Will JUSTAS Prevail? Procuring a UAS Capability for Canada (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 1)

Table of contents


By Danny Garrett-Rempel

Editor’s note: At various times, the Canadian Armed Forces has referred to these types of aircraft as drones, uninhabited air vehicles, unmanned air vehicles, unmanned aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems and remotely piloted vehicles. To avoid confusion, for the purposes of this article, the current label of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will be used.


Canada has experience both commercially designing and operating UASs. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operated a variety of UASs in Afghanistan as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The effectiveness of UASs as a platform led to the creation of the Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) programme in the early 2000s, in order to facilitate Canada’s process of procuring its own cutting-edge UAS capability. Given the advanced state of UAS technology, the history of Canadian UAS design and operation, and the demonstrated utility of UASs on the battlefields of Afghanistan, it comes as a surprise that Canada has yet to procure a permanent UAS capability through the JUSTAS programme. This article will examine the history of UAS design in Canada, the procurement processes undertaken for UASs deployed to Afghanistan, the JUSTAS programme and future roles that UASs may be expected to play as an asset of the CAF. It will also explore a number of issues that may be delaying a successful UAS procurement under the JUSTAS programme.

Canadian-designed UASs

Canada has a long history of designing and developing UASs. The very first UAS to be designed in Canada was a cooperative project between the Canadian and British governments.[1] In the early 1960s, Canadair led the design and testing of the CL‑89, a recoverable missile that was capable of performing surveillance missions.[2] The CL‑89 operated as a drone; its flight path was preprogrammed, and its mission was carried out without further human input. Launched from truck-mounted rails, the main drone craft would detach from its booster, and once it reached flight speed, a turbojet would take over for the remainder of its flight. Upon completing its mission, the drone would return to a predetermined recovery site, reaching the ground safely using parachutes. An operator collected its surveillance material, and the drone could be reset for future missions. In 1985, Canada, France and West Germany signed a memorandum of understanding for an updated version: the CL‑289.[3] The British army deployed the original version, the CL‑89 (which they nicknamed “the Midge”), in the First Gulf War in 1991, while German and French forces deployed the updated version, the CL‑289, over the Balkans in the late 1990s.[4]

In the 1970s and 1980s, Canadair tested the CL‑227. Nicknamed “the Peanut” due to its hourglass shape, the CL‑227 was a contra-rotating blade helicopter UAS. It could be fitted with surveillance or weapon suites, depending on its mission profile. Its vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability made it ideal for missions that involved loitering above a target for an extended period of time. It was also capable of shipborne launch and was tested aboard United States (US) Coast Guard and Navy vessels.[5] Bombardier, which had acquired Canadair in 1986, developed a more advanced version of the CL‑227 in the 1990s: the CL‑327 Guardian. The latest version, the CL‑427 Puma, underwent trial testing in 2001.[6]

Despite being designed and built by Canadian industry, the CL‑289 was not purchased by the CAF. It was sold to and deployed by several NATO countries, but its purchase by Canada was scrapped due to cuts to the 1990 defence budget.[7] Moreover, as of 2008, there were no known customers operating the CL‑327 Guardian.[8] Canadian firms were recognized as leaders in the field of developing state-of-the-art UASs from the 1960s until the 1980s, but a lack of government procurement contracts meant that the technology declined in Canada from the 1980s until the early 2000s.[9] The implication this holds for the JUSTAS programme is that even if Canadian industry proves capable of providing an appropriate UAS platform for consideration by the JUSTAS programme, there is no guarantee that the Canadian government will purchase it.

Deployment to Afghanistan

Canada’s most recent association with UASs has been in an operational capacity on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Canada was one of the first nations to contribute troops to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, having deployed Air Force personnel and members of Joint Task Force Two (JTF 2) to Afghanistan in 2001 as part of Canada’s Operation APOLLO. Soldiers from Canada’s Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry also took part in fighting against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in the Shah-i-Kot valley under Operation ANACONDA in 2002.[10] The CAF officially joined NATO’s Kabul-based ISAF mission in 2003. To support Canada’s ISAF mission in Kabul—Operation ATHENA—as well as to fulfill a commitment made to NATO to acquire a UAS capability by 2004, efforts were made by the Department of National Defence (DND) to procure UASs for the CAF.[11] The first UAS acquired, and operationally deployed by Canada, was the CU161 Sperwer.

