06/01/2012 02:54 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Arctic surveillance by unmanned planes proposed

The Harper government is considering a proposal to buy at least three high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the Canadian Arctic.

The pitch was made by U.S. defence contractor Northrop Grumman and involves modifying its existing Global Hawk drone, which can operate at 20,000 metres, to meet the rigours of flying in the Far North.

The U.S. air force is considering selling some of its Global Hawks, which are still under construction, as part of military budget cuts.

The company is suggesting Canada could use the unmanned planes to monitor the Northwest Passage.

“One Polar Hawk can fly the entire Northwest Passage five or six times in a single mission,” said Dane Marolt of the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

“With three aircraft, you can do coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That gives you situational awareness of what's going on so, if something's identified, then action can be taken by the government.”

Marolt said the drones could be ready in as little as two years if the Canadian government decides to purchase them.

Marolt said any potential purchase would have to go through the Pentagon, but adds the proposal given to Canada includes aircraft, ground stations, spares and in-service support.

Marlot declined to attach a price tag, but a source with knowledge of the file said the package could run between $150 million and $170 million for each drone, depending on what kind of surveillance package the Royal Canadian Air Force wants.