Defence research through the decades

For more than 75 years, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) has been on the frontlines of defence science and technology, conducting research in centres located across Canada.

A selection of defence research stories


Atlantic Research Centre
Timeline LocationHistory
1939 - 1945 National

During the Second World War, the National Research Council directed and coordinated all military research in Canada, working closely with the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force. After the war, the National Research Council returned its focus to civilian research.

1941 Suffield, Alberta

Experimental Station Suffield opened in Suffield, Alberta in 1941.

Also known as:

1941 Ottawa, Ontario

In 1941, Chemical Warfare Laboratory opened in Ottawa, Ontario. Also located in Ottawa, the Radio Propagation Laboratory and Defence Research Electronics Laboratory were united into the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) in 1951. DRTE transferred to the Department of Communications in 1969 as the Communications Research Centre and retained responsibility for research in radar and defence communications.

Also known as:

  • Chemical Warfare Laboratories
  • Defence Research Chemical Laboratories
  • Defence Chemical Biological and Radiation Establishment
  • Radio Propagation Laboratories
  • Defence Research Electronics Laboratory
  • Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment
1942 Ottawa, Ontario

In 1942, operational research groups were established in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army. In 1949, the Operational Research Group was formed within the Defence Research Board. Responsibility for operational research and analysis was reassigned in 1974 and 1997 before becoming the Centre for Operational Research and Analysis in 2003.

Also known as:

1942 Kingston, Ontario

In 1942, Kingston Laboratory was initially formed at Queen’s University for research in biological defence. This area of research was also conducted at the Grosse Île Experimental Station, an isolated island in the St. Lawrence. After the Second World War, the programs were consolidated in Kingston and in 1964, the laboratories in Kingston were de-commissioned and the programs were transferred to Ottawa.

Also known as:

  • Defence Research Kingston Laboratory
1944 Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 1944, the Naval Research Establishment was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1952, a new lab was opened in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on the same site as the current Atlantic Research Centre building.

Also known as:

1945 Valcartier, Quebec

Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment was formed in 1945.

Also known as:

  • Defence Research Establishment Valcartier
  • DRDC Valcartier Research Centre
  • 1947 National

    The Defence Research Board, established on April 1, 1947, was created to ensure that Canada’s science and technology capabilities were adequately harnessed and linked in support of the defence needs of Canada. The Defence Research Board was built on foundations established through other organizations that had contributed to the war effort in the 1940s, and leveraged capabilities in industry, academia and government. When the Defence Research Board was established, there were seven locations including laboratories in Valcartier, Suffield, Kingston, Halifax, Churchill and two in Ottawa.

    1947 Churchill, Manitoba

    In 1947, Defence Research Northern Laboratories was established in Churchill, Manitoba. The laboratory was closed in 1965, after a transfer to the National Research Council.

    Also known as:

    • Defence Research Establishment Churchill
    1948 Esquimalt, British Columbia

    In 1948, Pacific Naval Laboratory was established in Esquimalt, British Columbia. In 1995, it was consolidated with Atlantic, with a small detachment providing services on the west coast.

    Also known as:

    • Defence Research Establishment Pacific
    1950 Toronto, Ontario

    Defence Research Medical Laboratory was formed in Toronto, Ontario in 1950, but its roots reach back to 1939 when the Department of National Defence formed an interdepartmental committee on aviation medical research with Sir Frederick Banting as chairman. Banting is world-renowned as the co-discoverer of insulin. The Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine was formed in 1971 by amalgamating Defence Research Establishment Toronto with Canadian Forces Institute of Environmental Medicine.

    Also known as:

    • Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine
    • Canadian Forces Institute of Environmental Medicine
    • Defence Research Establishment Toronto
    • DRDC Toronto Research Centre
    1974 National In 1974, the Defence Research and Development Branch was formed, and the existing Defence Research Board laboratories were integrated into the Department of National Defence to forge closer relationships between scientists and the Canadian Armed Forces. The Chief, Research and Development was the functional authority that oversaw the new structure. At the time, there were six laboratories located in Halifax/Dartmouth, Valcartier, Ottawa, Toronto, Suffield and Esquimalt.
    2000 National On April 1, 2000, the Defence Research and Development Branch officially changed to Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC).
    2006 Ottawa, Ontario In 2006, DRDC Centre for Security Science was created as a joint endeavour between DRDC and Public Safety Canada to deliver science and technology services and support, and to address national public safety and security objectives.

    G-force protection

    1930s - present

    A black and white photo of a man wearing a G-suit over a shirt and tie sitting on a chair in front of a chalk board.