In August 2003, the Government of Canada awarded the contract worth $33.8 million for four Sperwer UASs to Oerlikon Contraves of Quebec, with the French company Société d’Applications Générales de l’Électricité et de la Méchanique (SAGEM) listed as the subcontractor.[12] AAI Corporation’s Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aircraft system (TUAS) was thought be a frontrunner but was beat out by the Sperwer.[13] The off-the-shelf procurement of these UASs serves as one of the first examples of an accelerated procurement process, which fell within the Agreement on Internal Trade Chapter 5 clause 506.11(a). This clause allows for the bypassing of competitive procurement processes “where an unforeseeable situation of urgency exists and the goods, services, or construction cannot be obtained in time by means of open procurement procedures.”[14]

The SAGEM Sperwer is a French-designed TUAS. It is capable of functioning at a range of 200 kilometres (km) from its ground control station, carrying an array of imaging sensors, while operating at an altitude of 4,876.8 metres (m) and can loiter for up to six hours.[15] It is launched by a truck-mounted, pneumatic ram and recovered through the combined use of parachute and inflatable airbags.[16] The Sperwer was meant to provide the CAF stationed in Kabul enhanced intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. The Sperwer could collect high-resolution imagery day and night and could locate targets with an accuracy of 20 m.

The Sperwer gave the CAF its first opportunity to deploy UAS capabilities in an active theatre of combat operations, but it did not come without a learning curve. One soldier compared the Sperwer to a “kid’s remote-controlled plane with a camcorder taped to the bottom of it” and quipped that the only people who could not hear the Sperwer’s distinctive lawnmower sound as it flew overhead were the deaf.[17] Aesthetics aside, as the Sperwer was nearing full operational capability in December 2003, its deployments became plagued by a series of technical and human-operator errors. In one instance, a faulty spring failed to deploy the landing parachute, causing a Sperwer UAS to glide into the ground.[18] In January 2004, a UAS operator dropped the altitude on the Sperwer too early, causing it to careen into a hill. The crash of a sixth Sperwer resulted in a disruption of the CAF’s UAS capability. It was not until December 2005, following the CAF’s deployment to Kandahar, that DND purchased five additional Sperwers at a cost of $15 million.[19] These were delivered in 2006.

The CAF also deployed a number of micro or miniature unmanned aircraft systems (MUASs), small unmanned aircraft systems (SUASs) and TUASs in Afghanistan. The Army operated the Scan Eagle, a 20-kilogram (kg) catapult-launched UAS made by Boeing subsidiary Insitu.[20] It has a top speed of 150 kilometres/hour (km/h), a flight time of 20 hours and a range of 100 km. The Scan Eagle logged more than 30,000 hours of flight time in Afghanistan.[21] Under a deal worth $2.9 million for five units, US Company Prioria Robotics supplied ground forces with its Maveric MUAS.[22] It ran on a lithium polymer battery, similar to that of a laptop, and weighed approximately one kg. The Maveric’s size and foldable wings allowed it to be rolled up and stowed inside a tube after use.[23] With a flight time of 30 minutes and a range of 10 km, the Maveric was instrumental in providing tactical awareness to units on the ground via video stream to an operator’s laptop. To support Canada’s deployment to Kandahar, Thales Canada and Elbit Systems of Israel provided the Skylark‑I SUAS. Hand launched, the Skylark‑I provided tactical surveillance and reconnaissance for Operation ARCHER.[24]

Incidents with the Sperwer notwithstanding, the operational and strategic value of ISTAR capabilities that larger, long-endurance UASs could provide was clear to the CAF. As the Canadian mission in Afghanistan expanded, a greater UAS capability was required. In order to address an operational shortfall, the CAF created the Joint Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Capability (JAIC) project. In July 2007, a letter of interest (LOI) was submitted to industry, seeking a UAS platform capable of supporting a broad spectrum of activities from tactical-level engagements, involving CAF Land and special operations forces, to theatre-level intelligence assessments.[25] In 2007, an independent non-partisan committee was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to review Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. The committee’s final report, entitled The Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (also known as “the Manley Report,” after Chairman John Manley), was delivered in 2008 and called for the government to secure high-performance UASs with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.[26] To fulfill the Manley Report’s recommendations, Project Noctua—a competitive procurement process worked on jointly by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) and DND—superseded the JAIC project. The intention was to lease long-endurance UASs equipped with electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) payloads suitable for overland ISR missions.[27]

