In what has to be a surprise move, Canadian Forces has announced that its drone programme will end with the return of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011. Task Force Erebus was a little discussed programme to provide aerial surveillance for Canadian troops in the field.
Canadian Forces leased Heron drones from Israel Aerospace Industries, an arm of the Israeli government run by Yair Shamir, son of the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The programme was managed by IAI’s Canadian partner, MacDonald Dettwiler.
Major Dave Bolton, present commander of Project Erebus said that the squadron would be disbanded after the Afghanistan deployment. Bolton suggested that the programme would be in hiatus for a period of between two and five years, but that staff would still be available in the military to rejuvenate it.
This is quite a startling development. Most other militaries are expanding the role of drones in their militaries. While the Canadian military will have fewer uses for drones when not deployed internationally, it is surprising that they would give up much of the capability of having an operational drones squadron.
This begs many questions:
Is this part of a top down slashing of defence spending, perhaps to make way for costly new programmes like the F-35?
Is there another drones programme under wraps in Project JUSTAS?
Is the CF considering renting drone surveillance on an ad hoc basis from private contractors as required? (For example they might hire Israelis in places where having Israeli contractors on board would not provoke hostility).
Was the Heron drone so unsuitable or overpriced that CF wishes to wash its hands of the whole programme and begin anew?
These are questions unlikely to be answered quickly given the current Canadian government’s disinterest in providing information about its plans.
But it is a welcome development that the relationship with the Israeli arms industry will end. The question is, with Israelis providing the most advanced drone technology, who will replace them?