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Is an American arms company trying to sell the Canadian government a drone the US military doesn’t want
Is General Atomics trying to sell a drone to Canada that the US military doesn’t want?
General Atomics says that it is hoping to sell its ‘Avenger’ drone to the Canadian military to fulfill the Arctic surveillance role that has been identified by Project JUSTAS, the inept programme of the Canadian government to acquire drones for military use. Avenger is a jet powered drone evolved from the Predator drone, and is known as the Predator ‘C’.
An article in medium.com suggests that the US government was less than satisfied with Avenger, as it didn’t significantly address the shortcomings that it had identified with the Predator ‘A’ and the Predator ‘B’ (known as ‘Reaper’). The military wanted a drone that was more prone to survival in a combat zone, weather resistant, and with good communications. The US military felt that Avenger, which is faster and can carry more, wasn’t much different than the Predator A in the qualities that mattered. Certainly a drone that was not weather resistant and didn’t have a robust communication system would not be useful in high arctic conditions where it is anticipated such a drone would be used.
General Atomics is no doubt hoping that the Canadian government will see advantages in the long range capability of the Avenger, though it isn’t clear why the Canadian government would want a drone promoted for its ‘stealth’ qualities to fly in the arctic.
The Avenger would compete with the Polar Hawk drone that Raytheon has been trying to sell to the Canadian government, that has been written about before on this blog.
Acquisition of a surveillance drone is mired in the Project JUSTAS the procurement effort of the Canadian military, so is unlikely to happen soon. Military brass shrug off the inability of the government to define its needs or fulfill its requirements, as a benefit, allowing technology to advance. Probably a good excuse because there is little evidence that an army staying out of foreign conflicts needs large surveillance drones at the present time.
Project JUSTAS is the Canadian initiative to acquire large military surveillance drones. Like other military procurement projects Project JUSTAS has been delayed for many years by bungled procedures and shifting priorities. Most recently the government is claiming to have finished the acquisition process by 2023, with contracts going out by 2017. The military is still lobbying for armed drones, and it appears that the procurement for military surveillance drones will be separated from the procurement for arctic surveillance drones. Due to the need of the current government to minimise expenditures leading up to the October election no movement is likely to happen before the end of 2015.
General Atomics has lobbied eight government departments, including Department of National Defence and the Canadian Senate, in support of its bid to provide large military drones under Project JUSTAS. Their lobbyist was Patrick Gagnon, of The Parliamentary Group (consulting company and lobbyists) . Gagnon is a former Liberal MP, and former Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada, and is well connected due to many roles in government. General Atomics would also like to sell the Canadian government its Avenger drone for arctic surveillance competing with the ‘Polar Hawk-Global Hawk’ offering of Raytheon (see below).
Also lobbying the government with respect to Project JUSTAS was MacDonald Dettwiler Associates (MDA), a Canadian company with widespread business with the government. Most pertinent is its role providing the Canadian Government with leased Heron MALE drones for use by Canadian forces in Afghanistan. (The lease ran out in 2011). Though the public lobbying records don’t state it, presumably MDA would act as an agent for Israeli Aerospace Industries, manufacturers of the Heron MALE drone. The active lobbyists for MDA are listed as Daniel Friedman, CEO, and Donald Osborne, the Executive Vice President of MDA. Records show that Osborne lobbied Bill Jones, Senior Associate Deputy Minister National Defence, though it isn’t certain that Project JUSTAS was the subject of all communication between the two. There were other contacts with respect to Project JUSTAS as well.
Raytheon, and American arms company producing the ‘Global Hawk’ family of jet powered drones also lobbied the Canadian government on a variety of subjects, including Project JUSTAS. Raytheon has been trying to sell the Canadian Government Global Hawk variants for arctic patrols.
Elbit Systems, the large Israeli arms company, retains powerful CFN Consultants to lobby on its behalf. Lobby records don’t show any communications with the government within the past year. CFN Consultants is made up mostly of former military personnel with strong ties in government circles.
