Mark Collins – What’s With the Canadian Hoo-Hah Over Armed Drones?

In Maclean’s magazine Terry Glavin asks “Why all the angst?” (one is quoted in the piece):

We need to stop wringing our hands over armed drones. What’s the real threat? It’s not armed drones…

It was an otherwise utterly unremarkable thing for Canada’s chief of the defence staff to say out loud: we’d like some drones, please, and the ones with the capability of carrying precision-guided munitions would be best [see “…Drones vs Fighters?“]. That’s pretty well all Gen. Jonathan Vance mentioned, almost in passing, when he appeared last week at a Senate defence committee meeting. What’s remarkable is that Vance’s comments were taken in some quarters as the raising of a curtain on a stirring debate about a “controversial” subject [see this piece at the Crvena Zvezda]

Why all the angst?

…As far back as 2008, the Canadian Forces brass was explicit: drones with “all-weather precision strike capabilities” were a “requirement” for Canada’s overseas operations [more here: “Royal Canadian Air Force: Two Blinking Decades to Get (armed) Drones!”].

Nobody is proposing a covert black-ops assassination program here. This isn’t about weaponizing space and we’re not being lured by the military-industrial complex into some sinister high-tech arms intrigue…

It can all get a bit esoteric, but there’s no need for Canadians to over-complicate what should be a fairly straightforward assessment of the cost-benefit merits of acquiring drones equipped with a payload capacity. It’s not that complicated: “They’re just not fighter jets. They’re basically a different type of aircraft that can be used to carry precision-guided weapons into a combat environment,” Mark Collins, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told me. The same kinds of rules and ethical considerations apply fairly seamlessly. Said Gen. Vance: “In my view there’s little point to having a [drone] that can see a danger but can’t strike it.”

But here’s where legitimate concerns about drones can give way to outright paranoia.

Armed drones have become Barack Obama’s way to engage in terrorist-infested hellholes without putting “boots on the ground.” For years, the CIA has been running a secrecy-shrouded program of targeted killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and more recently in Somalia, Syria and Iraq [see this post on the “Decider-in-Chief”]…

That’s not quite how things work in Canada, and there’s little evidence that Canada’s new government is favourably disposed to top-secret overseas assassination boondoggles.

Every couple of years, the subject of Canada acquiring drones comes up again and there’s always the same scary background music. The drones the Canadian Forces are looking for are mostly for surveillance and reconnaissance along our borders and coasts anyway. If it’s really a go this time, no purchase contract is expected before 2020. Delivery isn’t anticipated until 2025 [and now the government says all dates are “TBD”!].

There’s no reason to be wringing our hands about this. There never was.


Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


One thought on “Mark Collins – What’s With the Canadian Hoo-Hah Over Armed Drones?”

  1. >”Nobody is proposing a covert black-ops assassination program here. This isn’t about weaponizing space and we’re not being lured by the military-industrial complex into some sinister high-tech arms intrigue…”

    It never starts that way. Do you think the first acquisition in the US staretd out as. Hey I have a great idea lets order some thing to kill Americans over seas with impunity?

    Now having said that I don’t think we need to be paranoid about drones it is the future of combat in the air, on the ground and under the sea. But there are questions.

    Why not use them to patrol our coast line or S&R ops? We can put satellites over Canada. We can’t build a world satellite system which means we have to buy American and piggy back on their system. That means they will decide if, where and when we can use them. If we are buying weapons systems they should be for our use not theirs.

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