The platform selected to replace the Sperwer was the CU‑170 Heron. MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) and its Israeli partner, Israel Aerospace Industries, were awarded the $95-million contract which provided for a two-year lease of three Heron UASs with a $35-million option for a third year.[28] Under the terms of the contract, MDA was responsible for training on as well as maintenance and logistical support of the Heron, while the Air Force (under Task Force Erebus) deployed and operated the Heron from Kandahar Airfield.[29] Project Noctua is notable for evolving from its initial conception to contract award in a mere nine months.[30] Moreover, only five months passed between the awarding of the contract and the deployment of the Heron.[31] The success of Project Noctua can be attributed to basing it on off‑the‑shelf technology and effectively integrating government and industry throughout each stage of the process.[32]

The CU‑170 Heron is a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS with a service ceiling of 9,144 m, endurance in excess of 24 hours, and day or night operational capability. The Heron can reach speeds in excess of 200 km/h. The CAF variant of the Heron utilizes a line-of-sight control system that supports operations at a range of 200 km.[33] The Heron, unlike the Sperwer, is launched and recovered from a runway; advanced models are capable of automatic launch and recovery. The Heron was first deployed to Afghanistan in January 2009, shortly before the last flight of the Sperwer, which was retired in April 2009 after 1,300 missions and 4,300 operating hours.[34] With a carrying capacity of 250 kg, the Heron payloads included an EO/IR turret, electronic warfare systems, and both overland and a synthetic aperture radar.[35] According to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), its primary function was to “provide lifesaving surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities that can be used in a variety of operations … [and to] help save lives by reducing the threats to soldiers on the ground.”[36] Coinciding with the drawdown of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan following the end of Canada’s combat mission in 2011, Heron UAS operations came to a close.

With the end of Canada’s training assistance to the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army (Operation ATTENTION), Canada’s overall mission in Afghanistan came to a close in March 2014. A flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul and the withdrawal of the final 84 soldiers from the country marked the end of Canada’s 12-year contribution to ISAF. One clear result of Canada’s deployment to Afghanistan is the positive contribution and value that a UAS capability provided the CAF. The smaller MUAS, SUAS or TUAS (like the Scan Eagle, Maveric and Skylark), the large TUAS (like the Sperwer) and the MALE UAS (like the Heron) all contributed to the safety and success of the CAF by acting as a force multiplier that supplied crucial around-the-clock ISR capability. The JUSTAS programme is meant to procure a UAS that can provide the CAF with this capability on a permanent basis.

The JUSTAS programme

The ability to deploy an asset capable of staying on task for an extended period, while carrying out either an ISR function or a targeted strike, all without putting a pilot’s life at risk, makes a UAS valuable to militaries as a low-risk force multiplier. The benefits derived from UASs may account for the rapid expansion of their use. The US Department of Defense, for example, has increased the number of UASs in service from 167 in 2002 to nearly 7,500 in 2010. In 2012, 76 countries were operating UASs, and an additional 50 countries were developing their own platforms.[37] The integrated ISTAR capability of a UAS platform would provide the CAF much needed up-to-date capabilities that have become crucial in the age of network-centric warfare.[38]

In September 2000, JUSTAS began as an experimental programme meant to facilitate Canada’s acquisition of UAS assets. Between 2002 and 2004, a number of trials were undertaken by the CAF using leased UASs to test the capabilities of various platforms. The Air Force, on behalf of the CAF, began work on JUSTAS in 2005, deciding in 2006 that the implementation of JUSTAS would follow two phases: phase one was to cover an overland capability (non-maritime surveillance and overseas expeditions) while phase two would cover domestic maritime surveillance and patrols over the Arctic.[39] In 2008, steps were taken toward UAS procurement that included the release of the Canada First Defence Strategy, which earmarked nearly $500 billion over the next 20 years for military procurement (including a UAS programme)[40] as well as a LOI by DND and PWGSC to industry.[41]

The long-term goal of the JUSTAS programme as outlined in a 2012 request for information (RFI) to industry is “to field and support interoperable, network-enabled Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR), Target Acquisition, and all-weather precision strike capabilities in support of CAF operations worldwide.”[42] The operational requirements for the UAS platforms to be procured through JUSTAS specify a Class III MALE UAS, capable of at least 1,852-km (1,000-nautical mile) ranges, 18 hours of endurance, the ability to conduct operations over land and sea (especially the Arctic), and the capacity to carry multiple payloads (both surveillance and strike packages).[43] However, a request for proposals meant to be released by the government in 2009 never materialized. Aircraft delivery deadlines in 2010 and 2012 came and went, while a 2017 delivery date has been pushed to sometime between 2021 and 2025.[44] To date, the JUSTAS programme has neither identified a UAS platform nor awarded a contract.[45] While the PWGSC’s February 2014 announcement of a new Defence procurement strategy for Canada may be a cause for cautious optimism when it comes to the future procurement of a UAS for Canada, the JUSTAS programme continues to languish in the options analysis phase.[46]

