Archive for category Canada

Canada’s armed drone project/JUSTAS

(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:

  1. The project is years behind shedule (It’s been going for 16 years with no results).
  2. 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.
  3. 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’.

 

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Canada still set to sell mini-tanks to Saudi despots

The new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is set to rubber stamp the continuing sale of Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles to the despotic monarch of Saudi Arabia, violating Canada’s own arms export rules and straining the Prime Minister’s ‘liberal’ credibility. The outgoing Conservative government of Canada agreed in 2014 to sell an unspecified number of LAV III mini-tanks to the king of Saudi Arabia in a deal worth $15 billion over several years. They will be built by General Dynamics Canada, Land Systems Division. The deal was supported and actively promoted by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a crown corporation, that uses government funds and credit to support external trade, including arms deals.

Lobbying

The deal came after extensive lobbying by the Conservative government, including (then) Foreign Affairs Minister John  Baird, and support from members of at least one of Canada’s right-wing military think tanks. Wikileaks published documents in June 2015 that showed how members of the Conservative cabinet lobbied  the Saudi regime.

Violation of Canadian Laws

Rules for the export of arms from Canada require that the weapons will not be used against civilian populations. Saudi troops have used similar LAVs against their own citizens on many occasions, and in 2011 notoriously invaded Bahrain at the request of the Bahrain dictatorship to put down (largely Shia) democracy protesters. Given the past history of Canadian arms sales to Bahrain, it is probable that earlier Canadian LAVs were used against democracy protests. Project Ploughshares has pointed out that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development will not even let Canadians know how the arms export permit system works, hiding behind the veil of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

The Vancouver Sun reported that the LAVs would not be for the state army of Saudi Arabia, but for the ‘SANG’ the personal army of the Saudi despot, who maintains a force four times the size of the state army. They reported

“According to reports in a variety of specialist military publications — including Jane’s — the SANG comprises Bedouin tribesmen and Wahhabi religious zealots whose prime task is to protect King Abdullah and the royal family from domestic opponents”.

Secrecy

The government has provided little information about the contract, citing ‘commercial confidentiality’. The government has refused to say whether the LAV’s will be armed as they leave Canada. They don’t provide information about who might have been paid to broker aspects of the deal. The government refuses to say whether the Saudis have provided assurances that the mini-tanks won’t be used against their own people. It refuses to say how many LAV IIIs will be sold to the Saudis.

Deception

The Conservative government, defeated in October, regularly tried to deceive the public about the true nature of the deal. Stephen Harper, when questioned about the deal, denied that the LAV’s were arms, calling them ‘transport vehicles’, obfuscating the reality that the LAVs are armed small tanks often used in aggressive attacks on both civilian and military adversaries.

Strategic Context

The arms sale can’t be understood without examining the convoluted strategic context of the Canadian Conservative Party. Saudi Arabia is bulwark of the conservative ‘Sunni-sphere’, and thus the main local adversary of Iran. Iranian relations with Canada have been poor, but the main driver of events has been Canada’s solid support for Israel in its relentless campaign against Iran. Any foe of Iran is a friend of Canada, in this view, and supportive of the Israeli regime.  Support for the Israeli strategic plan was enough incentive for the Conservatives to allow Canada’s own rules to be violated, and to maintain a high level of secrecy.

Opposition complicity

Despite clear violations of Canada’s best interests and international human rights, Canada’s opposition parties have been tepid in their opposition to this deal. While the New Democrats spoke out against it, they were pressured by the union Unifor to protect jobs by dropping their opposition. New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair maintained his opposition to the deal but said he would not stop an ongoing commercial transaction, thereby making his opposition irrelevant. He said that under a New Democrat government there would be more ‘transparency’.

Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also against the deal while speaking in Parliament, but is expected to provide no opposition to it while in power. In the lead up to the election he minimised the LAVs as ‘jeeps’, claimed that the deal was between the Saudi and a private commercial company, dodging the involvement of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and the responsibility of the Canadian government to respect its own laws on military exports.

