After over five years of a competitive procurement process, the Canadian government has confirmed its intention to invest $2.5 billion in 11 remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), including training and infrastructure. The contract, announced on December 19, has been awarded to San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for its MQ-9B SkyGuardian. The single-engine pusher turboprop, roughly the size of a conventional fighter, will be stationed at the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) bases in 19 Wing Comox, B.C., and 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S.
The procurement process involves a direct commercial sale contract with General Atomics, supplemented by some components acquired through a foreign military sale (FMS) approved by the U.S. State Department. The RPAS project encompasses not only the drones themselves but also training, two new hangars, ongoing sustainment services, and a new ground control center with 160 personnel in Ottawa.
The RPAS project aims for full operational readiness by 2033, with the initial aircraft delivery expected in 2028. While the original plan was to have the drones operational by 2025, adjustments were necessary due to the specific requirements of high-latitude missions in extreme conditions.
The MQ-9Bs will be equipped with the WESCAM MX-20 electro-optical/infrared sensor to meet these demands. The MQ-9Bs, with a mission radius of up to 1,850 kilometers and a maximum flight duration of 34 hours, are not required to carry weapons in domestic airspace. However, they have the capacity to be armed with various munitions for specific missions. The State Department approved an FMS for munitions, including 219 Hellfire II precision-strike missiles and 12 Mk82 500-lbs general-purpose bombs.
The government emphasizes that the RPAS will provide commanders with near real-time information in deployed operations, enabling the detection, recognition, identification, tracking, and engagement of targets in complex environments. The investment is considered a significant milestone for the RCAF, approaching its centennial next year.
The announcement was made at the RCAF bases, with parliamentary secretary Marie-France Lalonde delivering the news in Comox, and MP Kody Blois announcing it in Greenwood. Beyond military applications, the RPAS platforms are expected to support civilian operations such as wildfire and flood responses. The project is projected to generate hundreds of jobs and contribute millions to the country’s GDP annually, with General Atomics partnering with Canadian industry players like MDA, CAE, and L3Harris Wescam under Team SkyGuardian Canada.