This blog focusses on the arms trade in Canada, the UK, and Israel. Occasionally it may cover other regions or issues.
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“Less than a week ago, the UK MoD announced that British Reaper drones over Afghanistan are now being controlled directly from the UK.
David Pugliese, writing in Defense News, has reported significant updates to the story of Canada’s drone acquisition saga.
Key new information includes:
1. One of the top military priorities is the capability of dropping material into arctic locations for search and rescue missions.
2. Another key priority is maritime patrol.
3. General Atomics, the company that produces the Predator drone, is interested in researching the idea of adding drop capacity to the company’s ‘Guardian’ drones, a variant of Predator.
4. Israel Aerospace Industries, through its Canadian agent MacDonald Dettwiler, is interested in selling Heron drones to the Canadian military for search and rescue. (Unstated whether this would be smaller Heron drones, or the larger Heron TP).
5. Global Hawk drones, of the type promoted by Northrup Grumman, would likely not be suitable for dropping search and rescue packages, but might be part of same search and rescue missions.
6. Canada’s military wants the capacity to conduct very long patrols over long distances in remote regions.
7. Total budget for drones appears to be about $1.5 billion.
The article also quoted a Liberal Party spokeperson who criticised the Department of National Defense for always wanting to have one piece of equipment that performs all functions, meaning that acquisition is delayed.
Still missing is information about whether the government actually plans to purchase one drone that fulfills all of its goals or whether it wants to purchase a number of different drones for different purposes. Also missing is any indication of government analysis about whether drones will actually improve the military’s capacity to perform any of its functions, or whether it would simply add a layer of expense and complexity without improving its ability to accomplish anything.
A key implication of the stated goal of dropping Search and Recue packages in the arctic is that the chosen drone might be a ‘MALE’ (medium altitude, long endurance) drone. The most likely providers of these would be General Atomics (‘Predator’ type drones), or the two Israeli companies Elbit Systems or Israel Aerospace Industries.
If Predator, then the Canadian government would be establishing a commercial link with the primary producer of attack drones used in targetted assassinations by the US in many ‘intervention’ zones around the world. This is worrying, given the Harper government’s known desire to acquire armed attack drones for use in foreign interventions. General Atomics has been busy forming alliances with Canadian companies to pursue JUSTAS procurements, and has a lobbying presence in Ottawa.
But both Israeli companies are likely contenders as well, given 1. that MacDonald Dettwiler (a Canadian company) has already provided rental Heron drones for Canada’s Afghanistan intervention mission, and 2. John Baird and other key members of the Harper cabinet are enthusiastic supporters of the apartheid regime in Israel and may influence decisions in that direction. There have been rumours that Baird will replace Peter Mackay as Defence Minister which could increase the probability of an Israeli purchase.
The emphasis on the need for very long patrols might be a tip of the hat towards General Atomic’s ‘Global Hawk’ drone, which claims that as its capability. (Given the very high cost of Global Hawk drones, a purchase of a few of these would blow DND’s budget and leave little or nothing for purchasing other drones). An article by Rob Cook discusses how high altitude variants of the Predator drone might perform some of the functions of a Global Hawk drone.
Project JUSTAS, the programme to acquire drones for Canada, is (by David Pugliese’s suggestion) already probably five years late. There is very little published information about the nature of the deliberations, about how the military decision makers plan to address their multiple goals. However in another David Pugliese article the head of the Canadian air force, Lt General Yvan Blondin claimed to be in no hurry to commit to a particular technology in a field where technological developments are coming quickly.
Nor has the Harper government tipped its hand about how it plans to achieve its political goals, which might include forcing the military to acquire armed attack drones and/or tipping the selection process towards Israeli companies. There might even be political suggestions out of right field, like developing domestically designed drones, or demanding industrial offset schemes from existing vendors.
A fleet of lobbyists have been engaged by most of the possible drone vendors, who are now probably doing their best to influence the relevant military and political figures.
Some time in the next few weeks Canada’s Department of National Defence will release the results of its Project JUSTAS (the programme to identify what drones Canada wants to acquire). In the past the military, and the government, have made it clear that among its requirements would be armed drones.
The leading suppliers capable of providing armed drones of the type required would be General Atomics of the US (Predator, Reaper), and the two Israeli drone companies Elbit Systems (Hermes drone variants), and IAI (Heron drone variants). Canada already has a working relationship with IAI and its Canadian agents through its rental of Heron surveillance drones during the Afghanistan occupation.
Israel does not appear to have sold armed drones abroad to date. However Israel is one of three countries to have used armed drones (in its occupation and wars in Palestine) and is reputed to have several variants of armed drones. Several of its surveillance drone variants are easily capable of being armed, and in any case its surveillance drones can be used as attack drones by marrying laser ‘markers’ with other attack systems, like ground-to-ground missiles or jet fighters. Though Israel remains tight lipped, most observers report Israel using drones as part of its recent attacks on Gaza.
Canada is part of the Missile Technology Control Regime, indeed was its originator and among the earliest signators. While the US has ratified the MTCR, Israel is not a signatory. It would be politically difficult for Canada to buy armed drones from Israel, because some of the terms of the MTCR relate to armed drone technology, which can be considered ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
But news of an impending cabinet shuffle may influence this decision. David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa citizen, has described rumours around Ottawa that current Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay, (who has been ineffectual), will be shifted laterally in the cabinet, or out. Under MacKay Canada’s defence procurement projects have continued to drift from one crisis to the next (though he isn’t the only minister reponsible). MacKay’s replacement is rumoured to be John Baird. Baird is a combative Israelophile who, in his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, has shifted Canada’s foreign policy sharply in favour of Israel, making Canada arguably Israel’s most vociferous ally.
