Ottawa plans to spend $2.49 billion to acquire 11 remotely piloted drones to help the Royal Canadian Air Force conduct long-distance surveillance, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Canada will buy the drones from U.S.-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., with some components from the United States government. Defence Minister Bill Blair said in a news release that the drones, known as the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, will offer Canada’s military “nimble response options” during deployments.

“We must ensure Canada has a modern, adaptable military that is prepared to respond to evolving and emerging security challenges,” Blair said. “Canada must meet the growing demand for domestic assistance while preserving our ability to defend Canada, protect North America, and support our allies.”

Roughly the size of a fighter jet, the large drones will be used to monitor Canada’s coastline and territory, and assist the military when it responds to natural disasters such as forest fires and floods. Officials said the drones will also help Canada fulfil its missions with Norad and NATO, and provide the air force interoperability with allied militaries.

In addition to the aircraft, the acquisition includes six ground control stations, a new ground control centre to be based in Ottawa, two new aircraft hangers, weapons and training technology. The infrastructure costs are included in the overall budget for the project.

Tuesday’s announcement was made during news conferences at Canadian Forces bases in Greenwood, N.S., and Comox, B.C., where the new aircraft will be stationed. The drones will also be operated from an unspecified forward operating location when used to support missions in northern Canada.

The first drones are expected to be delivered in 2028 and the program will be at full operational capability by 2033.

Officials said that under the contract with General Atomics the drone project 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.

Meanwhile, officials said the remote aircraft system will be capable of detecting, recognizing, identifying, tracking and engaging targets in various environments, including in Canada’s North. It will only be armed when necessary for specifically assigned tasks.

The drone program makes good on a promise the Canadian government made to the military more than a decade ago. It also follows the federal government’s Nov. 30 announcement that it had finalized an agreement with the U.S. to purchase up to 16 P-8A Poseidon aircraft for the air force.

At an estimated cost of $10.4 billion, the P-8A is to replace Canada’s maritime patrol aircraft — the CP-140 Aurora — which has been in service for more than 40 years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2023.