Posts Tagged Global Hawk

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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Canadian government favouring Global Hawk drone?

Project JUSTAS, the programme to to identify and acquire military drones for Canada, is far behind schedule, and providing little information for public discussion and debate. It isn’t certain what drones the Canadian military would like to acquire, but they have already been using Heron MALE drones in Afghanistan, and the Canadian government has floated the idea of acquiring ‘attack’ drones, of the type used by the US and UK to assassinate enemies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

An article in the Toronto Star this week interviewed Lt. General Yvan Blondin, who defended delays in Canada’s drone acquisition programme by suggesting that delays meant that Canada had access to new, evolving technology rather than being locked into old technology. Of more significance was his focus on Canada’s wish to have a long range patrol drone for monitoring Canada’s north and coastal areas. This suggests that the military priorities are on northern surveillance rather than combat roles. (Whether this reflects the priorities of cabinet is not at all certain). On the other hand, an article in Esprit de Corp magazine quotes military officials as saying that all type of drones would be purchased at the same time. The officials also reiterated the position that military drones would be capable of being armed.

Lobbyist Bruce Johnson wrote an article in iPolitics last week touting the Global Hawk drone (redubbed ‘Polar Hawk) as a solution for Canada’s long range surveillance needs.  Johnson is a retired Rear Admiral in the Canadian Navy, who now works for parliament hill lobbyists Hill Knowlton Strategies Canada. Global Hawk is produced by Northrup Grumman, a US arms company. Northrup Grumman has five Hill Knowlton lobbyists working for them in Ottawa.

wanderingraven global hawk

Nothrup Gruman has been pressuring the Canadian government for some time to buy Global Hawk, an unarmed, jet powered drone that has a long range.

There have been many criticisms of Global Hawk. Global Hawk drones are incredibly expensive. Flight Global claims that the cost of the drones, plus ground stations could be $215 million each. Each Global Hawk is capable of carrying almost 8,000 kg of fuel and are costly to operate. Time Magazine quoted a cost for the Global Hawk RQ-4B $31,052 per hour in the air. Given that the intention of the drone is for it to spend long hours in the air over the Arctic, the potential for rapidly escalating costs is very high.

Drones in general crash at an alarming rate, and at least one Global Hawk has crashed in Afghanistan, when it lost its satellite link. Another Global Hawk crashed last year in Maryland. An article in Bloomberg news claimed that Global Hawk along with two other Predator drones were together the most crash prone planes in the US military fleet.

American Global Hawk drones have flown over Canadian airspace before, with the cooperation of the Canadian military, and as part of the ‘Maple Flag’ exercise.

A Global Hawk purchase by Canada would probably involve L-3, a US arms company which among other things produces high resolution cameras for drones. L-3 also has had a relationship with Elbit Systems, another drone company seeking business with Canada.

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Drone considered by Canada crashes in United States

A Global Hawk drone appears to have crashed in Maryland.

Global Hawk drones have recently been proposed as a way for Canada to monitor northern territories.

Drones crash at an alarming rate, according to the Drones Crash Database.

 

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Canada may be considering ultra expensive American drones

Canadian Press is reporting that Canada’s Conservative government is considering the purchase of three Northrup Grumman ‘Global Hawk’ drones, at an astounding price of $150-170 million each. The drones would not be armed, apparently, and would be used for surveillance in Canada’s north.  Flight Global claims that the cost of the drones, plus ground stations could be $215 million each. Flight Global also says that Northrup Grumman would team with arms giant L-3 MAS to provide the drones. See also

Drones crash at an alarming rate, and at least one Global Hawk has crashed during operations in Afghanistan. It isn’t clear whether three drones would be enough to cover the attrition rate of drones operated in the severe conditions of Canada’s north. And cost of replacement would be astronomical.

Canadian Press reports that Canada’s military is skeptical, largely because of its enormous cost, amounting to roughly half a billion dollars for three.

American Global Hawk drones have flown over Canadian airspace before, with the cooperation of the Canadian military, and as part of the ‘Maple Flag’ exercise.

While the current proposal seems largely pushed by the vendor, Northrup Grumman, the proposal could be a convenient ‘false flag’ event for the government, making it more palatable for the Conservatives to eventually sell purchases of cheaper drones, possibly Israeli, to the Canadian public.

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‘NATO’ to buy costly drones

Apparently NATO ministers have agreed that the organisation would acquire a fleet of unarmed drones. This is unusual, in that generally the organisation relies on in-kind contributions of its members.

According to the Wall Street Journal NATO would buy five Global Hawk drones and a ground control station, produced by Northrup Grumman, at a cost of $1.5 billion, or $300 million each. The Global Hawk is a high altitude, long endurance jet powered drone capable of very high and very long sorties.

According to Defense Industry Daily, the unit cost of the Global Hawk is as low as $35 million each. But at a quoted price of $300 million each, the NATO partners appear to be being asked to pick up a share of the staggering development costs for the high tech drone. Also needed would be a range of surveilance equipment.

Surprisingly, the purchase came as some portions of the US military appeared to be ‘warehousing’  their existing Global Hawks. Colin Clark in AOL Defence.com described US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz as saying the Global Hawks would be taken out of active service because the sensors weren’t as good and the operating costs higher than the U-2 aircraft also being used. An article by Reuters in Aviation Week claimed that the programme would be scrapped completely, except for a version being developed by the US Navy.

The cost would be shared by 13 of (mostly) smaller NATO members, with the US picking up 40% of the cost. The drone will be based in Italy.

Few countries would have a use for an expensive drone of this type, but the US no doubt pressured them to pay for part of the costs of supplying high altitude surveillance for NATO’s many interventions.

Perhaps equally interesting, and puzzling, are the reasons why certain other members of NATO didn’t participate.

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Australia Declined to Buy Global Hawk in 2009

In March, 2009, Australia declined to purchase the long range Global Hawk drone from Northrop Grumman.

The drone might have been used for maritime patrol, or for monitoring bush fires.

At the time the cancellation was seen by some as a cheap cost cutting measure, though the Defence Minister defended the decision as over stretching the capacity of the armed forces.

In light of the Canadian cancellation of its military drone capability, perhaps the Australian action makes more sense. Having a drone programme creates the need for deployments that might not otherwise be undertaken. And when absolutely required, drone capability can be reacquired on short notice.

Many projects where drones would be useful can be carried out by smaller, cheaper drones.

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