(This is my first blog post after a couple of years of minimal activity. It is mostly an attempt to catch up on events during that period).
Project JUSTAS is the Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System of the Canadian military. Translated: the programme of the Canadian military to acquire a medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drone system to be used by all branches of the military. In the many years since Project JUSTAS was initiated in 2000 drone systems have changed a great deal, and dozens of countries (actually 126) have acquired drone systems from the big suppliers (generally Israel and the United States) or developed their own.
Project JUSTAS received a scathing audit in 2014, though it is hard to sort out the analysis written in much-redacted multi-syllabic bafflegab. As near as I can tell:
- The project is years behind shedule (It’s been going for 16 years with no results).
- One reason the project has floundered is that the military couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted and/or wanted so many features that no drone system could meet expectations.
- Another reason is that the drones industry provided inadequate information: either couldn’t figure out what the Canadian military wanted or couldn’t be bothered to provide the information needed (probably because they didn’t take the procurement plan seriously).
It isn’t clear whether the project suffered because the Harper government lowered its priority in its effort to create balanced budgets leading up to the 2015 federal election.
In 2015 Danny Garrett-Rempel produced a readable, mostly uncritical summary of Canadian drone development and acquisition.
In April 2016 the Canadian government issued a call for help in the much delayed drone programme, but the list of interested suppliers doesn’t tell us much about what sort of information it was seeking.
Until now drones used by Canada have been smaller surveillane drones or larger MALE drones leased from an Israeli company. Heron drones used in Afghanistan had only surveilance capabilities. But the ‘big boys’ use armed drones, and in 2016 Canada’s top general Jonathan Vance told the media that he wanted Canada to have armed drones, to strike targets like ISIS. This contradicted Liberal election policy which called for unarmed drones only. (Both are somewhat disingenuous as unarmed surveillance drones can be coupled to other weapons systems to make them capable of an attack, without the need for a weapon on the drone itself). Most of the drone uses Vance advanced were for domestic surveillance and do not need to be armed.
By June 2017 it appeared that the hawks in the defence ministry had won the armed drones argument as the Liberal government announced a defence policy that included the purchase of armed drones. Critics noted that the policy was unfunded, with no sign where the money would come from. However drones are relatively inexpensive compared to other weapons systems, and are often used to substitute for more expensive weapons systems for that reason, so it doesn’t seem likely that the estimated $1,000,000,000 cost will be an impediment. It remains to be seen whether the military can make up its mind, now that yet another criterion has be added to the list of requirements.
Defence reporter David Pugliese has noted that Canada may have trouble acquiring armed drones from the US (many in the military wanted to acquire US Predator drones) due to that country’s efforts to retain armed drone technology. But this blog has often noted to the willingness of Israeli drone companies to proliferate drone technology, combat tested on the unwilling residents of Gaza and the West Bank. So Canada will not remain unable to buy armed drone technology, if it decides what it wants.
Next topics: Who is trying to sell Canada drones?
Canada’s increased emphasis on ‘Special Ops’.