Canada·Forum recap

Should Canada's military buy armed unmanned drones?

Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada's chief of the defence staff, says the military should buy new remotely piloted drones and those drones should include weapons. Do you think the Royal Canadian Air Force should have armed drones?
The U.S. air force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be used for surveillance or for an attack with its Hellfire missiles. The engine powering the drone is built by Rotax, a subsidiary of Bombardier Recreational Products. (Sgt. Effrain Lopez/U.S. Air Force/Reuters)

Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada's chief of the defence staff, says the military should buy new remotely piloted drones and those drones should include weapons.

"We do need UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), and I am of the view that we need armed UAVs," Vance told a Senate committee Monday.

Vance told senators that such drones would assist in operations overseas.

"If we are in operations against a force like ISIS, the surveillance piece is important but we also want to contribute to the strike," Vance said.

"In my view there's little point to having a UAV that can see a danger but can't strike it if it needs to."

The CU-161 Sperwer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was used for intelligence missions and as an eye in the sky for soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2009. (Air Force Museum Society of Alberta)

The Canadian Forces deployed unarmed drones during the mission in Afghanistan with mixed results. The French-built CU-161 Sperwer was used from 2003 to 2009. Later, the military leased Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance. 

The U.S. operated armed drones in Afghanistan — MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilotless planes — for surveillance and to attack insurgent positions. 

The drone programs run the Pentagon and the CIA have been subject to increasing scrutiny and criticism, particularly in light of the dramatic rise in strikes and in civilian casualties over the last eight years.

Do you think the Royal Canadian Air Force should include armed drones? Here's how the conversation went: 

(Please note that usernames are not necessarily the names of commenters. Some comments have been altered to correct spelling and to conform to CBC style. Click on the username to see the complete comment in the blog format.)

UAV pilots weigh in

We were lucky enough to have two people in the chat who identified themselves as former UAV pilots. They offered their insight into the issue. 

"On the modern battle field a radio is as good as a weapon. I was a UAV pilot in Afghanistan for four years. Canadian Herons often called in airstrikes on the bad guys. There were always plenty of shooters around willing to make the shot. Whether it comes from the UAV that found them, or another shooter near the UAV that found them, I doubt the target cares." — Mike in White Rock 

"I don't think the idea is to arm them over Canadian soil. They are frequently used on the battle field to support our soldiers on the ground there. We have several working in Iraq now, an armed UAV presence over them I am sure would be quite welcome." — Mike in White Rock 

"Armed drones make it much too easy to pull the trigger at no personal physical risk to the pilot, reducing our moral attachment to the act of killing other people." — Syndicator 

"That has just not been the case. In Afghanistan the decision to strike from a UAV goes through many stages." — Mike in White Rock 

"I worked in the UAV world in the RCAF for 4 years. In the end 99 per cent of a UAV's job is … gathering intelligence. Whether or not you use that intelligence that you gathered to drop bombs on is a second order effect. I can say that I wish we had armed UAV's in Afghanistan when I was there. It would have made our job much easier." — GaryM12 

"You don't need satellites. We flew our UAV's "line of sight" when in Afghanistan. You can have "beyond line of sight" if you have satellites and in the end its cheaper because you dont have to deploy troops to a theatre of operations." — GaryM12  

"The UAV's where not simple photo reconnaissance aircraft. They were much mor capable than that." — Mike in White Rock 

"OK, it seems that there is a lot of misconceptions about UAV's. First of all a UAV is an aircraft just like all other aircraft. Then only difference is that the cockpit of this aircraft is not attached to the plane. UAV's are required to follow ALL air regulations and airspace requirements and someone is required to be in control of the plane at all times. These are not a 'fire and forget' asset." — GaryM12 

"What does Canada need armed drones for? I thought we were bringing our armed flying machine home." — Georooney1

​"Well, for starters they would provide excellent cover for all those people we have on the ground in Iraq. Additionally, you have no idea what future conflict me my put our military people into. A UAV is part of the modern battlefield these days." — Mike in White Rock 

"We owe it to the soldiers we put on the ground to provide them with a capable set of eyes over head. UAV's have saved countless soldiers lives on the battle field. Whether it is armed or not is really a moot question. A radio will do the same job." — Mike in White Rock 

"There are many great UAV's out there right now that we could by from our allies for bargain basement prices." — GaryM12 

Can't see the chat? Click here.