    As aircraft performance increased entering the Second World War, higher rates of acceleration in turns subjected pilots to extreme forces called G-forces. Equivalent to several times Earth’s gravity, G-forces drain the blood from the pilot’s head toward their lower body, often leading to unconsciousness. The first anti-G suit, using water-filled trousers to counter G-forces, was invented by Dr. Wilbur Franks in 1939 (Franks Flying Suit MK3) and was used during the war. The suit was tested in a centrifuge to emulate the conditions pilots experience.

    Later iterations of the anti-G suit were refined over the years and used high-pressure air to inflate the limb counter pressure bladders. The Sustained Tolerance for Increasing G (STInG) system, created by DRDC scientists in 1990, provided superior aircrew protection for the agile CF-18s. STInG was integrated into the Royal Canadian Air Force inventory, was purchased by the US Navy, and is emulated by other air forces world-wide as the standard in anti-G protection ensembles.

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    Gas masks

    1940s to 1990s

    A black and white photo of a woman in a lab coat handling a gas mask in a laboratory.

    Gas warfare in the First World War made research into protective masks a priority for Canada during the Second World War. In post-war years the work continued with the development of improved respirators and filters and gas-proof clothing. Researchers tested the fit of the mask, the composition of the rubber used in manufacturing, and the efficiency of paper filter materials. Other than a few specialized applications, every respirator used by the Canadian Armed Forces from the Second World War to the 1990s, including the C4 mask, was developed by DRDC.

    An important part of the C4 mask is the C7 canister, developed in response to the discovery of new chemical agents in the 1980s.

    The C7 was the only Western nation canister affording protection against all known chemical warfare agents.

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    Heller anti-tank weapon system


    A black and white photo of an anti-tank weapon sitting on a tripod, with a munition resting beneath it against a white background.

    The Heller was the first weapon system entirely developed and manufactured in Canada. Inspired by the Hammer, a Second World War German anti-tank weapon, it was developed by DRDC to meet the need for an accurate and powerful anti-tank weapon that could be carried and fired by the individual infantry soldier. The Heller was in production from 1954 and remained in service with the Canadian Army until 1967. It fired an 81-mm rocket propelled shaped-charge warhead that was capable of penetrating 280 mm of rolled homogenous armour at right angle impact. It replaced the U.S. Bazooka, providing both longer range and greatly increased penetration.

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    The Black Brant Rocket


    A large black, red and white rocket blasts off against a cloudy sky.

    During the Cold War, the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles reaching North America brought forth a need for developing a rocket capable of reaching an altitude of 120 km, using a high specific impulse solid propellant motor. DRDC scientists at Valcartier formulated a new solid composite propellant and the general design of the rocket was then completed with the assistance of industry. The Black Brant was launched successfully in 1959 and the technology was transferred to industry for commercial exploitation. DRDC scientists in Ottawa were studying the physics of the ionosphere with a goal of improving radio communications and saw the potential for using rockets to carry sounding instruments into the ionosphere, expanding their research from ground-based experiments. Black Brant rockets built at Valcartier carried payloads that measured radio wave signal strength variations from ground transmissions, energetic particle measurements, and positive ion measurements. Until 1984, more than 50 rockets carried experimental payloads. Research from northern launch sites at Churchill, Manitoba and Resolute Bay, Nunavut, combined with satellites and ground based measurements brought rapid advances in knowledge of the ionosphere. The Black Brant proved to be a major commercial success and is still in production today.

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    1950s – 1960s

    A boat is elevated above the water on hydrofoils. Water sprays behind the boat.


    DRDC began research on hydrofoil ships to meet demand for high-speed surface craft to defend against modern submarines, which could attain underwater speeds greater than conventional mono-hull naval ships. The test vehicle "Rx" was designed, built, and operated in 1954 to investigate various design concepts. A 1960 DRDC report on the hydrofoil's application to anti-submarine warfare led to construction of HMCS Bras d'Or. Trial speeds of 63 knots were achieved making Bras d'Or the fastest ship in the world.

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    The Periscopter


    A black and white photo of four men in suits standing behind an Un-crewed Air Vehicle in an open field.

    The Periscopter was a combination of a helicopter and a TV camera, jointly developed with Westinghouse Canada (Hamilton). It had two counter-rotating or lifting rotors powered by high-power electrical motors. It was designed to accommodate a vacuum-tube TV camera for surveillance of the battlefield from a height of up to 180 metres. The system was tethered to a ground station. The flight control system and platform stability in windy conditions proved to be difficult engineering problems, so the project was abandoned at the end of the 1960s and it did not go into commercial production. However, the technology was well ahead of its time, as it is the forerunner of the modern-day drones. Westinghouse employees eventually created L-3 Wescam (Burlington), a major player in gyro-stabilized electro-optical/infra-red (EO-IR) systems.

