October 24, 2007
The Canadian military plans to buy a fleet of remote-controlled aircraft to patrol the Arctic, an official told CBC News.
Lt.-Col. Wade Williams said the drones, known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, will be equipped with cameras, radar, radios, electronic sensors and possibly even weapons.
They will fly day-long surveillance flights over water, land and ice while being piloted by an air crew stationed on the ground at a control station that could be thousands of kilometres away.
“I think UAVs will go a long way to alleviating the requirement to have constant manned aircraft in the air,” said Williams, who is with the military’s UAV program.
“They can do a lot of the eyes and ears missions that are being done today with manned aircraft.”
The military hopes to acquire the new aircraft within five years, but does not yet know how many it will buy or where it will buy them from.
There is no estimate yet on how much the aircraft will cost, though Williams said the drones are typically less expensive than the Aurora patrol aircraft the military currently uses when it flies surveillance missions.
UAVs areÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â more affordableÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â because they are generally smaller, lighter and cheaper to build than Auroras, and they use less fuel,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â need less maintenance and require fewer crew members with less training.
Pierre Leblanc, a retired colonel and a former commander of the Canadian Forces’ northern command, said the new aircraft could make sense economically, but stressed that no technology can replace a human presence.
“Typically, a manned flight with human beings right there, physically looking at the situation, generally gives you a better understanding of what’s taking place and a better capability to react to it,” Leblanc said.