Up in the air [CANSEC2016D1]

25 May 2016

Having recently taken delivery of new-generation Lockheed Martin CC-130J Hercules airlifters and Boeing CH-147F Chinook helicopters, the Canadian Armed Forces have enhanced their airlift capabilities, while the deliveries of Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones to the navy have finally allowed the elderly CH-124 Sea Kings to retire. However, there are still many more requirements to answer to keep the nation’s air assets viable in a future changing world.

Future Fighter Capability Without doubt the most important of these is a new fighter to replace the CF-188 Hornets. Once calculated to have an estimated life expectancy (ELE) that expires in 2020, the Hornets are now destined to retire by 2025. The adoption of precision-guided munitions, and the resultant move to medium/high-level operations away from the rigours of low-level operations, certainly contributed to this ability to extend the ELE at a relatively low cost.

Now known as Future Fighter Capability (FFC), the former Next Generation Fighter Project aims to deliver multirole aircraft for both national defence and international operations. Canada joined the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme as a risk-sharing industrial partner, and subsequently announced a sole-source selection of the F-35A to answer a need for 65 aircraft.

That, of course, is now history. The incoming Liberal government pledged to drop the F-35 as being too expensive in its pre-election campaign, and the FFC programme is under review.

A new request for proposals is due to be issued in the 2017-19 timeframe, with a contract award currently scheduled for some time before 2020. This would allow time for deliveries to commence as the CF-188 is being phased out.

In the most recent round of requests for information, responses were received from Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet), Dassault (Rafale), Eurofighter (Typhoon) and Lockheed Martin (F-35). Saab (Gripen NG) opted not to respond on business grounds. However, with the creation of a new programme office last November and the promise of what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-188s, keeping in mind the primary mission of our fighter aircraft is the defence of North America”, Saab is monitoring the situation closely and may reconsider its position.

In the meantime, Canada remains a partner in the JSF programme, and by the end of 2014 government figures showed that 33 aerospace companies had received US$637 million in contracts. Answering warnings that these work packages would most likely be lost if the nation cancels its plans to buy the F-35, the government suggests that a new fighter deal could result in more work, and with a guarantee of contracts that was not provided under the original F-35 deal.

Fixed-wing SAR While FFC is the biggest-ticket RCAF requirement, the one most imminently in line to reach fruition is the conclusion of the Fixed-Wing Search And Rescue (FWSAR) programme, which seeks to replace the long-serving CC-115 Buffalo and relieve the CC-130 Hercules of SAR duties.

This much-delayed requirement was first pitched in 2002, and the most recent request for proposals was issued on 31 March 2015. The deadline for industry responses was extended to 11 January this year.

Three teams have responded: AirPro SAR Services (a teaming of Airbus Defence and Space with Provincial Aerospace to offer the C295W); Team Spartan (Leonardo, General Dynamics and DRS offering the C-27J); and Embraer of Brazil, which is pitching its KC-390. Somewhat surprisingly, Lockheed Martin elected not to bid its HC-130J. Testing of the three candidates is underway, and is expected to take about six months to complete, with an aim of rapidly delivering an initial capability.

Future requirements Beyond these programmes, there are many other requirements in the air arena. The Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) is another long-running programme that has resurfaced in recent times.

It covers the procurement of a fleet of medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs, the armed forces having gained experience in this class of vehicles through the lease of IAI Herons for employment in Afghanistan. A new round of information requests has been issued and, if proceeded with, this programme could lead to a contract award around 2020.

Other air asset requirements include a long-term plan known as Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft to replace, from around 2026, the CP-140 Aurora anti-submarine/ reconnaissance asset, which has received some upgrading for life-extension and overland surveillance.

As well as new acquisitions, a number of upgrades are listed as requirements. These include an ELE extension to beyond 2025 for the CC-138 Twin Otter, and an ELE extension for the CC-150 Polaris tanker/transport. In the case of the CC-150, however, there is a concurrent replacement programme running for a multirole tanker/transport. Any decisions regarding a tanker/ transport are almost certain to be deferred until after selection of the Future Fighter, because of the differing in-flight refuelling requirements of the candidates.

A requirement exists to extend the CH-149 Cormorant SAR helicopter’s ELE to at least 2040. A limited ELE extension to around 2030 is desired for the Bell CH-146 Griffon, after which a planned TRUH (Tactical Reconnaissance Utility Helicopter) could take over the Griffon’s tasks.

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