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    Very large conventional explosive trials


    A large explosion of fire, dust and sand occurs in a deserted landscape against a cloudy blue sky.

    As a result of Canada's participation in United Kingdom nuclear trials in Australia, it became apparent that blast phenomenology in the range between large-scale conventional explosions (a few tons of TNT) to small nuclear explosions (1 kiloton or more) was not well characterized, and that the United Kingdom did not have access to facilities where they could be investigated. Consequently, the Suffield Experimental Station conducted progressively larger conventional explosive trials, culminating in Operations SNOWBALL (1964), PRAIRIE FLAT (1968), and DIAL PACK (1970) — all equivalent to 500 tons of TNT — which allowed blast-effect scaling relationships to be determined. The United Kingdom and the United States participated in this research effort; all three countries also assessed blast effects on operational items, such as a Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile. As an unintended outcome, the program helped to clarify the geophysics behind the formation of craters on the Moon.

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    Canadian underwater mine-countermeasures apparatus


    An all-black underwater breathing device is displayed on a black board against a white background.

    The Canadian Underwater Mine-countermeasures Apparatus (CUMA) provided Canadian Armed Forces bomb disposal divers with the low acoustic and magnetic signatures needed to approach and dispose of underwater explosives (mines) without accidental detonation. CUMA's innovation was to push the diving limit from depths of 42 meters to 81 meters in a light and affordable system. Developed in conjunction with Canadian industry, CUMA and its variants are still in use by more than 20 armed forces.

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    Electromagnetic pulse facility


    A large, green light armoured vehicle is parked underneath a series of parallel wires suspended by poles in an outdoor facility.

    Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) are a threat to all electronics, including critical navigation, communication and weapon systems on military vehicles. DRDC designed and built the first EMP facility in Canada that was large enough to evaluate vehicles and weapons systems against high energy EMPs.

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    Wind chill


    A person covered from head to toe in military cold weather clothing walks on a treadmill in front of four large fans, with green light shining through the blades.

    Wind chill represents the additional loss of heat from exposed skin due to wind. DRDC was the lead Canadian agency tasked with revising the wind chill index with theoretical considerations and human verification experiments. The revised wind chill has since been used for military preparedness for Arctic expeditions, and globally as a forecasting tool to advise the public of the risk of freezing injury.

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    Support to the Vancouver Olympics


    A women and a man look at a handheld radiation detector inside a white tent.

    DRDC led a major multi-year federal initiative involving several departments and agencies, which aimed at providing the RCMP with science and technology support and advice during the planning and execution of security operations for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In advance of the games, DRDC scientists developed the network-enabled collaborative environment, which demonstrated the integration of a set of tools supporting complex decision-making in the context of joint, inter-agency, multi-national and public (JIMP) operations and helped CAF develop their command and control (CR) capacity in preparation for their support during the Olympic and G8/G20 summits.

    During the 2010 games, DRDC, in collaboration with various federal partners, also coordinated "Science Town", a collection of federal mobile labs which provided on-site chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) analysis and support in the event of suspicious packages or other threats.

    The security screening of vehicles and pedestrians presented another significant challenge, with more than 1.5 million spectators entering several venues in dispersed locations and approximately 6,000 screening personnel. Operational research scientists conducted multiple exercises and analyses that informed the design of the screening measures put in place in Vancouver and Whistler.

    Expertise developed for the 2010 games later informed security planning for the 2012 Olympics in London and contributed to development of the major events security framework, which is used today internationally as a best practice for major event security planning.

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    Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat)


    Two scientists discuss a satellite mounted on a wheeled table, inside a sound-proofed room.

    NEOSSat orbits 800 kilometres above the Earth, tracking satellites and "space junk" as part of DRDC's high earth orbit surveillance system project. Unlike ground-based telescopes, NEOSSat is not limited by geographic location, the day-night cycle, or cloudy weather. NEOSSat bolsters Canada's contribution to international efforts to maintain the safety of space assets.

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    The Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS)


    Coloured areas of a map provides information to emergency management and response agencies.

    Building on concepts developed through Natural Resources Canada, MASAS is a national data aggregation hub that improves sharing of location-based situational awareness information and alerts between emergency management and response agencies. In 2011, DRDC launched the MASAS-X pilot project, enabling public safety and security professionals to use MASAS in a variety of settings, including training and exercises and in real situations such as the 2013 Alberta floods, the 2015 forest fires in Kelowna, and the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires. In 2015, DRDC established a service agreement with a not for-profit, Canadian Public Safety Operations Organization (CanOps), to transition MASAS from a federally-funded pilot project into an ongoing, self-sustainable national capability.

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