It is easy to imagine that Baird’s appointment as defence minister would sharply improve the prospects of Israeli companies hoping to sell drones or other military hardware to Canada. Baird has the focus and determination to bulldoze over objections to purchasing military hardware from Israel. He can also be assumed to continue Canada’s move to a beligerent foreign policy in support of American interventions around the world.
Whether or not Canada buys armed drones from Israeli companies, it can be assumed that a John Baird appointment to the head of the Defence ministry would raise their prospects for selling surveillance drones to Canada. Both Elbit Systems and IAI maintain lobbyists in Ottawa, and IAI has a well connected Canadian agent in MacDonald Dettwiler.
This week Agence France Press reported that France would like to buy US Predator drones. The US has used Predator drones for surveillance and to assassinate enemies in widely separated parts of the world, and apparently supported France with Predator drones in France’s incursion into Mali.
La Tribune has reported that in order to bypass the US debate about armed drones, France might want to purchase unarmed Predators initially, then add armed drones in a few years time. La Tribune also noted there is a French debate about whether it is worth it to continue with a domestic European drone programme, when export possibilities are limited by France’s participation in the Missile Technology Control Regime. As a member of MTCR, France would only be able to export to specific countries, under specific conditions. (Israel, the world’s second major drone producer after the US, is not a member of MTCR, and is therefore not limited by its provisions).
Last year France agreed to consider purchasing Watchkeeper ‘MALE’* drones from UTacS, the Franco-Israeli consortium contracted by UK MOD to produce 54 of the drones. The UK would like to sell some Watchkeeper drones, (the programme was in part justified by the potential of export sales) and a Watchkeeper purchase would benefit Thales, the French partner in the consortium. But Watchkeeper is almost three years late, and the decision by France to consider Watchkeeper smacks more of a wish to appear patriotic, as well as placate its defense partner Britain, than any genuine desire to buy the troubled British drone.
*Medium Altitude Long Endurance
Project JUSTAS, the programme to to identify and acquire military drones for Canada, is far behind schedule, and providing little information for public discussion and debate. It isn’t certain what drones the Canadian military would like to acquire, but they have already been using Heron MALE drones in Afghanistan, and the Canadian government has floated the idea of acquiring ‘attack’ drones, of the type used by the US and UK to assassinate enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
An article in the Toronto Star this week interviewed Lt. General Yvan Blondin, who defended delays in Canada’s drone acquisition programme by suggesting that delays meant that Canada had access to new, evolving technology rather than being locked into old technology. Of more significance was his focus on Canada’s wish to have a long range patrol drone for monitoring Canada’s north and coastal areas. This suggests that the military priorities are on northern surveillance rather than combat roles. (Whether this reflects the priorities of cabinet is not at all certain). On the other hand, an article in Esprit de Corp magazine quotes military officials as saying that all type of drones would be purchased at the same time. The officials also reiterated the position that military drones would be capable of being armed.
Lobbyist Bruce Johnson wrote an article in iPolitics last week touting the Global Hawk drone (redubbed ‘Polar Hawk) as a solution for Canada’s long range surveillance needs. Johnson is a retired Rear Admiral in the Canadian Navy, who now works for parliament hill lobbyists Hill Knowlton Strategies Canada. Global Hawk is produced by Northrup Grumman, a US arms company. Northrup Grumman has five Hill Knowlton lobbyists working for them in Ottawa.
Nothrup Gruman has been pressuring the Canadian government for some time to buy Global Hawk, an unarmed, jet powered drone that has a long range.
There have been many criticisms of Global Hawk. Global Hawk drones are incredibly expensive. Flight Global claims that the cost of the drones, plus ground stations could be $215 million each. Each Global Hawk is capable of carrying almost 8,000 kg of fuel and are costly to operate. Time Magazine quoted a cost for the Global Hawk RQ-4B $31,052 per hour in the air. Given that the intention of the drone is for it to spend long hours in the air over the Arctic, the potential for rapidly escalating costs is very high.
Drones in general crash at an alarming rate, and at least one Global Hawk has crashed in Afghanistan, when it lost its satellite link. Another Global Hawk crashed last year in Maryland. An article in Bloomberg news claimed that Global Hawk along with two other Predator drones were together the most crash prone planes in the US military fleet.
American Global Hawk drones have flown over Canadian airspace before, with the cooperation of the Canadian military, and as part of the ‘Maple Flag’ exercise.
A Global Hawk purchase by Canada would probably involve L-3, a US arms company which among other things produces high resolution cameras for drones. L-3 also has had a relationship with Elbit Systems, another drone company seeking business with Canada.
An inciteful article in Rabble.ca reminds us that despite all the back patting, Canada did not stay out of the Iraq war, and was involved in many ways, including blockading of sea lanes. Furthermore it was only massive public outrage that kept the government of the day from committing troops to the ground invasion.
Warm and fuzzies: Canadian mythmaking on the 10th anniversary of a slaughter By Matthew Behrens,| March 19, 2013
This past week has provided Canadians with a series of warm and fuzzies that, like most of this nation’s mythology, were built on self-congratulatory lies. From the breathless and ankle-deep CBC and CTV interviews with former prime minister Jean Chretien to the Globe and Mail’s front-page shout out to that most disingenuous of foreign ministers, Bill Graham, the occasion was the 10th anniversary of the 2003 escalation of the 23-year war against the people of Iraq.
That numerically awkward phrase is necessary because 2003 was billed as a new war when, in fact, the aggression against the Iraqi people never ended following the 1991 slaughter from the skies. Indeed, war continued through a combination……Read more