Canada will issue a formal request for bids to purchase armed military drones worth up to $5 billion in the fall, Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Al Meinzinger told The Canadian Press.
The Canadian military is reportedly laying the groundwork to begin deploying the unmanned aerial vehicles within the next three to four years after nearly 20 years of deliberations. Preparations include establishing a central hub in Ottawa, where drone operators will be based.
“We have not finalized the basing locations, but there certainly will be a centralized ground control node in Ottawa. And we will have an east and a west maintenance detachment where we will locate vehicles, air vehicles and launch and recovery teams. And then we’ll have one northern base, which will be used when it’s necessary to be used,” Meinzinger said.
The drone force will comprise roughly 300 service members, including technicians, pilots, and other members drawn from the air force and other parts of the military.
The Canadian government and military have said that the vehicles will be used for surveillance, reconnaissance, and delivering pinpoint strikes from the air.
Road to Acquisition
Canada waited until 2017 to approve the use of drones within the armed forces — armed or unarmed. The small number of unarmed drones it used for the war in Afghanistan were temporary and have since been retired.
Experts such as Branka Marijan, a senior researcher at the arms-control group Project Ploughshares, said that little information has been disclosed about how Canada plans to use its armed drones.
“This is not sufficient. Clarity on when, where, how, and for what purpose the armed drones would be used are needed,” she said.
Other experts speculate that Canada’s acquisition of drones could mirror US practices. Matt Korda, a researcher at Federation of American Scientists, claimed that an attack on “high-payoff target[s]” is a possible scenario, while pointing to the 2016 “letter of interest” to suppliers from the Canadian National Defense. Another possible use for drones is domestic surveillance, according to Korda.