Thales, the French arms company which promotes the Anglo Israeli Watchkeeper drone, uses Bluesky Strategy Group as its registered lobbyist had three recorded contacts with the Department of National Defence in the past year. But it isn’t recorded whether the Watchkeeper drone was discussed.
The Canadian Department of Defence has bungled yet another military procurement, this time barely mentioned in the Canadian media.
David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, notes that the military has recently released an evaluation of Project JUSTAS, which paints a dismal picture of the process to date. This blog has followed Project JUSTAS for many years, and witnessed the lack of transparency and lack of progress achieved. It is perhaps fortunate that bungling has probably kept Canada from getting more enmeshed in the US/UK programme of drone killings in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East.
The process has dragged on so long that it appears that even some arms company salesmen don’t feel it is worth their time and money to keep pitching their products to the Canadian military.
General Atomics may have eclipsed Israeli drone companies in the quest to sell Canada large drones. David Pugliese reports in Defense News that the Canadian military, under the JUSTAS programme, is favouring the General Atomics ‘Predator’ drone for addition to the Canadian aircraft fleet. The Canadian attempt to acquire large surveillance drones has been running for years with any concrete decision. Military brass now feel that say that a contract will be issued in 2019 for delivery in 2023. But anyone familiar with Canadian military procurement won’t be holding their breath.
Notable by its absence is mention of military support for the offerings of either of the large Israeli drone companies. Canada has leased Heron drones from Israel Aerospace Industries for use in Afghanistan, and Elbit Systems sells its ‘conflict tested’ (in Palestine) drones far and wide. But the Conservative government is known to be strongly supportive of the Netanyahu regime, and it seems absurd to believe that the cabinet will not pressure the military to favour any bid from either of the Israeli companies. As well there is the possibility of a bid from Thales, the French arms company selling the Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone.
Pugliese also quotes unnamed air force officers as saying that the contract issued would be for armed drones. Certainly the Predator drone has the experience. Predator drones and their variants have carried out thousands of armed attacks and have left a path of destruction and death across Afghanistan, Africa, and the Middle East, whereas armed attacks by either of the Israeli options have mostly been carried out in maintaining the occupation of Palestine. Watchkeeper drones aren’t known to have been armed in conflict zones, and are mostly mothballed in their English bases.
(All surveillance drones are ‘attack’ drones when coupled with jet fighters, artillery, ground to ground missiles, etc).
The French arms company Thales was the prime contractor and minority partner in the billion pound contract to convert the Israeli Hermes 450 drone into a British Watchkeeper drone for the UK armed forces. The project was plagued with delays. Touted as essential for the British forces in Afghanistan, Watchkeeper wasn’t ready until the UK deployment was almost at the end, in 2014. At the last minute one Watchkeeper system was sent to Afghanistan in August, 2014, for a quick fly around, more as a sales tool than a useful part of the British armed forces. Information was relayed to an armed RAF Predator drones which carried out an airstrike on the basis of that information, (leading the cynical to wonder who might have died to promote Thales latest product).
The demonstration was witnessed by a number of French military officials, who announced themselves enough pleased that they recommended to the French government that Watchkeeper drones be purchased for their own fleet. Thales is promoting Watchkeeper to the ‘Système de Drone Tactique’, a French procurement project, but no purchase has been made.
Since the project was completed, information about the Watchkeepers purchased by the UK government has mostly dried up, though it is believed that the majority of the 54 drones purchased have been mothballed into storage, as the military mostly uses Predator drones purchased from the US in its forays abroad.
Recently Thales has tried to sell Watchkeeper to other countries, as the public arm of a partnership that includes the Israeli company Elbit Systems as a majority partner. Countries that are embarrassed by interactions with companies associated with the apartheid Israeli government are able to put some distance between them and themselves by dealing with Thales. It also provides cover for the UK government, which is anxious to to sell these value-added, Israeli-based Watchkeepers, manufactured in UK factories.
Thales has offered the Polish military an armed version of Watchkeeper.
In late 2015 Thales plans to fly Watchkeeper from Parc Aberporth in public airspace over Cardiff, Wales.