Title: HISS: Integrated surveillance systems for the world
Sub-title: This Canadian defence operator thrives by helping law enforcement agencies, special operations commands and defence players integrate sophisticated surveillance systems into their operations.
Getting an interview with Roger Smibert isn’t easy. His duties as CEO of HISS (Highland Integrated Surveillance Systems Inc.) take this aerospace engineer around the world. So when journalists want to chat, they need to both to track him down and get him on local time. A couple of weeks ago Canadian Defence Review did just that; in Toronto… on Canada Day.
“We’ve been busy,” admits Smibert, of the surveillance systems integration company he founded in eight years ago. “But I can’t think of a better time to talk than during our national holiday - because although we now do more than half of our sales internationally, we remain solidly anchored here.”
Smibert founded HISS in October 2001, after a multi-year stint at Wescam, where he lent his expertise to paramilitary organizations around the world. Today his company helps law enforcement agencies, special operations commands and defence players integrate surveillance systems into their operations.
A flexible value-added player
HISS’s role varies from project to project, but generally includes providing mission systems program management, microwave downlinks and ground stations, ground surveillance networks and aircraft armour installation. “Anyone can write a check and buy the most advanced equipment,” says Smibert. “But it is a lot harder to get those elements working together as a single system, installing that system on an air, ground, or naval surveillance platform, training personnel how to use it and then servicing and supporting the system over a long period of time.”
For HISS clients (many of which are smaller emerging nation-states), the traditional challenges of sourcing, operating and maintaining integrated, modern surveillance systems are exacerbated by their location - far from major high tech centers. Others are reluctant to send their platforms out of theatre. These twin demands led HISS to set up a centralized service center in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, so that it could better handle customer demands.
The increasing importance of surveillance
The timing of Smibert’s founding of HISS (one month after four planes crashed into US civil and military installations) could not have been better. The events of 9-11, particularly questions surrounding how so many foreign nationals were able to enter and conduct operations on US soil, brought renewed respect among defence sector players for smart warfare solutions, of which surveillance is a major component.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a prime example of country that uses the integrated surveillance systems that HISS provides. Jordan exists in a rough neighbourhood. Over the years its long and porous borders has been breached by hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflicts in neighbouring Palestine and Iraq – not all of whom were nice fellows. To help with its border patrols and other surveillance needs, Jordan wanted a variety of surveillance and mission systems installed rapidly on six MD530 helicopters. These included EO/IR, moving maps, video recording and downlinks.
HISS’s Jordanian contract also called for installations for front seat operators, full access for both pilots, and a dual mission configuration (with and without weapons). Not only was Smibert happy to supply those requirements, the company was able to do the installation in-country, and to provide training. “The days of helicopter pilots leaning out the window and looking down trying to find stuff are over,” jokes Smibert. “The new technologies vastly improve the productivity of surveillance platforms.”
A highly flexible provider
However HISS can add value to more than just helicopters. For example, the company’s latest integration product, the SABIR (Special Airborne Mission Installation and Response System), is a bolt-on package designed to add functionality to C-130 Hercules aircraft. In fact, HISS can integrate systems such as stabilised EO/IR surveillance turrets, moving maps, radar, searchlights, microwave downlinks, and command centers on a variety of platforms. “Although our initial focus was on rotary winged aircraft, such as AS350s, Fennecs, Bell 206s, Sea Kings, Commandos and so on, we have since expanded our capabilities,” says Smibert. We can now also support a variety of fixed wing aircraft, such as F-27s, Super King Airs, Twin Otters and many others, as well as ground vehicles such as Cougars, RG31s, M1113s.”
The other challenge that Smibert has as a result of his full schedule is that he does not have much time to think about the future. All that he knows for sure is that he will likely continue to build up his frequent flyer miles. HISS systems are already operating in over 12 countries around the world, and demand is unlikely to taper off anytime soon. “While the nature of warfare is changing rapidly, one thing hasn’t changed at all: you still need to be able to see where the enemy is,” jokes Smibert. “And until that changes there will continue to be large demand for the capabilities that we supply.”
Name: HISS - Highland Integrated Surveillance Systems Inc.
Locations: Toronto, Portland, Service center in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi)
Description: Surveillance systems solutions provides
President: Roger Smibert, president & CEO
Owner: Roger Smibert
Peter Diekmeyer is Canadian Defence Review’s Que3bec bureau chief.
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Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.