Canada Crafting High-End UAV Requirements
By the time 2005 drew to a close, Canada was pursuing UAV deployments on 3 fronts. The RQ-11 Raven’s early performance in Afghanistan led to purchases of soldier-portable mini-UAVs, which would be joined by older Sperwer tactical UAVs already in inventory. Canada’s Air Force was also crafting a multimillion-dollar plan to purchase the Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS), for fielding around 2010.
Canada’s defense procurement system rivals India’s for inefficiency, so it isn’t completely surprising that nearly a decade of effort has produced essentially nothing.
Canada’s existing Sperwer fleet served until April 2009. At one time, the Oerlikon-Contraves Sperwer was in service with Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, and Sweden. That list has dwindled to just France and Greece, as many of these countries moved to cancel their Sperwer/Kestrel program, dispose of the UAVs, and buy or rent newer platforms.
Canada joined Australia in renting “CU-170” Heron-1 UAVs as a service from IAI and Canada’s MDA Ltd., which bought them some time to think JUSTAS through.
The Canadian Forces insist that the Sperwer was not a mistake. It was, according to officials quoted in the Defense News article, “the right one for the job which we understood we had to do at the time. It’s just not good enough for what we’re going to do tomorrow… Now, having had a taste of [UAVs], we want more… we want them to go farther, deeper, higher up.”
Initial JUSTAS estimates were about C$ 500 million (USD $420 million), but subsequent reports have given ranges up to C$ 3.4 billion for UAVs and 20 years of support. The question is what Canada wants. Overwatch for foreign-deployed forces? Arctic patrol capabilities? Maritime patrol capabilities? Civilian uses in disaster or forest fire scenarios? The ability to carry weapons? All have been bandied about at one time or another, and it’s difficult to meet all of them with current market offerings.
As an illustrative example, the most versatile option for Canada is probably General Atomics MQ-9/ Predator B family. They can carry a good array weapons and sensors, mount maritime surveillance equipment, or carry proven equipment and software that can be used to help fight forest fires. On the flip side, MQ-9s aren’t ideal for arctic patrol, and their relatively slow speed creates coverage limitations.
By 2013, it had dawned on DND that their high end UAV requirements might require 2 separate UAV types.
Contracts & Key Events
Aug 18/14: The JUSTAS program remains in disarray, without a clear set of requirements and missions, or a budget that would allow Canada to field a viable solution by the 2023 target date:
“A series of internal briefings, stretching back over two years, show that military planners were forced to go back to the drawing board in early 2013 after consultations determined what the country wants to accomplish with the remotely piloted planes might be too broad for just a single type of aircraft…. expects the drones to not only provide surveillance at home and abroad, but also carry weapons, such as Hellfire missiles, for precision strikes during overseas missions”
Briefings that would have leveraged the war in Libya to kick-start JUSTAS went nowhere, as 1 of 6 separate attempts since 2005 to buy or rent MALE or HALE UAVs. The Heron-1 rental that lasted until 2011 only went through because it became a condition of Canada’s continued deployment to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the scope of Canada’s requirements continues to muddy the waters:
“One briefing, prepared for former associate defence minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay in early 2013, says five of eight companies that responded to a request for information in the fall of 2012 proposed a mixed fleet…. the federal government was prepared to spend to up $3.4 billion to buy and service military drones over 20 years, but those numbers are being revisited because of the delay.”
Sources: Ottawa Citizen, “Canadian Forces quest to obtain unmanned aerial vehicles – 10 years and counting”.
June 18/13: GA-ASI. General Atomics signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CAE to explore collaboration on an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Mission Training System for Predator B/MQ-9/Reaper, Predator C Avenger, and Predator XP UAVs. Any further collaboration and sales, to any customer, would count toward Canada’s Industrial & Regional Benefits requirements. Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and CAE Expand Partnership Beyond Canada”.
April 23/13: GA-ASI. After adding CAE to its Canadian UAV partnership in May 2011, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. adds industrial database firm OMX, via a 2-year agreement to support their JUSTAS Industrial Regional Benefit (IRB) program. Over the past year, OMX has developed the largest, amalgamated structured database in the Canadian defence, aerospace, and security industry, with nearly 50,000 companies indexed.
The partnership is offering a combination of the MQ-9 Predator B and/or the jet-powered Predator C Avenger for JUSTAS. Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and OMX Partner to Identify Suppliers for Canada’s JUSTAS Program”.
