Military Hopes To Have Drones Flying By 2023

By David Pugliese

Canada’s military hopes to have a fleet of drones fully operating by 2023 – some 17 years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper initially promised such a capability.

But even 2023 is tentative as the government still has to approve the project to buy the unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs.

In the run-up to the 2006 election, Harper promised that under a Conservative government, Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador would become home to a new 650-member military rapid reaction unit, as well as a new squadron operating long-range UAVs. Once in power in 2006, the Conservatives reiterated their pledge on both but haven’t followed through.

Military staff privately acknowledge that the plan to buy the pilotless aircraft –which are meant to conduct surveillance off the country’s coasts, in the Arctic and on overseas missions – has fallen behind schedule because of lack of money and personnel to staff the new squadron.

The RCAF declined an interview on UAVs. Air force spokesman Maj. James Simiana stated in an email that “this project is still pre-definition phase and pre-Government announcement.”

In an April 10 presentation in Ottawa, Col. Phil Garbutt told industry representatives that the project is still a priority and one of the “Big 5” the air force wants to push in the future. He noted the RCAF hopes for the first UAVs to be available for operations in 2021 and that all drones, personnel and infrastructure would be in place by 2023.

Details of Garbutt’s presentation were provided to the Citizen.

But industry representatives privately question whether that timetable will be kept, noting there has been little movement on the project, estimated to cost more than $1 billion.

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