The Royal Canadian Air Force hopes to pull the trigger of buying new armed drones within six years after spending nearly two decades weighing different options.
The Canadian Forces have been working since the early 2000s to identify and purchase a fleet of UAVs that can conduct surveillance over Canada's vast territory as well as support overseas military missions.
However, in addition to buying a small number of temporary and unarmed drones for the war in Afghanistan – all of whom have already been retired – the military has never been able to make much progress in a permanent fleet.
In a Canadian press interview, the Air Force commander, Lieutenant General. Al Meinzinger said he was confident that it was about to change after the Trudeau government officially approved the purchase of a fleet of UAVs armed through its defense policy.
That decision was one of the most notable changes to the new policy, launched in June 2017, which included a promise to spend an extra $ 62 billion over the next 20 years to expand and strengthen the military.
No previous federal government had authorized the addition of drones – armed or not – as a permanent fixture within the Canadian Forces along the same lines as the jet or helicopter squadrons.
"We say we have maximum policy coverage, which means we can see this program clearly in our defense policy," Meinzinger said. "So we are moving forward with this project … This will be a capability we will see over the next five to six years."
The Royal Canadian Air Force has discreetly evaluated the options and will soon present its ideas to purchasing officials, he added. The plan is to buy a type of medium-altitude, long-life UAV for the military.
The drones have assumed an increasingly important role in the military around the world; A report published in the Royal Canadian Air Force Journal at the end of 2015 said 76 foreign military personnel were using them and another 50 were developing them.
Unmanned aircraft are often used for surveillance and intelligence gathering, as well as for the delivery of punctual air strikes to enemy forces at locations where force has been approved.
However, the government's decision to acquire armed drones has raised questions from some arms control and human rights groups that have raised concerns about the legal gray zone surrounding such weapons.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government considered the drone's decision carefully, critics noted that there are very few rules surrounding its acquisition and use – including in murders.
Meinzinger said the drones proved their worth to the Canadian Forces during the war in Afghanistan, where he personally commanded a UAV squadron in charge of monitoring the surrounding countryside.
As for the government's decision to approve the armed drones, "certainly the use of these weapons will be within the limits of the law of armed conflict and regulated very clearly," he said.
Chief of Defense Gen. Jonathan Vance previously said that the Canadian military plans to use armed drones in the same way as other conventional weapons such as fighters and artillery.
While he acknowledged the long path the military pursued in trying to get drones, Meinzinger said, "We have the support of the leadership and the department to keep moving forward. So I do not see this as a problem." "