Friday, September 8, 2017

RCAF Hoped to Buy Armed Drones before Getting Approval

By: David Pugliese, The National Post 

Canada’s military went shopping for second-hand drones last year as it tried to fast-track its attempts to acquire a fleet of unmanned aircraft, but came away empty-handed — Canada’s allies weren’t keen to part with equipment that is increasingly seen as vital on the modern battlefield.

The Liberal government’s new defence strategy, released in June, called for the purchase of armed drones. But according to Department of National Defence documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian military was already trying to acquire the systems last year, even as the defence policy was still being developed.

The Canadian Forces asked companies about the availability of new and used drones and how fast they could be delivered. Canadian military attaches were also asked to see whether allied nations were willing to part with any of their unmanned aircraft.
A Predator drone. U.S. military officials have said they are flying from Cameroon unarmed Predator drones, an older model than the Reapers that operated in Ethiopia. Eric Gay/AFP/Getty Images

RCAF spokesman Capt. Trevor Reid confirmed in an to the Citizen that Canada “approached our allies to identify any excess capacity to buy.”

“Based on the feedback received from allies, the project did not pursue that option further,” he said.

With the Liberal government’s approval, the military is now completing its analysis of various options on how to proceed.

The Canadian Forces hope to have new drones by 2021 and have the fleet fully operational by 2023. The cost of such a purchase is expected to be more than $1 billion.

There are a limited number of armed drones on the market that fit Canada’s needs, and in the past the military has expressed interest in the U.S.-built Predators.
An armed U.S. Predator unmanned drone (File Photo)
During the Afghan war, the federal government approved the lease of Israeli-built drones from MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates in Richmond, B.C. Those unarmed aircraft operated out of Kandahar airfield. The Canadian Forces also previously operated unarmed French-built unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan.

Used-drone shopping isn’t the Canadian military’s only recent attempt to buy military equipment second-hand. To deal with what it says is a capability gap because of the country’s aging CF-18 fighter aircraft, the Canadian Forces is currently examining the purchase of second-hand fighter jets from Australia.

A Liberal government plan to buy new Super Hornets is in limbo after the aircraft’s manufacturer, Boeing, filed a trade complaint against Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier. Boeing claims Bombardier is unfairly subsidized by Canada and the complaint, lodged with the U.S. government, has touched off a feud between the American firm and the Canadian government, which has said it will not proceed with the purchase of new Boeing fighter jets until the trade dispute is resolved.

"I would prefer to buy brand new versus used, but we are currently in the process..." said Sajjan.

Canadian officials were in Australia last month to examine the potential for purchasing used F-18s.

“In light of Australia recently notifying all allies about their intent to dispose of their F-18 fleet, Canada visited them to inquire about the state of their equipment and spare parts,” Department of National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said Wednesday.

But Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan recently told aerospace executives that he is not keen on the purchase of second-hand fighters.

“I’d prefer to buy brand new versus used, but we are currently in the process, and we’ll make a decision to making sure that our members in the Canadian Armed Forces have the right tools necessary,” he said during an Aug. 11 defence and aerospace conference in Abbotsford, B.C.

The dispute with Boeing prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday to phone Eric Greitens, the governor of Missouri, to reiterate his disappointment with Boeing and point out the number of Missouri jobs that depend on the manufacturing of Super Hornets that Canada could purchase.

Boeing builds Super Hornets at its plant in St. Louis. It is believed that Trudeau is hoping the phone call would prompt Greitens to put pressure on Boeing.

Boeing officials, however, say they are not backing down. The company says the Canadian subsidies allow Bombardier to sell its C-Series passenger aircraft in the U.S. at discount prices.

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