CC-115, BC coast
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The USA isn’t the only country whose SAR (search and rescue) aircraft programs are having a hard go of it lately. In 2004, Canada announced a program to replace its aging DHC-5 (CC-115) Buffalo (West Coast) and CC-130E/H Hercules (East Coast) search-and-rescue planes with at least 15 new aircraft. Some of the Canadian Forces’ CC-130s have already been grounded after flying 40,000 – 50,000 hours, and a contract has been signed for C-130J replacements.

The SAR project hasn’t been so lucky. The first SAR aircraft was supposed to be delivered in 2006, with all deliveries complete by 2009. Unfortunately, the Conservative Harper government temporarily shelved the project when it came to power, and subsequent efforts to restart it have featured one poor performance after another. The competitors have since expanded beyond the familiar duo of the Alenia C-27J Spartan with its speed advantage and C-130J compatibility, vs. the EADS-CASA C-295M with its longer fuselage and lower operating costs. Yet expanded options are no substitute for serving planes, and at least 1 victim has already died because the current fleet was unserviceable. What Canada’s SAR program really needs right now is transparency and urgency. Neither is currently in evidence.

Canada’s SAR Challenge

SAR missions, 1998-2001
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Canada is the 2nd-largest country in the world in terms of square area. Its 9,976 km3 exceeds both China (9,596 km3) and the USA (9,363 km3), and its 3 ocean borders to the east, west and north expand its required coverage into large and hostile environments. Each year, the JRCCs handle an average of 8,000 air and marine SAR cases, and Canadian Forces SAR aircraft conduct well over 1,000 missions per year. In 2008, for instance, Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC) handled 9,097 SAR cases across Canada.

JRCCs are staffed by a combination of coast Guard and Canadian Forces personnel, and are currently located in Halifax, NS; Trenton, ON; and Victoria BC. The SAR crews and aircraft are based in Gander, NL (EH-101 derivative CH-149 Cormorant helicopters); Greenwood, NS (CH-149 Cormorant helicopters and C-130E/H “CC-130” Hercules aircraft); Trenton, ON (Bell 412 derivative CH-146 Griffon helicopters and CC-130 Hercules aircraft); Winnipeg, MB (CC-130 Hercules aircraft); and Comox, BC (CH-149 Cormorant helicopters and DHC-5/ CC-115 Buffalo fixed-wing aircraft).

These are supplemented as required by Canadian Forces’ Griffon helicopters in Goose Bay, Labrador, NL; Bagotville, QC; and Cold Lake, AB; and by a small arctic fleet of DHC-6/ CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft based in Yellowknife, NWT.

The “Competitors”

Bath for a Buffalo
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De Havilland’s DHC-5 Buffalo and DHC-4 Caribou aircraft were uniquely well designed for short-field operations in difficult conditions. The Buffalo program actually won an Us Army competition for a light STOL(Short Take-Off and Landing) airlifter, and its 1st flight was in 1961, but the production contract was never awarded because the USAF took over fixed wing operations and canceled it. Canada bought them, and so did a number of 3rd world countries who found its bush-plane design heritage appealing.

Buffalo production stopped in 1986, however, which is creating an issue with spare parts. Plans are currently in place to keep Canada’s 6 remaining Buffalos in the air until 2015, as their slow speed makes them ideal for searching the west coast’s difficult mountain ranges. At present rates, Canada may not even have a flying replacement by then.

Under the 2004 program, there were 2 competitors. That may expand to 5 or even 6 competitors once Canada releases its new RFP, but only if that RFP is a real competition.

C-27J Spartan
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C-27J. One sure competitor is Alenia’s C-27J Spartan, which won the US Army’s Joint Cargo Aircraft light transport competition. This is ironic, because the Buffalo arose out of a similar US Army contract. In time, the USAF’s emphasis on larger aircraft instead, and their mismatch with front line needs, would spawn the competitions that culminated in the USA’s Joint Cargo Aircraft. The C-27J’s win gave it a toehold in North America – until the role was given to the US Air Force again, and they killed the JCA just as they did the Buffalo.

The C-27J “Baby Herc” has a wider cabin with a strengthened floor that can accommodate vehicles and heavier loads; offers a 325 knot cruising speed; would offer commonalities with the US Army during continental emergencies; and offers long-term cost savings via engine and other commonalities with Canada’s new C-130J Hercules. The US fleet of 21 C-27Js needs to find a home, but Alenia has said point-blank that it will not support that fleet if it’s sold abroad. If Canada wants this plane, it will have to buy new.