Possible application of UASs by the CAF

 As climate change continues to alter both the ice cover and the geopolitical landscape of the Arctic, it will become increasingly important for Canada to strengthen its domain awareness over its northern territory.[47] UASs are particularly suited to tasks that are dull, dirty and dangerous.[48] Low-intensity, time-consuming, persistent surveillance over the frigid expanse of Canada’s sparsely populated Arctic territory lends itself well to unmanned overflights, which would prevent the need for a pilot to be placed in harm’s way. A UAS capability could complement existing surveillance platforms in Canada’s Far North (such as RADARSAT, Northern Watch and long-range patrols carried out with CP140 Auroras) as well as support the Canadian Rangers, who provide valuable human intelligence (HUMINT) about Canada’s Arctic territory. UASs could also be used to fill gaps in existing forms of coverage with multispectral high-resolution imagery that modern UAS sensor suites can provide. The payload capacities of UASs are also being taken into consideration for their application to search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, particularly their potential for dropping SAR packages to assist rescue efforts in Canada’s North.[49]

With the problems surrounding the F‑35 Joint Strike Fighter and Canada’s next-generation fighter procurement, some scholars have suggested procuring UASs as part of a mixed fleet for the RCAF. Michael Byers—who holds a Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law and regularly contributes articles to The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen—and Stewart Webb—who has written extensively on issues relating to Canadian military procurement—have both advocated for extending the life of Canada’s CF188 fleet, supplementing it with new fighter aircraft as needed and adding UASs to take on roles traditionally held by fighter-jets as unmanned aircraft technology continues to develop.[50] This proposal is currently unfeasible for a number of reasons. While UASs have demonstrated consistent value where ISTAR capabilities are concerned, it will be a number of decades before the technology reaches an air-to-air capability similar to that of modern piloted fighter aircraft.[51] Moreover, any UAS is only as strong as the satellite links (which are not impervious to disruption or interception) that allow an operator to control it.[52] UASs are the most capable when carrying out missions over uncontested airspace. However, there is no guarantee that any future overseas deployment by the CAF will be under such permissive conditions.

The CAF’s experience operating UASs in Afghanistan highlights the importance of this capability for any future overseas deployment. Whether the CAF’s next mission is combat oriented or for peacekeeping or humanitarian purposes, a UAS capability would be an essential asset. The United Nations (UN), for example, has recently deployed UASs as part of its peacekeeping missions. UASs are being flown over the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for surveillance and intelligence-gathering purposes. Martin Kobler, the leader of the UN mission in the DRC, explains: “We have a mandate here to neutralize armed groups—you can’t do it without intelligence.”[53] The UN has also expanded the use of UASs for surveillance purposes in its missions in Mali and the Central African Republic.[54] A JUSTAS procurement would ensure that Canada could provide its soldiers on the ground with consistent and reliable ISTAR capabilities. Former Defence Minister Peter MacKay, reflecting on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, stated that, “in retrospect, we could have perhaps prepared our soldiers better through both equipment and training.”[55] Procuring a national UAS capability through JUSTAS would be a great step forward in preparation for any future expeditions undertaken by the CAF.

Causes of delays to the JUSTAS programme

While the JUSTAS programme is presently stalled, it is not because of a lack of available UAS options. A number of UAS platforms have been put forward as suitable contenders. Northrop Grumman pitched a variant of its Block 30 RQ-4B Global Hawk UAS to the Harper Government.[56] The modified version—dubbed the Polar Hawk—would be capable of Arctic operations with adjustments made to its satellite communication system to cope with the region’s intermittent coverage. Building upon lessons learned from the CAF’s experience operating the Sperwer in Afghanistan’s harsh climate, the Polar Hawk would be equipped with wing and engine anti-icing capability to deal with extreme conditions in the Arctic.[57] A fleet of three to five Polar Hawks could fully cover Canada’s north. The proposed cost is between $30 and $50 million per aircraft. However, the price increases to $215 million per aircraft when support systems are considered.[58]

In 2007, the Air Force approached the federal cabinet with a request to sole-source purchase the Predator UAS from the US but was rejected due to political backlash over earlier approval of contracts for helicopters and heavy-lift aircraft outside of competitive bidding.[59] Despite the failure of this deal, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated (GA-ASI) partnered with Offset Market Exchange (OMX), a web-based platform for the offset market in Canada, to strengthen its commitment to offering the Predator B and Predator C Avenger UASs as contenders for the JUSTAS programme.[60] Both the Global Hawk and the Predator have proven to be capable UASs and would perform well as either surveillance or strike platforms, respectively, depending upon the final requirements of the JUSTAS programme.