Decide for yourself. Are they ‘jeeps’, or ‘tanks’?

(Last link added, somewhat unfairly, after the fair comment  below).

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Israeli government arms company scores big on eve of Canadian election

In the dying days of the Harper government, days before the election call, Canadian Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced a plan to give Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) a large contract with the Canadian Department of Defense. IAI (which is wholly owned by the Israeli government) co-produces the Iron Dome missile defence system, along with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, also an Israeli government corporation. Iron Dome is a radar system that allows Israeli military forces to detect and shoot down the primitive rockets fired at Israel by militants in occupied Gaza. It has been criticised as having limited coverage, and being very expensive. Its development was largely financed by US subsidies, which were always controversial because of the cost.

The $250,000,000 plan would buy technology from the  Israeli arms company for Iron Dome-based radar technology related to ‘incoming threats to Canadian forces’. The exact nature of the technology is ambiguous, and there was little to indicate that the Canadian government was in the market for the technology prior to the plan being announced. It is uncertain what incoming threats that Canadian forces would face in the realistic scenarios they might be faced with. While Iron Dome is effective at downing relatively slow rockets fired at a distance, it hasn’t in the past worked for rockets fired at close range and might not work for faster missiles. In its recent deployment in Afghanistan most ‘incoming’ threats were rifle fire and mortar rounds, not rockets.

There appears to have been no call for proposals, and no plan for competitive bidding. The actual contract would be carried out largely by Rheinmetail Canada, a German company without much record of activity in Canada.

Developers of Iron Dome have been searching for money to develop further the technology underlying Iron Dome for a variety of purposes. A US Senate report has called for more technology transfer to the US, if it is to continue to fund the project.  It is hard to avoid the implication that Canadian government money will be used to further develop Israeli proprietary technology, without Canadian equity participation, and without safeguards to prevent the technology being used in the continuing illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. Was it part of a backroom deal to subsidise Israel’s arms trade, as US funding becomes less reliable?

While the deal was covered in a variety of Israeli mainstream news sources, and Canadian Jewish media, it was not covered by Canadian media, despite the controversial timing of the deal and the size of the contract.

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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.

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Israel scores big arms deal from Canadian supporters. More to follow?

The government of Canada has announced that it is spending a quarter billion Canadian dollars to purchase ‘Iron Dome’ technology created by two Israeli arms companies. Iron Dome is the missile detection and response system used by Israel in response to objects lobbed at Israel from occupied Palestine.

The very expensive system has been massively subsidised by the US, and Israeli officials have been asking for more money to be spent on development of the system, which has many flaws. The Canadian purchase will no doubt provide a cash influx that can be used to develop the system further.

Iron Dome was developed by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Israeli Aerospace Industries, an arms company wholly owned by the state of Israel.  Sales by Israeli arms companies are often touted as technology transfers to the purchaser, but are also technology transfers to the apartheid state, since Israeli government and corporate players gain access to sensitive customer secrets and technology.

The radar technology will be provided to Canada by Rheinmetall Defence and Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israeli Aerospace Industries, in a contract expected to begin in 2017. Rheinmetall Canada also works with the giant private Israeli arms company Elbit Systems, nominally the biggest competitor of Israeli Aerospace Industries in other areas of the arms trade. Rheinmetall has registered for lobbying activities in the past with the Canadian government.

No justification for the purchase was given by the government of Canada in its press release, but it is widely known that elements of the Canadian cabinet are strong supporters of the right wing Netanyahu regime. The Canadian military wants to purchase Predator drones from an American company, but with Canadian cabinet support strong for Israel, it is very possible that the contract for drone purchase will also be from an Israeli company.

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Who is lobbying the Canadian government about drones?

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.

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Canadian Department of Defence drone procurement bungle flies under the public radar

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.

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