Media reports indicate that the C-27J may be the government’s choice under an ACAN bid, which essentially picks the desired aircraft and then invites other competitors to make an offer. To date, ACAN experience is that the requirements are explicitly written to exclude many competitive choices. There is also no appeal process comparable to the US GAO, which can hold the government to fair application of set criteria and review procurement decisions. As such, ACAN bids by other manufacturers are generally a waste of time.

C-295, Alaskan mountains
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C295. EADS-CASA’s C-295M, is a stretched version of the smaller CN-235. The CN-235MP variant is a popular maritime search and patrol aircraft, and a modified version serves the US Coast Guard as the HC-144A “Ocean Sentry” surveillance aircraft. The larger C-295M offers substantial long-term savings by costing less to fly and maintain than the C-27J; may offer interesting cross-over possibilities by leveraging the HC-144A’s “mission pallet” approach. It has a longer cabin that can carry more pallets of cargo or medical litters, or offer more crew room, reportedly offers better range, and has a cruising time of 12 hours. Built-in air-to-air refueling capability can extend even that mission time, to the limit of the crew’s endurance.

That last set of performance statistics may prove especially appealing, given Canada’s vast distances. The tradeoff is a slow cruise speed of just 260 KTAS, which also has implications for long-range rescue attempts. On the other hand, EADS-CASA says that Portugal picked the C-295 because it outperformed its competitor in precisely the kind of long-term low-speed, low-level handling that’s required for mountain search operations on Canada’s west coast.

C-130J Hercules
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C-130J family. Lockheed Martin attempted to submit a 3rd aircraft in the USA’s JCA competition, but their bid was denied. That plane was a compact version of the C-130J Hercules. Now that Canada has confirmed itself as a C-130J customer, Lockheed Martin may seek to take advantage of the industrial offset partnerships it is already creating in order to meet the “Canada First” 100% industrial offset rule, and offer Canada a C-130J-SAR. One outside suggestion would have them offer their HC-130J Commando II, for use in a dual SAR/ Special Forces role.

Advantages in this SAR role would include size, speed, range and cruising time, C-130 class transport capabilities in an emergency, and full commonality with Canada’s new C-130J fleet. Its 4 engines create a tradeoff, however, as fuel economy and hence operating costs would suffer.

CoastWatch Q200
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The 4th and 5th potential competitors are Canadian entries.

Q400. Bombardier’s Q-series/ Dash 8 has been modified for use as a maritime patrol and search aircraft, and serves with similar organizations like Australia’s CoastWatch. The aircraft’s lack of a rear ramp is probably its biggest obstacle to its acceptance in a full search and rescue role.

DHC-5NG? The Buffalo itself is the 5th option. Viking Air Ltd. now holds the type certificates for most of DeHavilland’s aircraft, including the DHC-5 Buffalo. The firm has recently enjoyed success with its revival of the legendary DHC-6 Twin Otter, and has offered to upgrade the existing CC-115 fleet, while producing new aircraft for the SAR program at its manufacturing facilities in Calgary and Victoria. The Buffalo’s old GE CT64-410-3 engines would be replaced by Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PW150 used in Bombardier’s Dash 8s and many other regional aircraft, and the planes would receive digital avionics suites and FLIR systems derived from the Series 400 Twin Otter.

The Buffalo has excellent short takeoff capabilities, and excels at slow-speed, all-weather flying, which is why it performs SAR on Canada’s mountainous west coast. The Viking proposal would offer Canada the largest industrial benefit, with nearly 100% Canadian content for the buy, and additional potential for exports. With Viking’s modifications, the DHC-5NG’s top speed is projected to improve from 235 knots to 300 KTAS, with a carrying capacity and profile that’s comparable to the slower C-295M. The DHC-5NG’s risks include development risks, and the risk of an aircraft type that could wind up being unique to Canada, with all of the attendant support and upgrade burdens.

MV-22 Osprey
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CV-22. The 6th option is quite recent, and surfaced with October 2011 reports that Bell Helicopter and Boeing were demonstrating their tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey in Canada.

Its notional advantage over current contenders is the V-22’s ability to do more than perform identification and supply drops. Unlike other competitors, an MV-22 or CV-22 derivative can pick up rescuees immediately, removing the risks and expense involved in sending additional helicopters or ground forces. All it needs is a landing spot or winching position. The flip side is its status as the most expensive option to buy and most expensive to operate, coupled with a readiness rate that remains below expectations. Canada’s poor experience with the readiness of its AW101/CH-149 Cormorant SAR helicopters may create especial caution around that last point.

