In a strategic move to fortify national security and support global allies, the Government of Canada, under the banner of its defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, is set to usher in a new era of military prowess. This announcement comes as Marie-France Lalonde, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of National Defence, and Kody Blois, Member of Parliament for Kings—Hants, disclosed a substantial investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on behalf of key governmental figures, including the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, and the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

“At a time when defence and security needs are changing faster than ever, we must ensure Canada has a modern, adaptable military that is prepared to respond to evolving and emerging security challenges. Canada must meet the growing demand for domestic assistance while preserving our ability to defend Canada, protect North America, and support our allies. This Remotely Piloted Aircraft System capability will provide Canadian Armed Forces members with nimble response options during deployed operations, further contributing to their safety and effectiveness,” remarked the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of National Defence.

A hefty $2.49 billion will be injected into acquiring a state-of-the-art Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), a ground-breaking addition to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The deal will be sealed through a direct commercial sale contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), complemented by specific components acquired through a Foreign Military Sale with the United States government.

“The Government of Canada is committed to providing the Canadian Armed Forces with the equipment they need to keep Canadians safe. This agreement to acquire the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System will expand Canada’s ability to modernize its military force, contribute to joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations with its allies, and create good jobs in the aerospace and defence sector,” added the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement.

Differing from conventional small drones, the RPAS is designed to meet rigorous airworthiness standards, akin to crewed aircraft. The comprehensive acquisition encompasses eleven remotely piloted aircraft, six ground control stations, a cutting-edge ground control centre, two aircraft hangars, initial weaponry, sustainment services, and a holistic training solution with devices and courseware for mission crews and technicians.

“Through this contract, our government will provide the Canadian Armed Forces with the equipment they need, while ensuring long term economic benefits for Canadians. This procurement will advance Canadian innovation in our world class defence and aerospace industries, create high-value jobs, and contribute to economic growth in Canada,” stated the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne,Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

Anticipated to make its debut in 2028, with full operational capabilities achieved by 2033, the RPAS will significantly enhance the CAF’s ability to monitor Canada’s expansive terrain and coastlines. This high-tech capability is not limited to homeland security; it will also play a pivotal role in aiding civilian operations, responding to natural disasters such as forest fires and floods.

“Canada’s vast territory and complex terrains, including in the Arctic, require a cost-effective multi-mission RPAS solution that can endure long periods on station, fly in harsh weather environments, and safely operate in all airspaces,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI. “MQ-9B SkyGuardian delivers those critical capabilities. GA-ASI and Team SkyGuardian Canada are honored by this opportunity to become a key partner to Canada for the very long term in delivering these no-fail defence and security outcomes.”

The collaboration known as Team SkyGuardian Canada comprises leading Canadian enterprises, such as CAE, MDA Ltd., and L3Harris Technologies, working alongside GA-ASI on the development, delivery, and sustainment of the MQ-9B. Canada’s investments in the RPAS Project and its partnership with Team SkyGuardian Canada underscore the nation’s keen interest in advancing cutting-edge RPAS technologies.

GA-ASI boasts a lengthy and successful history of collaboration with the Canadian industry, a relationship that continues to flourish. Over its more than 30-year history, almost every system delivered by GA-ASI has incorporated some degree of Canadian involvement, encompassing sensors, propulsion equipment, and training/simulation systems and services. The commitment of CAE, MDA Ltd., L3Harris, and GA-ASI is unwavering in delivering Canada the world’s foremost RPAS capability while generating economic benefits and employment opportunities domestically.

The MQ-9B represents the next evolution in RPAS, offering remarkably prolonged endurance and range. It features automated takeoff and landing controlled solely by SATCOM, enabling operation in unsegregated airspace through the GA-ASI developed Detect and Avoid system. Initial deliveries of MQ-9B to the U.K. Royal Air Force commenced in 2022, with contracts signed with Belgium and the U.S. Air Force in support of Special Operations Command. The Japan Coast Guard presently employs the MQ-9B for maritime operations, a selection also made by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) for its Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) RPAS Trial Operation Project. MQ-9B has further contributed to various U.S. Navy exercises this year, including Northern Edge, Integrated Battle Problem, and Group Sail.

“We look forward to working with our Team SkyGuardian Canada partners to deliver our industry leading RPAS for Canada’s dynamic mission requirements. GA-ASI is the world leader in reliable, cost-efficient, and sustainable remotely piloted aircraft systems. These aircraft perform advanced interoperable and systems-of-systems operations for our valued customers around the world – all at a fraction of the carbon footprint impact as traditional manned systems performing similar missions,” added Blue.

On the international front, the RPAS will provide commanders with real-time intelligence during deployed operations, enabling efficient target detection, recognition, identification, and engagement in complex environments. This system will not only reinforce Canada’s commitment to North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) and NATO missions but will also enhance interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces.

The investment marks a substantial stride for the RCAF, especially as it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2024. The Government of Canada’s dedication to modernizing the RCAF is evident, with recent procurements including 88 F-35 fighter jets, 9 CC-330 Husky strategic tanker and transport aircraft, up to 16 P-8A Poseidon multi-mission aircraft, 16 Cormorant helicopters, and now, 11 remotely piloted aircraft.

Investing in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems is but one of many planned upgrades for our Royal Canadian Air Force – in addition to the F-35 for fighter missions, the CC-295 for search and rescue missions, new and upgraded Cormorant helicopters, and the P8-A Poseidon multi-mission aircraft. These investments will have tremendous impacts on our ability to support Canada’s national defence interests at home and abroad, and this is great news for our service members operating out of 14 Wing Greenwood,” said Kody Blois, Member of Parliament for Kings—Hants.

In a mutually beneficial move, General Atomics commits to meaningful business activities and targeted investments in the Canadian aerospace and defence sector. The economic benefits of this collaboration have the potential to generate close to 700 jobs annually and contribute $97 million annually to Canada’s gross domestic product over a nine-year period.

The RPAS fleet will be stationed at 14 Wing Greenwood, NS, and 19 Wing Comox, BC, with operations extending to a Forward Operating Location for missions in northern Canada. The ground control centre, positioned in Ottawa, will serve as the nerve center for the aircraft. As the project unfolds, new infrastructure in Ottawa will accommodate the ground control centre and support RPAS operations at 14 Wing Greenwood and 19 Wing Comox, with the associated costs already factored into the overall project budget.

Approximately 55 CAF and DND personnel will be stationed at 14 Wing Greenwood, 25 at 19 Wing Comox, and 160 at the ground control centre in Ottawa. Additionally, personnel will be strategically deployed to Forward Operating Locations as needed, reinforcing the commitment to safeguarding Canada for future generations.

“Today’s important announcement is critical to the operations of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Remotely Piloted Aircraft System project will significantly enhance Canada’s contributions to joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance with our allies, and help keep Canadians across the country safe. We will continue making these important investments to bolster and support the incredible work of Canadian Armed Forces members,” concluded Marie-France Lalonde, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.