Everyone who has deployed in a combat zone understands the utility of both intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) drones and strike drones. We could also add other possible roles the drone could have, such as communication relay, electronic warfare, target designation, CBRN drones and so on.
Canada has eight different types of UAVs that are either getting tested or are in the procurement phase at this time. But as of today, the role of the future drone operation is still not even established. In fact, General Tom Lawson, chief of defence staff, is currently debating whether the future fleet of drones will be armed or not. He also stated that we are in the game along with many NATO allies and delighted by the capabilities it gives us to use the high ground in recognizance and surveillance.
I do think that Canada’s role in the GWOT would find the ISR and strike drones very useful. Other specialized types of drones could also be very useful depending on the mission and ongoing operations around the world.
It would be a waste to invest into drones without having the opportunity to have strike-capable drones, especially for the CANSOFCOM. Due to the very delicate nature of their operation, they would be able to train their own UAV operators and have them available at any time, regardless of both the human and weather factors. It is also my belief that CANSOFCOM should play an integral part in choosing Canada’s next drones as they are the ones who will end up using them most of the time.
CANSOFCOM could benefit from different types of UAVs that are quieter and harder to detect than CAS planes and helicopters. I might add that the CAF doesn’t have any type of combat helicopter and can only rely on CF-188B to provide them with surgical strikes, though they can’t stay on station as long as a UAV.
Having eyes on target 24 hours a day would help the S3 and S2 cells (Operations and Intelligence) to understand the enemy pattern of life, thus enabling them to hit harder, quicker and safer. It is pretty obvious that they are already using some even if it’s OPSEC, which I think is essential for any SOF units.
CJIRU, CANSOFCOM’s CBRN unit, could also greatly benefit from the AV RQ-11B Raven close-rang mini-UAV described on the CBRNePortal website. This is really only one example out of many uses we could have with a more defined force of drones.
Having our own strike-capable drones would make us less dependent on our allies. I am not saying that we prefer working alone, but having our own could free the American ones for their own troops-in-contact.
I got my ass saved a few times by drones in Afghanistan, mostly Predators and Reapers. Of course, they were American drones that were always there to support us no matter the time of day and were always happy to do so!
Canada had to lease IAI Heron drones for surveillance purposes while we were in Kandahar so we could operate independently and provide the commanders on the ground an aerial view of the terrain.
The CAF have been really active on leasing equipment while we were in Kandahar and now they are applying the lessons learned, which could really modernize their capabilities.
In my latest article, I wrote about the RCAF bending the minimum standards to get more experienced pilots.
Could drones be a good alternative? I do think so but it is far from being ready to replace fighter jets or attack helicopters.
ISR drones could easily be deployed in the Arctic as an early warning system and wouldn’t require a lot of logistics such as a big enough airstrip and everything that goes with it.
When the temperature drops very low and weather become too inhospitable for soldiers, the drones could keep a watchful eye on any suspected activities.
Drones could also be used as a SAR device while the actual SAR techs gets on the ground. The drones could be able to relay valuable information to the techs who are on their way.
In fact, drones such as the CQ-10 Snow goose, who are able to carry up to 600 pounds of supplies, could deliver some greatly needed items to a crash site or even a sinking ship without risking a pilot’s life while the SAR capabilities are on the way. Both the Canadian Buffalo and the CC-130J Hercules can parachute goods but it will never be as precise as if a drone delivered them.
Canadian ships deployed with Operation Artemis are already using drones very successfully. Having ISR drones keeping track for smugglers and pirates from a certain distance provides some vital information to the Naval Boarding Parties who are tasked to board these ships for investigation.
The future of drones in Canada is still very ambiguous as we are still defining our future Defense strategy. I believe that we will possess both ISR and strike-capable drones in the very near future but we’ll have to wait a while before we start seeing more specialized type of drones.
I also believe that future conflicts will be mostly small-scale warfare and being able to have eyes on targets at any time during the day under any type of weather conditions is a