life-saving equipment for the Canadian military, that includes force protection for deployed missions with joint coalition partners. My hope is that Collins Aerospace will be able to expand upon and deliver similar DACAS systems to more of the U.S., Five Eyes, and NATO militaries.  

MIW Editors: Tell me about the importance of integration in the battlespace and how it enables the military and its industry partners to fight together. 

Dunn: The Canadian Army is undertaking a series of modernization efforts and these programs will deliver military equipment that will be in service for 20+ years. Therefore, there is a need to avoid stove-piped and closed systems. Specific programs that our team is working on include Joint Fires Modernization and ISR Modernization. These include a combination of new equipment, data sharing across security levels to improve situational awareness and rapid decision-making for command and control, joint targeting, and force protection. Success will be truly measured by the degree of interconnectedness within the Canadian military writ large as well as the interoperability with U.S., Five Eye, and NATO partners.  

Network connectivity, size, weight, power (SWaP-c), and cost are all key factors that play into the Army’s overall strategy and modernization programs. These in addition to interoperability and coalition operations remain crucial for solution design. These factors all form part of a larger puzzle that can only be addressed by future-proof technologies requiring the use of a modular open systems architecture, or “MOSA.”  

MOSA is not only cost-effective, but it allows for more rapid and proactive platform updates and optimizations, it deters vendor lock, and allows for industry-wide advancements. This enables best–in–breed military equipment that also allows for future upgrades to remain operationally relevant to changing threats and the connected battlespace. The working relationship between the defense industry and the Canadian military must adopt an entente whereby a connected battlespace that enables coalition operations and recognizes the need for future growth is absolutely critical. And this is why the adoption of MOSA is crucial for modernization efforts moving forward. 

MIW Editors: What are you most excited about in terms of technological innovation in defense? 

Dunn: I think that we will be realizing Hollywood’s vision of future warfare with holographic 3-D mapping, near-perfect situational awareness and instantaneous access to information that drives rapid decision-making and target engagements while minimizing collateral damage. Soldiers will be equipped with exoskeletons that offer increased strength, protection, sensors, and firepower well beyond the soldier in the trenches of WWI with a 5-round magazine.  

For me, I’m extremely excited to work on the pursuits for the Canadian Army’s Joint Fires Modernization and ISR Modernization projects. We are working towards delivering a solution that offers advanced technological military equipment with robust networks, improving situational awareness and enabling rapid decision-making and intelligence-based targeting. These programs are at the heart of the Army’s future to remain an effective coalition partner, delivering operational effects (both lethal and non-lethal) in a timely and measured response, while bridging the flow of information from the “tactical edge” to the operational and strategic headquarters.  

The most important innovation that modern and advanced technology offers is the ability to improve the training environment especially when it comes to decision-making and targeting. Combining live and virtual constructive simulation allows warfighters to train in a collaborative and realistic fashion as if they were deployed on operations. Training that offers an ability to scale from the individual to collective level that allows for an opportunity to exercise their ability to plan and execute the mission and then conduct comprehensive after-action reviews should be the goal for modern and advanced training systems.  

MIW Editors: How do you see the defense industry evolving in the coming years? 

Dunn: My expectation is that to keep pace with current threats, the defense industry will be forced to focus on interconnected communications and data networks that drive decision-making and joint target execution towards “near-instantaneous.” With the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we can anticipate that military operations must become automated to react to strategic threats.  

Undoubtedly, valuable lessons about the value of interconnectedness are to be learned from the U.S. DoD’s JADC2 and ABMS programs like Project Convergence. In response, the Canadian defense industry and global defense companies will need to consider technologies that enable and reinforce interconnected communications and data exchange across multiple levels of security classifications while adopting and emphasizing common standards. Military equipment will need inherent resilience to cyber-threats and the ability to operate in highly congested and contested battlespace. All said, the defense industry must try to reduce the weight burden, the cognitive load, and the informational saturation for them to be successful.  

I am looking forward to the opportunity to continue working on behalf of our coalition warfighters to remain technically relevant and achieve operational excellence as part of their own military service.