Before patrolling the dirt roads that snake around their base near Kandahar, Canadian soldiers grab uniforms that feature special dyes and fibres designed to help them blend into the night. They also pack QuikClot, a chemical powder that can be poured into seeping wounds to staunch blood loss.
Troops may soon be able to add yet another high-tech gadget to their growing arsenal: X-ray vision.
Later this month, Canadian Forces officials are scheduled to review a device that promises to allow soldiers to literally see through concrete walls.
"It's a radar for finding people," says Robert Judd, president of Virginia-based Camero Inc.
The device is called Xaver and it sends and receives radio signals through walls up to a foot thick. Those signals are then converted into rough images on a small video monitor.
In another era, Judd might have had trouble coaxing Canadian Forces personnel to even meet with him.
These days, however, the military's doors are wide open to defence contractors. In 2005-06, the most recent fiscal year for which statistics are available, Canada's defence-related spending was $14.7 billion, 44 per cent more than the $10.2 billion spent in 1997-98.
"The war may not be good for innocent Afghans, but it's been a bonanza for companies," says John Pike, an analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, a non-profit research centre in Washington.
It's also meant a bonanza of new gear for Canadian soldiers, but some fret the rapid spending increase may be leading to rushed, ill-advised buys.
Purchases are approved so quickly that there's little long-term consideration, says Scott Taylor, editor of Esprit de Corps, a military magazine.
Canada already has some 66 Leopard tanks, Taylor says, yet has agreed to buy more from the Dutch, some of which require major retrofits, and lease still more from Germany.
"Our troops may be out of Afghanistan by the time we finish retrofitting some of the German tanks," Taylor says. "What do we do then? Send them down the streets of Haiti or pay for them to be sent back to Germany, if they'll take them back?"
The list of the Forces' recent acquisitions is lengthy and, by military standards, impressive.
Late last month, officers in Kandahar were showing off the Husky, an oversized tractor-like vehicle with electronic and metal detectors designed to find and blow up deadly roadside bombs.
Some Canadian troops have assault rifles equipped with so-called "holographic sights" that allow soldiers to shoot on the run with improved accuracy thanks to a video screen the size of a cellphone display atop the rifle.
"They don't have to shut their eyes and squint to see their target," says Major Pierre Caron, a Canadian Forces weapons expert.
Ottawa's Dew Engineering is refurbishing LAV 3 vehicles with improved armour plating and designing a new seat that promises to better absorb the crippling shock wave created by detonating roadside bombs.
"When a bomb goes off, it's not just the shrapnel that kills, the percussion of the blast moves the organ around," says Tim Page, president of the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries, a trade group. "The seat absorbs that percussion."
But some of the recent purchases are not working exactly as hoped.
Canada bought four unmanned aerial vehicles for $33.8 million in August 2003, through Oerlikon Contraves Inc.
The four-metre-long, French-made Sperwer aircraft were equipped with cameras, parachutes, inflatable crash bags and computer circuit boards.
But it had never been flown in extreme heat or in altitudes as high as Afghanistan. There were immediate concerns the new units would fail. Those worries were dismissed by an Oerlikon spokesperson.
Yet, four years on, Canadian soldiers now complain the Sperwer units have limited range and endurance and are struggling to cope with the Afghan heat.
The defence department is now planning to spend as much as $100 million to buy improved unmanned aerial vehicles.
A string of emails in April 2003 shows that some officers at the Canadian Forces Experimentation Centre – it tests new equipment before purchase – were concerned that Canada's first UAV purchase was being done hastily.
In an April 28, 2003 email to two colleagues obtained under the Access to Information Act, Lt.-Col. Stephen Newton wrote that he was worried about the fast tracking of the UAV purchase.
"It does not appear that anyone is quarterbacking this event and what is worse is that whoever is doing it is basing all their efforts on outdated procedures and criteria," Newton wrote. "At this stage of the game I am beginning to believe that the request for a tactical UAV is coming from the two staff instead of the operators. That is the only way I can explain such a lack of thought..."
Despite such misgivings, Dan Ross, the assistant deputy minister for materiel and the person in charge of major military purchases, said in an interview he wants to make the approval process faster still.
"Before I was hired in May 2005 it was not uncommon for (documents outlining) new project requirements to be 60,000 pages long," Ross said.In 2004, an internal report suggested it took 107 months to procure equipment. Ross said he wants to pare that to 48 months.
But at what cost? Not testing the equipment properly could result in more deaths than the equipment could save.