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Drones that can be armed make sense, say experts

by Denis Calnan (feat. David Perry)

The Hill Times
May 22, 2016

Drones have a negative connotation because of the image of strikes U.S. forces have carried out with them, but the positives of drones are numerous: they don’t have humans in them so they can fly for longer, and they weigh less, says defence analyst David Perry.

Buying drones with arming capabilities makes sense to many defence analysts, because it offers more to Canada’s allies in missions.

However, the military may need to be more realistic in its expectations of what drones the government will invest in, while the government may want to consider being less overly cautious in procurement.

Canadian Armed Forces Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has argued that the military needs drones that can be armed.

“To me it makes sense,” said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor of International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

 “Nimbleness is perhaps more useful than blunt force” in many of the missions Canada wants to be involved in, argued Prof. Carvin. She said drones with surveillance capabilities that can be armed is useful in situations like that.

“It makes perfect sense to me,” said David Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“If you’re buying a drone that can be armed, you don’t have to always have a weapon on it, but you are able to if you’d like to in certain circumstances. But if you buy a drone that can’t be armed, you’re never going to be able to engineer that in easily afterwards,” he said.

Mr. Perry said that if a drone needs to survey an area over a period of time and then needs to strike, it is easier, and perhaps less risky, to have both capabilities in one aircraft. Handing off responsibilities between aircraft could result in errors.

He said drones have a negative connotation for some because of the image of strikes the American forces have carried out with them, but the positives of drones are numerous: they don’t have humans in them, so they can fly for longer, and they’re less weight.

“I don’t think it is a bad option for our military,” Jean-Christophe Boucher, an assistant professor in political science at MacEwan University in Edmonton said in an email.

“The Liberals are contemplating deploying a limited number of troops in both training and SOF [Special Operations] missions as well as contributing to peacekeeping. UAV [Unmanned aerial vehicle] that could to be armed offers a range of options that could make Canada’s contribution an added-value proposition to our allies or to the UN,” wrote Prof. Boucher.

“I think Vance is over-stretching when he argues that they need to be armed. We should be able to purchase a UAV model that can be armed. The decision to buy missiles can be made further down the road given the specific operational need,” he wrote.

Prof. Carvin said Canada needs to carefully consider the kinds of missions in which it would use the drones. She drew a comparison to considerations an individual has in buying household items.

She suggested when buying a “magical egg blender,” you have to consider if you will be blending eggs or if you’re a vegan.

“If you’re a vegan, it makes no sense for you to buy the magical egg blender,” she said.

“What kind of missions will Canada be fighting? And therefore, does the tool that we are going to buy make sense?” she said.

Prof. Carvin noted that Canada has been looking at buying drones through the JUSTAS [Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System] for a long time—over a decade—and has failed to procure them.

“We have this very overly cautious approach to a lot of things, and I think that’s part of the reason why we’ve hesitated in the way that we have,” she said.

“So far, Canada seems to have a fair amount of procurement problems,” she said, noting that the government has a long list of requirements that are required for the drones that are not reasonable.

She noted that a drone that may be surveying a crowd at a protest should not be weaponized for several reasons. One, because it looks bad on the government and, two, the cost of running a drone that can be weaponized is higher.

In any case, Canadians will have to wait to see what sort of drones will be purchased for the military.

“I would be very surprised it there is an announcement of a procurement of drones prior to the defence review,” said Prof. Carvin.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) told The Hill Times he wants to have his defence policy review wrapped up by the end of the year. As part of it, the government is evaluating Canada’s peacekeeping role, the use of drones, and entering the United States’ ballistic missile-defence shield.


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