CANADIAN FORCES YEARS AWAY FROM FIELDING A UAV: OTTAWA CITIZEN DAVID PUGLIESE

CANADA YEARS AWAY FROM FIELDING A UAV: OTHER OPERATORS STYMIED IN ATTEMPTS TO GET PERMISSION TO USE THEIR AIRCRAFT

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

Defence Watch

As U.S. government agencies continue to make use of unmanned aerial vehicles for domestic security, such operations in Canada remain blocked by bureaucratic inaction.

Just recently the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency branched out in its UAV operations by acquiring its first maritime variant of the Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle.

Nothing similar will be happening anytime soon in Canada, industry representatives tell Defence Watch.

The Defence Department’s JUSTAS (Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System) program is still years away from fielding UAVs for domestic patrols.

But private operators say they can augment the Canadian Forces and government’s maritime surveillance capabilities by operating small UAVs for domestic coastal patrols and to support Canadian military search and rescue missions. The government already uses private firms to conduct some of its secondary surveillance needs using fixed-wing aircraft.

But private UAV users who want to operate the aircraft have been stymied in their efforts. Current federal aviation regulations are designed for manned aircraft and do not take into account unmanned flight operations.

“The technology and customers are there now but it’s a matter of the regulator trying to figure out how to fit these aircraft into the civilian air regulations,” said Pip Rudkin, chairman of the industry group, Unmanned Systems Canada.

Canadian operators want to use the UAVs in domestic settings ranging from support to police tactical and explosive ordnance teams, security patrols over key infrastructure such as oil pipelines in remote areas, and maritime surveillance patrols. Other operators have suggested using UAVs, outfitted with infrared sensors, to support domestic Canadian Forces search-and-rescue missions.

So far the Ontario Provincial Police has been using UAVs on a limited basis. It must receive special permission from Transport Canada, which oversees the country’s aviation rules.

Transport Canada has had a UAV working group in place since 2007 in an effort to determine how best to proceed on the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles in civilian airspace. But little has happened, say UAV industry officials.

Transport Canada spokeswoman Mélanie Emma Quesnel stated in an email that the department is consulting with the UAV industry to develop a regulatory framework that would deal with public safety issues while allowing for the development of the unmanned aerial vehicle sector. “There is no set timeline for that process,” she added.

The department’s main concern centers on the potential for UAVs to collide with manned aircraft.

There are similar concerns in the U.S. but regulators are working out the issues.

The U.S. Customs department maritime UAV is expected to be ready for Operational Test and Evaluation in early 2010. After the UAV completes operational testing this spring, it will be deployed to the drug source and transit zones to support joint counter-narcotics operations.

The UAV, called the Guardian, has been modified from a standard Predator B with structural, avionics, and communications enhancements, as well as the addition of a Raytheon SeaVue Marine Search Radar and an Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Sensor that is optimized for maritime operations.

Canadian UAV specialists say it will take between five and 10 years at least before Transport Canada alters existing rules to take into account UAVs for domestic uses.

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

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