Posts Tagged JUSTAS

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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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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Canada goes for armed drones

General Atomics may have eclipsed Israeli drone companies in the quest to sell Canada large drones. David Pugliese reports in Defense News that the Canadian military, under the JUSTAS programme, is favouring the General Atomics ‘Predator’ drone for addition to the Canadian aircraft fleet. The Canadian attempt to acquire large surveillance drones has been running for years with any concrete decision. Military brass now feel that say that a contract will be issued in 2019 for delivery in 2023.  But anyone familiar with Canadian military procurement won’t be holding their breath.

Notable by its absence is mention of military support for the offerings of either of the large Israeli drone companies. Canada has leased Heron drones from Israel Aerospace Industries for use in Afghanistan, and Elbit Systems sells its ‘conflict tested’ (in Palestine) drones far and wide. But the Conservative government is known to be strongly supportive of the Netanyahu regime, and it seems absurd to believe that the cabinet will not pressure the military to favour any bid from either of the Israeli companies. As well there is the possibility of a bid from Thales, the French arms company selling the Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone.

Pugliese also quotes unnamed air force officers as saying that the contract issued would be for armed drones.  Certainly the Predator drone has the experience. Predator drones and their variants have carried out thousands of armed attacks and have left a path of destruction and death across Afghanistan, Africa, and the Middle East, whereas armed attacks by either of the Israeli options have mostly been carried out in maintaining the occupation of Palestine. Watchkeeper drones aren’t known to have been armed in conflict zones, and are mostly mothballed in their English bases.

(All surveillance drones are ‘attack’ drones when coupled with jet fighters, artillery, ground to ground missiles, etc).

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Canada Scraps Drone Programme

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?

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