Canada to spend $1 billion on drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have been in the news recently with the Obama administration’s scaling up of assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries (“US drone strikes listed and detailed in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen,” Guardian, 2 August 2012).

Now it looks like the Harper government is keen for Canada to purchase its own armed drones (David Pugliese, “Military to spend $1B on armed drones,” Ottawa Citizen, 6 August 2012):

The Conservative government approved last month the issuing of a request to aerospace firms to provide details about the types of drones now available. Companies have until Sept. 28 to provide the information.

In its request to the industry, the government pointed out the need for the unmanned aircraft to operate in the Arctic. The aircraft should also be able to carry precision-guided munitions, the government said.

“This capability will allow the CF (Canadian Forces) to fill critical deficiencies,” industry officials were told in the request for information sent to them July 23.

The Canadian Forces has used unarmed UAVs at various stages during the Afghan war. But it has been trying to purchase a new fleet of armed drones for years.

In 2007, the Citizen reported the Defence Department had asked the Conservative government for approval to buy the American-built Predator drones for the Afghanistan mission. That request was denied because of concerns in cabinet and the federal bureaucracy that the deal would be non-competitive.

The government eventually approved the lease of Israeli-built UAVs from MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates in Richmond, B.C. Those unarmed Heron aircraft operated out of Kandahar Airfield.

DND started its project to purchase armed UAVs in 2008 but that stalled because funding had to be diverted to other equipment programs.

Documents obtained by the Citizen show that military leaders saw the Libyan war as a possible way to move its stalled UAV program forward. According to a briefing presented Aug. 16, 2011 to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, they pointed out that the purchase of such aircraft for the Libyan conflict could kick start their larger project to buy UAVs for both domestic and international missions.

Responding to high-level government discussions on ways to address future operational needs for the war, Canadian Forces planners detailed a proposal to purchase a fleet of armed unmanned aerial vehicles at a cost of roughly $600 million.

While that was expected to take up to a year, they also outlined a concurrent proposal to obtain on loan a fleet of such aircraft that could be sent into battle almost immediately.

Photo Credit: DND

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