By David Pugliese
The Liberal government has approved the Canadian Armed Forces’ plan to acquire a fleet of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
But even though the government voiced support for the program in its Defence Policy Review, it is still going to be a number of years before industry sees some kind of tangible movement on the acquisition.
This program is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Royal Canadian Air Force spokesman Maj. Scott Spurr has noted the military is still examining its options for the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) project (formerly known as JUSTAS). The Canadian Forces hopes to have a contract in place in 2022, but that could slide until 2024.
At least one firm is ready for a competition when it emerges.
Melissa Haynes, a spokeswoman for General Atomics, the U.S. firm which makes the Predator family of UAVs, said the company intends to offer the MQ-9B SkyGuardian to Canada.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Army has acquired the Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack (pictured at right), a small UAV. Deliveries of the system took place in late 2017. Five aircraft and two ground control stations were purchased. In addition, there is a launch and recovery system. The Canadian Army is the first non-U.S. military organization to use the system. Each aircraft is capable of providing surveillance coverage of over 100 km for over 12 hours. The contract was valued at $14.2 million (US) and includes initial training. Canada acquired the system from the U.S. Navy, according to Canadian officials.
The Blackjack is produced by Boeing Insitu, based in Bingen, Washington. The system will be based out of Canadian Forces Base Gagetown and operated by the 4th Artillery Regiment (General Support), the Canadian government noted.
The Army already had the Raven B, a hand-launched mini-UAV. That UAV, manufactured by AeroVironment, was acquired by the Army from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates in 2014.
In addition, the Army and Royal Canadian Navy have expressed interest in what is being called the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAS Services Interim Capability. This system will provide near real-time, beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance information to the tactical units at sea and on land.
Industry representatives met with Public Services and Procurement Canada officials in mid-November to find out more details about the potential project. The government has also issued a request for information from companies.
Industry discussions focused on a variety of topics including technical specifications for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and payloads and supplier experience in integration of airborne surveillance systems.
The requirement will be addressed through a provision of service under a combination of company owned/company operated and company owned/military operated models for domestic and international operations, according to the federal government.
The service includes the provision and associated in-service support of a mature and proven, commercial off-the-shelf UAS that will enable the timely delivery of ISTAR information to military commanders.
The potential contract could be worth more than $100 million for the winning bid.