Posts Tagged General Atomics

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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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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American maker of attack drones strengthens ties with Canadian military supplier

General Atomics, the maker of Predator and Reaper drones has formed an alliance with CAE, the Canadian supplier of training and simulation technology to consider integration of CAE training and simulation into General Atomics products world wide. The companies were already teamed to try to sell General Atomics drones to the Canadian military under Project JUSTAS. CAE touted the alliance as providing future Canadian jobs, and the alliance obviously is poised to offer manufacturing offsets to sweeten any potential deal to between Canada and General Atomics to buy drones.

Deliberations on the purchase of military drones continue under the radar of the Canadian public, which soon may be faced with a Cabinet decision to buy either a General Atomics drone, or one from either of the leading Israeli drone companies. Either way the most likely drone choices have a bloody history in the suppression of Palestinian independence, or in the conflict zones of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

CAE’s Group President, Military Simulation Products, Training and Services is Gene Colabatistto, a former US marine major with long history in security and space organisations.

General Atomics is a major lobbyist in both Canada and the US, and makes substantial political donations in the US to federal politicians. CAE regularly lobbies Canadian politicians and bureaucrats.

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Information leaking out about JUSTAS programme to provide Canada with drones

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.

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Speculation: Canada’s drone acquisition policy about to shift toward Israel?

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.

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L-3 Wescam of Burlington, Canada arms supplier to conflict zones

L-3 Wescam, of Burlington Ontario, is an arms exporter that produces, among other things,  ‘web cam’ like imaging equipment, (including laser finding and targeting) for military aircraft, including drones. A key product is an imaging turret for use on the nose of aircraft, manned or unmanned. Their web site:

L-3 Wescam is the result of the September, 2002 acquisition of Wescam by L-3 Communications of the US (formerly Titan Corp). Before that the Canadian company had difficulty in getting large contracts with US arms contractors. Source

One product of the Burlington plant is the MK-20 imaging system, which has been deployed on several types of aircraft, including Predator drones in use in Afghanistan and Iraq. L-3 Wescam’s XL-20; Expanded Cababilities for Expanded Missions, In:

The company appears to be strongly oriented to the US market, both for surveillance under homeland security, and selling parts for advanced American weaponry. The company works with General Atomics of the US, to produce drones for the Iraqi airforce. Press release from General Atomics:

In 2006 there was a protest at the Burlington plant, drawing attention to the use of L-3 imaging equipment on Predator drones, armed with Hellfire missiles. Excellent write-up:

The protest flyer claims that (Industry Canada as the source) L3 Westcam products end up in such human rights violators as: Colombia, Egypt, Algeria, China, Iran, Libya, Saudia Arabia, U.S., and U.K Source

 

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