Rapid technological innovation in UAS development is also causing delays to procurement under the JUSTAS programme. Commander of the RCAF, Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, has said that, “if you commit yourself too early with a very expensive program, there are new ones coming in that are not far behind that will give you different capabilities and could be much cheaper.”[61] The RCAF’s project director for JUSTAS, Major John Whalen, agrees with Blondin’s assessment, noting that instead of a MALE versus a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) capability, new technologies are beginning to blur the lines, which may better suit the capability that Canada is looking to acquire.[62] While technology’s rapid advancement may be seen to serve Canada’s long-term interests, it is creating a “wait-and-see” approach that is delaying a timely procurement of a UAS capability.

Obstacles to UAS procurement

Related to the issue of delays to the JUSTAS programme are the obstacles to deploying them or operating them within Canada. Afghanistan provided an ideal operating environment for UASs: a permissive airspace, a lack of major infrastructure and a compliant populace. Such conditions are not present in Canada. According to Section 602.41 of Transport Canada’s Canadian Aviation Regulations, no person is able to operate a UAS without applying for and receiving a special flight operation certificate.[63] In the past, air traffic control regulations have proven to be stumbling blocks for UAS acquisition. The most recent example is Germany’s cancellation of a one-billion Euro contract to acquire the Euro Hawk, a signals intelligence variant of the Global Hawk, due to concerns that the European Aviation Safety Agency would not certify them for use.[64]

In 2011, the RCAF acknowledged the issues that may arise from flying drones over Canada’s airspace but concluded that it did not need approval from either Transport Canada or NAV Canada to fly UASs.[65] The potential exists that any UAS procured under JUSTAS may include detect, sense and avoid (DSA) technology, which may mitigate some of the risks involved with flying UASs in commercial airspace. However, as the President of the Rideau Institute, Steven Staples, points out, “it is one thing to fly a drone over the desert of Afghanistan, but it’s something else to fly them over Ottawa or Toronto.”[66] Conditions in the Arctic may prove more conducive to UASs overflights than more populous areas of the country. Despite Transport Canada having recently clarified regulations for civilian UAS usage, with plans to create further guidelines in the future, regulatory and safety concerns will remain issues to consider as Canada pursues UASs for military applications.[67]

Another important issue that must be taken into account is the attitudes of Canadians. UASs have made their way into the collective consciousness due to the media’s coverage of targeted strikes by the US on suspected terrorists in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen. These types of strikes are not universally popular. A 2012 survey conducted by the non-partisan, public-opinion, Pew Research Center indicated a strong international opposition to US drone strikes. In Europe, disapproval ratings of US drone strikes (in particular, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Poland) exceeded 50 per cent.[68] Canada typically deploys with its allies; therefore, adopting a capability that receives such widespread disapproval from allied populations could prove a complicating factor in future coalition efforts. Former RCAF fighter pilot Fraser Holman sees the deployment of armed UASs as “inconsistent with Canadian values” and “find[s] it unlikely that we might wish to employ such weapons of precision intervention even if they might be available.”[69] While surveillance missions will most likely be directed to maritime and Arctic operations, domestic UAS overflights of populated areas may also raise concerns among Canadian citizens regarding individual and collective privacy.[70]

For nearly all large-scale Canadian military procurements, budget creep has been a complicating factor. The JUSTAS programme is no exception. Initially expected to cost $500 million, more recent estimates have risen to between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.[71] Along with the particular UAS platform, Canada will need to pay for the infrastructure to support it. This includes radio or satellite links to ground stations, data collection and processing centres as well as command and control systems for the UASs.[72] Costs for personnel to staff the command and control infrastructure needed for a UAS capability must also be taken into consideration. The government has received estimates that it will require over 300 personnel in order to create a UAS squadron.[73] For a project that has yet to identify a platform or prime contractor and has no foreseeable completion date, it can be expected that costs will continue to rise as UAS technology and capabilities advance.

