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Canadian military expects to secure contract for B.C. drone base by end of 2024

A U.S. MQ-9 drone is on display during an air show at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (AP/Massoud Hossaini) A U.S. MQ-9 drone is on display during an air show at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (AP/Massoud Hossaini)
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The Department of National Defence expects to have a contract in place by the end of this year to build a new military drone base in British Columbia.

The $53-million facility will house three combat-ready MQ-9B drones built by U.S.-based manufacturer General Atomics, and 25 personnel at the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Comox, B.C., as part of the Canadian government's $2.49-billion military drone program announced late last year.

Defence Construction Canada, the federal agency responsible for military development projects, has tendered an advanced procurement notice to design and construct a 5,700-square-metre B.C. drone facility with an additional 11,000 square metres of outdoor apron and parking.

Once complete, the facility will house offices, workshops, meeting rooms, a communications hub and maintenance bays, and will serve as the Western Canadian counterpart to a larger drone base that's now in the design phase at 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia.

The Canadian government announced in December it would acquire 11 of the armed drones, with three to be stationed in Comox and eight in Greenwood. All of the aircraft will be piloted remotely from a new ground control centre to be built on existing National Defence property in Ottawa.

While the department is still seeking a contractor to build the B.C. facility, officials had already awarded contracts for the other two drone facilities before the deal to acquire the aircraft from General Atomics was announced.

Nova Scotia drone facility

Nova Scotia-based Pomerleau won a $4.65-million design consultant contract for the Greenwood site in February 2023. A National Defence spokesperson estimates the Nova Scotia facility will cost somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million.

Once complete, the 10,000-square-metre facility is expected to include offices, workshops, classrooms, hangar bays, classrooms and meeting rooms, with an additional 16,000 square metres of apron and outdoor space.

While the base will house eight of the MQ-9B drones, only four "will typically be assembled and ready for operations with four others typically stored in a high-security area," National Defence spokesperson Andrée-Anne Poulin told CTV News in an emailed statement.

The Greenwood facility is still in the design phase with no firm date for construction to get underway, she said.

Ottawa drone headquarters

Meanwhile, Bird Construction was awarded a design-build contract for the Ottawa drone headquarters last May.

The Department of National Defence estimates the facility will cost $65 million to construct. The headquarters is expected to accommodate approximately 198 personnel, as well as six aircraft cockpits and a pair of simulators inside a 6,000-square-metre facility.

Construction on the Greenwood drone site is expected to be completed in 2028 while the Ottawa headquarters should be operational the same year, according to National Defence.

The B.C. facility will be the last to come online. The current advanced procurement notice from Defence Construction Canada expires April 3, ahead of a formal design-build contract anticipated by late 2024.

A General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian drone over the Atlantic Ocean during a Royal Air Force event. (General Atomics)

National Defence says the Comox facility should be ready in 2030, with the expectation it will be designed to meet environmental certification as a net-zero carbon structure.

The first Canadian combat drones are slated for delivery in 2028, with the program fully operational by 2033.

Last September, the U.S. State Department revealed Canada's intention to buy the MQ-9B drones when it approved a foreign military sale request for munitions and other systems to outfit the aircraft, including Hellfire missiles and Mk82 500-pound bombs.

The aircraft will be deployed on operations with the Canadian Armed Forces abroad, while also serving a domestic role monitoring coastlines and providing civilian aid in wildfire and flood situations, according to National Defence.

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