Vanguard Magazine

Feb/Mar 2013

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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S Search and rescue p U e h Ian Coutts is the author of four books, most recently Brew North. His writing has appeared in Toronto Life, Canadian Business, the Globe and Mail, and elsewhere. ir a ait ly w us ps tio ste cau ext tes R n ida SA d an FW C in t Winston Churchill famously described the Soviet Union as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Good thing the esteemed wartime leader never caught a glimpse of the continuing drama surrounding Canada's quest for a new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. Intended to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's fleet of CC-115 Buffalos on the West Coast and the selection of CC-130 Hercules that perform the same search and rescue job in the rest of Canada, the quest for a new aircraft is now in its (at least) eighth year. The Buffalos are by this point nearly 50 years old, and as of 2011, only six of the original fifteen remained airworthy; the Hercules are a collection of what are known as "legacy" (i.e., old) models, including C-130Es that date back to the early 1960s. This to cover not just three very long sea coasts and the Great Lakes but vast areas of the Canadian Arctic. While major military purchases can often generate controversy, and even arguments about the need for the purchase at all, no one disputes that Canada needs a new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. But to date no purchase is in sight; thus far the government hasn't issued an RFP. What do we know? Industry Canada does say that the aircraft must meet the 100 percent industrial benefits goal expected of major Canadian defence purchases (although it would be noteworthy only if this requirement were waived). The Department of National Defence has said that new "FWSAR aircraft shall be capable of carrying out all FWSAR missions currently performed by the existing fleets," a straightforward, if vaguely broad, requirement. 22 FEBRUARY/MARCH 2013 In addition, the future aircraft will be equipped with advanced sensor equipment (radar, obviously, but also infra-red technology capable of detecting people by their body heat in darkness or extreme weather conditions.) And the government has held several consultations with industry in the past year, though it is not sharing the results of those publically yet. That is pretty much it. But if we don't know what they want – for what the Ottawa Citizen reports will be an initial $1.55 billion price tag – we do know what is available. Five aircraft look to be likely contenders at this point. Alenia C-27J Spartan At one point, the Spartan was pegged as the only "viable bidder" in the RCAF's search for a new FWSAR aircraft. In part, according to UBC political scientist Michael Byers in piece he wrote for the National Post, because of questions of interoperability – the United States Army was considering purchasing 77 of the aircraft. This contract, however, was subsequently cancelled when only about two dozen had been delivered after the U.S. Air Force took over the purchase. This two-engine medium transport features the same Pratt and Whitney engines and cockpit configuration as the C-130J Hercules, earning it the nickname "Baby Herc." Pointing to its manoeuvrability and relatively low cost, company spokesman Jim Metsner says, "we think the plane … has great characteristics." Perhaps wary after seeming to have the project in the bag, Metzner avoids specifics, adding only that "we have a team that's dedicated to winning this thing."

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