Canadian Defence Review
Title: Revision Military is on a roll
Sub-title: This eye, helmet and full head protection systems developer is now moving into integrated solutions.
It’s no secret that the outlook for Canadian defence sector exporters to the US is grim. The winding-down of missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled with major defence sector “fiscal cliff,” cuts looming if Congressional Republicans and Democrats can’t hammer out a budget deal by yearend, have sector suppliers increasingly worried.
But Jonathan Blanshay, president and chief executive officer of protective soldier solutions supplier Revision Military, which produces brands such as Sawfly Eyewear System, Desert Locust Goggles and others, is less fazed than most. “When budgets go down they leave no one unscathed,” he admits. “But we believe that soldier protection is increasingly paramount in military operations. So we are preparing to make that case to defence stakeholders, who, admittedly face tough resource allocation decisions.”
Blanshay, a Certified Financial Analyst, who brought a strong business background, including stints in several leading financial firms, when he entered the sector in 2001, has reason to be confident. Under his leadership, Revision Military has doubled sales during the past three years, a trend he expects to continue, due to the increasing popularity of the protective eyewear, helmets and integrated solutions that it markets.
A major push in Canada, the US and Europe
Key to the company’s success is a strong client base built up in several of the world’s largest defence markets. Domestically, Revision supplies spectacles, goggles and visors to the Canadian Army including fulfillment of a contract it won in 2010 to provide ballistic eye protection for the Canadian Air Force. Revision’s US subsidiary, which holds the leading market share for protective eyewear for the US military, is also performing well says Blanshay, having recently been selected to develop concepts for a new generation of helmets for the US military. In fact the Revision Sawfly Eyewear System and Desert Locust Goggle are both on the US Army’s Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL), and have been used by a series of front line specialized units.
Recent years have also seen a big push into Europe, where key initiatives include the inking of a three-year deal to supply the German military with its Sawfly Eyewear system, and an agreement to supply the UK Ministry of Defence with protective combat eyewear including both Sawfly and its Bullet Ant Goggles.
That said, the company’s 280 employees did not produce that kind of success by waiting for events to unfold. During recent months, Revision Military continued its frenetic pace of activity, announcing a range of initiatives including the acquisition MSA’s North American Ballistic Helmet business (more on this later) as well as the introduction of new products and technologies. Revision also commercialized its Batlskin Modular Head Protection System and opened its Montreal-based Composite Center of Excellence where it produces highly-specialized, polyethylene composite helmet shells.
In fact there are also numerous structural signs that Revision is on track to maintain its impressive growth pace says Blanchay. The most important of these is that the company’s products meet a growing need: to protect soldiers, who, experts say, for several reasons are becoming an ever more valuable resource in today’s battlefield.
The crucial role of the individual soldier
To long time defence sector watchers, that may seem counter-intuitive. Armies have long given sentimental talks about the value of each and every soldier. However the cold fact is that as recently as the Korean and Second World Wars, frontline troops were a far more expendable commodity and were used in situations that would be unthinkable today. (For US troops, the same can be said about use of infantrymen in the Vietnam and first Gulf Wars).
Since then, key trends, notably the advent of new technologies, have dramatically increased both the dollar and operational value of front line soldiers. That means that defence forces have a far greater incentive to invest in new equipment to protect them (such as the head protection systems and eyewear the Revision Military produces) than ever before.
For one, all volunteer forces, such as those in Canada and the US, are far more expensive to recruit, than conscripts. Today’s deployments, often in third world nations, that few Canadians could find on a map, also have less public support, than did for example operations in the Second World War, where the freedom of the western world was at stake. As a result, public tolerance for casualties of any kind is at an all-time low.
That trend is exacerbated by the fact that Canadian families now have only one or two children each. As a result, the pain they feel (and thus public pressure which filters down to politicians), when one is lost or hurt, is far greater than it was back in the days when broods of five or six kids were more common.
Today’s networked and wired soldier is also far more productive than those in previous conflicts, making him more valuable operationally than ever before. “Personnel cost a fortune to train these days and it takes a long time for them to become effective, particularly in specialized trades,” adds Blanchay. “In the old days in Vietnam, just a few decades ago, you could give a soldier of few weeks of basic military training and send him out in the field with maybe a rifle and a couple of hundred of dollars worth of gear. That’s not the case anymore.”