The lack of clarity over which branch of the CAF will own and operate UASs is a further obstacle to the success of JUSTAS. With advanced military technology like UASs, which represent joint technology relevant to two or more services, it can be difficult to draw clear lines between platforms and the capabilities they possess.[74] This can be clearly seen in the deployment of various UASs by different branches of the CAF in Afghanistan. Before JUSTAS can succeed, military planners need to better define how UASs will fit into the structure of the CAF and into future Canadian defence strategies.[75] Until this is done, the JUSTAS programme may simply exist as a solution seeking a problem. Without a strong supporter from one of the branches of the military, willing to spend the necessary political capital to see the JUSTAS programme to completion, UAS procurement may languish indefinitely.


Canada has had a long history with UASs, beginning with the commercial design of the Canadair CL‑89 Midge in the 1960s up to the deployment of the Sperwer and the final missions flown by the Heron in 2011. Despite the numerous functions of UASs (including Arctic and maritime surveillance, SAR and multirole functions in future overseas deployments), the JUSTAS programme has been stuck in the options-analysis phase since 2011. While the Defence acquisition guide has been updated to reflect recent progress on the JUSTAS programme, final delivery of a UAS is still not expected until between 2021 and 2025.[76] Canada’s contribution to the fight against the Islamic State, dubbed Operation IMPACT[77]—consisting of six CF188s, a CC150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling tanker, two CP140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and several hundred military personnel—may jump-start the JUSTAS programme as the need for increased ISR capability grows as the campaign continues. However, a similar urgent operational requirement, represented by Canada’s contribution to the air campaign over Libya in 2011, failed to yield government approval for $600 million to purchase armed drones.[78]

The JUSTAS programme has experienced lengthy delays for several reasons. A number of suitable platforms exist, such as the Global Hawk or Predator, yet an attitude persists within the RCAF that a wait-and-see approach may be a valid strategy for procuring the most advanced UAS. As is common with most military procurements, the costs associated with the JUSTAS programme have continued to rise. But, perhaps the greatest obstacle to the JUSTAS programme is the lack of clarity over which branch of the CAF will own and operate the technology. JUSTAS is an RCAF programme, yet the technology and its capabilities encompass more than a single branch of the military. This may account for the JUSTAS programme’s lack of a strong backer with the necessary political capital to see it through to completion.

Procuring UASs for use in Canada comes with its own host of complicating factors. Operating military UASs over populous areas such as the southern parts of Canada will provide a new challenge to both Transport Canada regulations and Canadian UAS operators. The national attitudes of Canadians will also be challenged if Canada opts to utilize the strike capabilities of UASs for targeted attacks. Even if Canada limits UASs to surveillance functions, the concerns of citizens over privacy are likely to be an issue.

Regardless of the complications and delays to the JUSTAS programme, UASs have become an essential tool for modern militaries. As past procurements in Canadian history have shown, the longer the procurement process drags on, the more politically vulnerable it becomes.[79] If the CAF is serious about procuring a long-term UAS capability, it needs to determine how this platform will fit within the framework of the individual environments of the CAF and will support the CAF’s future operational requirements. While waiting for newer and more advanced UASs may seem like a wise option, the managers of the JUSTAS programme need to reap the benefits of its lengthy options-analysis phase and select a platform sooner rather than later. The scramble that took place to procure military hardware, including UASs, following the CAF deployment to Afghanistan should not be repeated in the future. Canada must push forward with the JUSTAS programme in order to ensure it has access to UAS capabilities when they are needed most.

Danny Garrett-Rempel graduated from the University of Victoria in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in History. His thesis was titled: “Afghanistan and the Emergence of the Taliban: Weighing the Role of Islam as Mobilizing Force.” He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. His areas of interest include international security, Middle Eastern history, militant Islam and terrorism.


CAF―Canadian Armed Forces

DND―Department of National Defence

DRC―Democratic Republic of the Congo


GA-ASI―General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated

ISAF―International Security Assistance Force

ISR―intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance

ISTAR―intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance

JAIC―Joint Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Capability

JUSTAS―Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System




LOI―letter of interest


MALE―medium-altitude long-endurance

MDA―MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates

MUAS―micro/miniature unmanned aircraft system

NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization

PWGSC―Public Works and Government Services Canada

RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force

SAGEM―Société d’Applications Générales de l’Électricité et de la Méchanique

SAR―search and rescue

SUAS―small unmanned aircraft system

TUAS―tactical unmanned aircraft system

UAS―unmanned aircraft system

UN―United Nations

US―United States

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