Canada should buy drones that can strike as well as see, says Jonathan Vance

Canada's top soldier, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has told a Senate committee the Canadian Forces needs to be equipped with armed drones that can both spot and attack enemies.

Defence chief says there's 'little point' having drones that can only watch

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting 1:44

Canada's top soldier says the Canadian Forces need new drones. And Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, wants those drones to be armed.

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

Vance told senators that such drones would improve the military's ability to patrol and monitor Canadian territory as well as help in search and rescue efforts. The drones would also 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."

Vance acknowledged drones are controversial and he anticipates a debate over how they should be used.

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting 2:01

The U.S. has used drones to target militants in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. The Pentagon confirmed this week it used unmanned aircraft to help carry out an airstrike in Somalia that targeted the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab. The attack reportedly killed 150 people.

The Canadian Forces deployed unarmed drones during the mission in Afghanistan with mixed results. The military has for years been looking at options for more modern UAVs through its Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition Project, known in military circles as JUSTAS.

Vance said the JUSTAS project remains active. "I am working on it," he assured senators. "I have increased the priority on this."

The general's spirited pitch for armed drones appears to strike a different tone than the one set by the Liberal government.

In their 2015 election platform, the Liberals pledged to make long-range surveillance UAVs one of their top equipment priorities. The platform, however, made no mention of arming them.

And while Vance used the fight against the so-called Islamic State as an example of a potential mission for armed UAVs, the government has ended the military's bombing mission against the militant group to focus instead on humanitarian assistance and training local forces.

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting 0:37