Canadian Air Force Makes $2.49B MQ-9B Combat Drone Buy

The SkyGuardian fleet will increase interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces, defense officials said.

The Royal Canadian Air Force has ordered 11 MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft systems as part of its ongoing military modernization effort. [Courtesy: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.]

The Royal Canadian Air Force (CAF) is set to buy a fleet of 11 MQ-9B SkyGuardian combat drones from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI), the country's defense officials announced.

The $2.49 billion purchase of the fighter jet-sized drones will increase Canadian force interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces while also helping the country fulfill its North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) responsibilities, Canada’s Department of National Defense said. The aircraft will also be tasked with monitoring the country's remote territories as part of civilian air operations during responses to wildfires and floods.

“At a time when defense and security needs are changing faster than ever, we must ensure Canada has a modern, adaptable military that is prepared to respond to evolving and emerging security challenges," said Defense Minister Bill Blair. "Canada must meet the growing demand for domestic assistance while preserving our ability to defend Canada, protect North America, and support our allies.”

MQ-9B SkyGuardian

The MQ-9B boasts a 79-foot wingspan with a maximum external payload capacity of 4,750 pounds. It offers intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities with the ability to fly over the horizon via satellite for up to 40 hours, according to GA-ASI. The aircraft features Lynx multimode radar, advanced electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor, and the ability to take off and land automatically.

The MQ-9B has a 79-foot wingspan. [Courtesy: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.]

“Canada’s vast territory and complex terrains, including in the Arctic, require a cost-effective multimission RPAS [remotely piloted aircraft system] solution that can endure long periods on station, fly in harsh weather environments, and safely operate in all airspaces,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI.

This past year, the Royal Air Force in the U.K. became the first military to operate the MQ-9B under its own designation, Protector RG Mk1.

CAF Upgrades

The investment is part of numerous military modernization initiatives that will have "tremendous impacts" on the country supporting its national defense interests, said Kody Blois, Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants. “Investing in [RPAS] is but one of many planned upgrades for our Royal Canadian Air Force—in addition to the F-35 for fighter missions, the CC-295 for search and rescue missions, new and upgraded Cormorant helicopters, and the P8-A Poseidon multi-mission aircraft,"

In addition to the 11 remotely piloted aircraft systems, the CAF contract also includes six ground control stations, new ground control center in Ottawa, two aircraft hangars, weapons, sustainment services, and training support. The first deliveries are expected in 2028, with full operational capability projected by 2033.

The aircraft will be based at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) in Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and CFB Comox in British Columbia, and will also be operated from northern territories.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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