May 30/12: NGC. Needless to say, JUSTAS went nowhere, but the requirement still exists. Northrop Grumman has teamed up with L-3 MAS to offer a modified version of its RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 30, dubbed “Polar Hawk.” It will add satellite communications system that can work with spotty Arctic coverage, while adding wing deicing and engine anti-icing capability from the US Navy’s BAMS program. NGC:
“In addition to its surveillance payloads, Polar Hawk has the power to support and can be equipped with a wide range of instrumentation for conducting science and environmental missions, as demonstrated by NASA using earlier versions of the Global Hawk UAS as far as 85 degrees north latitude. It can also be deployed to support humanitarian missions and provide surveillance over Canada’s vast territory stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific territorial waters and coasts.”
Offering the actual MQ-4C Triton UAV was reportedly seen as too expensive, and also too distant because it’s still a developmental program. Then again, the Block 30 still has sensor developmental issues of its own. To offset that risk, the Polar Hawk would skip the airborne signals intelligence payload (ASIP) for its 3-5 UAVs. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman, L-3 MAS to Join Forces on Unmanned System for Canadian Security” | Flight Global, “Northrop Grumman pitches Global Hawk variant for Canada.”
Aug 7/08: Canada’s Heron contract. MDA announces the “Project Noctua” Canadian contract, adding that its surveillance solution will be operational in Afghanistan before February 2009. The initial C$ 95 million (then about $90 million) UAV operations and training contract will keep the Herons in service until early 2011, with a C$ 35 million option for an additional 3rd year. MDA release.
Nov 17/06: Arm JUSTAS? Flight International reports that DND is about to sign off on a final JUSTAS requirements statement that will recommend weapons capability, ahead of formal applications for government funding approval. The project is seen as buying about 9 MALE UAV systems, and cost about C$ 500 million ($446 million), with an initial operational capability targeted for February 2009.
The overall JUSTAS project has not been approved yet, and was split into 2 phases in August 2006. Phase 1 is intended to provide near term overland surveillance with 9 MALE UAVs, and a contract may be forthcoming in Summer 2007 in order to achieve initial operating capability by February 2009. Phase 2 will introduce a maritime/ arctic surveillance capability comprising up to 6 HALE [High Altitude, Long Endurance] aircraft and an additional 3 medium altitude MALEs by 2025. Phase 2 was expected to be heavily influenced by US and Australian selections for the BAMS project, which ended up picking an RQ-4 Global Hawk derivative. Sources: Flight International, “Canada signals plans to arm new MALE UAVs”.
In a 2005 Defense News article, JUSTAS project director Lt. Col. Gord Smith said that they wanted to approach industry by 2007, with the intent that by 2010, the Canadian Forces would be able to put a unit overseas that can do that area surveillance work that a MALE [medium-altitude, long-endurance] type of airplane would fulfill, and able to integrate with other UAV-type assets on the ground. A 5-person team was working on determining the Canada’s UAV needs in this sector, with the aim of employing them for sovereignty missions such as surveillance of Canada’s coastlines as well as for overseas operations.
The Canadian Forces flew its SAGEM CU-161 Sperwer tactical UAVs on 86 missions in support of tactical land operations in the Kabul area in 2003 and 2004. They also pushed the operating parameters of Sperwer farther than any other military had at that point, and the Sperwer had 4 widely publicized crashes in Afghanistan.
Additional Readings & Updates
- An outsourced fleet of Heron UAVs was Canada’s Phase 1 choice, and lasted until the Afghan deployment ended in 2011.
- CASR – JUSTAS Project – Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System UAVs.
- CASR – Canadian Forces UAV Procurement: A DND JUSTAS Project Timeline. To July 2013.
- Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Defence and Security Blog (March 11/13) – Issues Analysis: JUSTAS Program.
- The Globe and Mail (July 9/12) – In the Arctic, drones could close the gap. “Currently Canada’s military presence in the Arctic consists of an occasional patrol by one of Canada’s aging Aurora aircraft and brief deployments of a pair of CF-18 warplanes to Inuvik. And none of Canada’s warships or submarines can operate in or under the ice…”
- Defense News (June 25/12) – Canada Ramps Up Arctic Arsenal.
- The Canadian CASR defense think tank notes that Canada has already tested the General Atomics Altair UAV in this role. Altair is closely related to the MQ-9 Predator B and Mariner maritime surveillance UAVs.