Friday, November 20, 2009


Canada won't arm Afghan drones

By David Pugliese

The Ottawa Citizen

November 20, 2009

The Canadian military has decided against putting missiles on the unmanned aerial vehicles it now operates in Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay was briefed in March by air force officials on the various options for arming the drones, according to documents obtained by the Citizen.

Such aircraft, also known as UAVs, are used by various militaries in Afghanistan to conduct surveillance on insurgent activities. In addition, the U.S. uses armed UAVs to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan on insurgent leaders.

The Canadian Forces is currently leasing Israeli-built Heron UAVs from MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, B.C. That deal, worth $95 million, has a number of Herons operating out of Kandahar airfield. The UAVs are flown by Canadian Forces personnel, but maintained by civilian contractors.

Canadian air force spokesman Maj. Jim Hutcheson said a number of factors were considered before the idea of arming the UAVs was dropped. "After due consideration of all relevant factors, including costs, capabilities and timelines, it was decided that no project would be initiated to arm the Heron UAVs," he noted.

The lease on the Herons runs until January 2011. There are also options in the contract to extend that.

Stephen Priestley, a researcher for the Canadian-American Strategic Review, noted that there are no technical hurdles to arming the Herons. But there would have been additional costs, requiring the existing contract to be amended, he added.

The Canadian military has plans to eventually purchase long-endurance UAVs over the next several years. Dubbed the Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) program, it is not expected that those aircraft would be flying until after 2012.