The federal government is looking to buy armed military drones after nearly two decades of debating whether the controversial weapons are the right fit for Canada.
A request for proposals was delivered in February to the two companies shortlisted to bid on the $5-billion contract, which aims to outfit the Canadian Armed Forces with a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles in the coming years.
A final purchase is expected in 2024 and the first drone is scheduled for delivery no sooner than 2025, with the last to come in the early 2030s.
No number of drones was given. It will be up to the companies to propose how their bids will benefit the military and the Canadian economy.
The aircraft will be based at 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia and 19 Wing Comox in British Columbia, while the main control centre will be in the Ottawa area. Yellowknife will act as a forward operating location.
The drone force is expected to require 240 air force members—160 in Ottawa, 55 in Greenwood and 25 in Comox.
Ottawa purchased several unarmed drones during the war in Afghanistan, all of which have since been retired. The CAF has never had a permanent drone fleet even though the aircraft have become ubiquitous among militaries.
Defense News reported last year that more than 100 militaries were using armed or unarmed drones. Missile-firing drones supplied by Turkey played a key role in slowing the advance of the Russian military in the early days of its invasion of Ukraine. On the other hand, U.S. drone strikes on suspected Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Pakistan’s mountainous hinterlands sowed controversy through successive American administrations after some of the attacks killed civilians.
Canadian officials have indicated the unmanned aircraft will be used in surveillance and will deliver pinpoint strikes on enemy forces.
“While the [drone] will be a medium-altitude long-endurance system with a precision strike capability, it will only be armed when necessary for the assigned task,” said the Department of National Defence.
“At all times, employment of precision strike capability will adhere to the Law of Armed Conflict, as well as any other applicable domestic or international laws. Use of force will be applied following rules of engagement applicable to the CAF.”