Protect the soldier or increase the bang?
The increased value of today’s soldier has a direct effect on defence sector resource allocation decisions notes Blanshay. For example in coming years Canada will likely hammer out a final deal to purchase fighter aircraft, which could cost as much as $200 million each, possibly much more when all costs are factored in.
When deciding how many of these aircraft to buy, DND exports will have to weigh the cost of each those fighters, against say the $6 million it would that would be required to buy the latest head protection systems for every soldier in the Canadian Army. “It’s not easy,” admits Blanchay. “But those are the kinds of hard choices that Western militaries will have to make as they “reset,” - replacing equipment used up or worn out in deployments.
Added to all this says Blanchay, is the fact that the changing nature of warfare is resulting in different types of injuries, many of which are increasingly preventable. “In recent deployments there have been less casualties from traditional sources such as tank battles or sniper wounds,” notes Blanchay. “Now a huge proportion of wounds are coming from IEDs.” These injuries bring additional political costs, because a visibly wounded soldier who returns home, creates major public relations challenges (a walking advertisement for the dangers of war) particularly after battles, such as those in Afghanistan, where maintain public opinion is crucial to the overall outcome.
Research and development
The helmet industry, notes Blanshay has taken the lead in reacting to these new developments. Manufacturers and developers are under increasing pressure to help reduce traumatic brain injuries, which, along with head, face and neck injuries, remain one of the most persistent and troublesome battlefield injuries. Revision Military’s introduction of the Batlskin Modular Head Protection System is a key step in this area. The system includes a fully modular and scalable helmet solution, with a front mount that acts as a universal NVG mount and an attachment point for the Batlskin Visor and Mandible Guard.
NATO for its part recognizes the increasing importance of soldier safety says Blanshay. In recent years, the importance of combat eye protection has become almost universally recognized with virtually all member militaries making eye protection a mandatory piece of soldier equipment.
The resulting demands on soldier protection suppliers are creating a new set of pressures admits Blanshay. “We are constantly driven to come out with new and better products,” says Blanshay. “For example at the recent Eurosatory show, we demonstrated a bullet resistant plate designed to meet the specifications for a number of NATO countries in a lighter format.”
Other research areas include the search for and testing of new materials for both eyewear and armor products and new coatings for eyewear applications, as well as work in developing laser eye protection and variable light technology for eyewear applications. As if that were not enough, the company is also looking into integrating electronics and power into advanced helmet systems, exoskeleton development and combat ID programs.
A major push in head protection systems
The new research as well as the acquisition of MSA’s helmet manufacturing equipments and operations in Newport Vermont (which added 45 new employees, impressive institutional knowledge and excellent client leads) and the introduction of the Batlskin system could not be coming at a better time for Revision Military. That’s because Canadian helmet systems are said to be in sore need of replacement following the Afghanistan deployments.
According to Blanshay, the MSA facility in particular, which specializes in the production of aramid helmets for military and law enforcement, provides a perfect platform for the integration of know-how and best practices with other Revision Military locales. The facility also provides a good backlog of work, including committed orders from the US Army to deliver 100,000 helmets over the coming year.
Revision is also continuing to push its new technologies and to build its brand globally through a range of marketing activities, such as trade show participation, a series of print media campaigns and social media initiatives to reach targeted users.
In fact Revision Military’s best days are most certainly ahead of it says Blanshay. For example the company is currently bidding on a ballistic plate contract for the Canadian Forces, which it has high hopes of winning. Revision Military is also highly confident that it will pick up more helmet and eye protection business in its three major markets (Canada, the US and Europe), including a pending deal that at press time the company could still not comment on.
Revision Military at a glance:
Name: Revision Military
Key contacts: Jonathan Blanshay, CEO
Products: ballistic & laser protective eyewear, ballistic helmets, modular head protection systems (NVG mount, Visor, Mandible Guard), armor plates
Locations: Montreal Quebec, Essex Junction Vermont, Newport Vermont, the Netherlands
Major clients: U.S. Department of Defence, the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Netherlands Defence Material Organization, the German Federal Defence Force and the UK Ministry of Defence
Services: ballistic & laser protective eyewear, ballistic helmets, modular head protection systems (NVG mount, Visor, Mandible Guard), armor plates
Number of employees: 280
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Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.