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Canadian military to spend $2.5 billion on armed drones

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The Canadian military will spend $2.49 billion to acquire 11 remotely piloted aircraft – or drones – from U.S.-based manufacturer General Atomics, the federal government announced Tuesday.

The combat-capable MQ-9B aircraft, which are roughly the size of a fighter jet, will be stationed at 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., and 19 Wing Comox, B.C., while the pilots will fly the aircraft from six cockpits at a control centre in Ottawa.

The Department of National Defence says the first drones are slated for delivery in 2028, with the program fully operational by 2033.

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

In 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 219 Hellfire missiles and 12 Mk82 500-pound bombs.

The drones will not routinely carry weapons during operations in Canadian airspace, the Department of National Defence said.

In a statement Tuesday, Defence Minister Bill Blair said the drone acquisition will help ensure Canadians have a "modern, adaptable military that is prepared to respond to evolving and emerging security challenges," while also meeting the "growing demand for domestic assistance."

The $2.49-billion price tag includes six ground control stations, two new aircraft hangars, initial weapons for the drones, as well as training and sustainment equipment.

The Department of National Defence says 55 drone personnel will be stationed at 14 Wing Greenwood and 25 at 19 Wing Comox, with 160 staff at a main ground control centre in Ottawa. Additional personnel will be deployed to forward locations in northern Canada, as required.

The MQ-9B, with a wingspan of 24 metres, can remain aloft for up to 28 hours, cover a distance of 7,200 kilometres and travel at a maximum speed of 390 km/h, according to the department. 

The drone deal with General Atomics has the potential to create "close to 700 jobs annually for Canadian industry and value chain partners," and contribute $97 million a year to Canada’s gross domestic product over a nine-year period, officials said.

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