Contracts and Key Events


December 9/16: Airbus has been selected as the winner of the Canadian government’s competition for new search and rescue aircraft. The C-295 won out against offerings from Leonardo’s C-27J and Embraer’s KC-390 by offering the best pricing for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s requirements. Under the $2.3 billion program, Airbus will collaborate with key Canadian firms, including PAL Aerospace on in-service support, Pratt & Whitney Canada for engines, CAE for training and simulation, and L3 Wescam for the electro-optic sensors.

January 20/16: Canada’s hunt for a new fleet of search and rescue aircraft will not consider Lockheed’s C-130J. Proposals for the procurement were due mid-January and do include the Airbus C-295, Alenia’s C-27J Spartan and Embraer’s latest offering, the KC-390. Part of the competition involved the potential providers suggesting how many of their aircraft would be required by the Royal Canadian Air Force to conduct their operations, rather than a specified number being supplied by the government. Lockheed Martin’s lack of participation in the competition is said to have been in reaction to the saga revolving around Canada’s recent backing out of the F-35 program to launch a new procurement competition.


December 15/15: Canada’s search-and-rescue procurement program has a new contender as Brazilian firm Embraer is to offer a bid for their KC-390. Embraer will likely face competition from Airbus’s C-295, and Alenia’s C-275 when bids are officially submitted in January. While Airbus and Alenia have been courting the Canadian government for a number of years, the KC-390 is said to have an advantage in terms of speed and range, although it is not expected to enter into service until 2018. Canada’s procurement competition will see companies submit bids based on how many they think will be needed to fulfill the country’s search-and-rescue needs as opposed to being given a fixed figure for tender.

Feb 13/15:The long, long, long delayed RFP for Canada’s new fixed-wing SAR capability is said to be coming shortly. By now, only three players are still waiting for it.


May 30/14: One day, Canada might even have an RFP for an FWSAR program touted as a “top priority” back in 2008. The Canadian Press discovers that Canada did give serious consideration to buying the USA’s Joint Combat Aircraft fleet of 21 C-27Js, but it fell through. The RCAF’s Feb 12/12 presentation described it as “a unique, time-sensitive investment opportunity,” albeit one that would spark a political backlash from Canadian firms that wouldn’t get their cut. CP writes that:

“The air force’s proposal would have effectively blown up years of careful bridge rebuilding between Public Works and the aerospace industry, which complained loudly that the original specifications were wired to favour the…. C-27J…. protests were so deafening that MacKay ordered the National Research Council to examine the plan. It agreed the military’s specifications were far too specific and needed to be broadened in order to ensure competition.”

By the time that NRC examination would have been underway, it would have been abundantly clear that Alenia and the Italian government were prepared to use extreme measures. The Feb 27/12 statement from their CEO said that the manufacturer and Italian government would work hard to deny any support to any resale customer outside the US government, effectively making a Canadian purchase impossible. The USAF C-27J fleet now resides with SOCOM and the US Coast Guard. Sources: CP, via Vancouver Sun, “Fixed-wing search plane program almost short-circuited by RCAF proposal”.

May 29/14: Team Airbus. Airbus Military signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Provincial Aerospace Ltd. in Newfoundland to provide in-service support for their C295, if it wins the FWSAR competition. Sources: Canadian Manufacturing, “N.L. firm joins Airbus on Canadian Forces search and rescue fleet bid”.

May 27/14: Team Spartan. Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi picks Esterline CMC Electronics (CMC) in Montreal, PQ to provide the flight management system (FMS) for its worldwide C-27J Spartan fleet, and for Team Spartan’s FWSAR offering. CMC is already tapped to supply their its TacView Portable Mission Display and SureSight Enhanced Vision System sensor for Team Spartan in Canada. Sources: Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch, “Esterline CMC Electronics of Montreal Selected To Provide Flight Management System For Worldwide C-27J Spartan Fleet”.


CC-130 over BC
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Dec 26/13: USCG. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act is signed into law, locking in the transfer of the USAF’s 14 remaining C-27Js to the Coast Guard. Initial flight operations are scheduled to begin within 6-12 months, but a Jan 6/14 Alenia North America release shows that there’s more expense to come:

“The company also anticipates the USCG will immediately begin the process for expanding the C-27J’s capabilities with tailored mission kits to include surface-search radars, electro-optical sensors and mission suites installed on all 14 planes.”

Creation of these new kits will be good news for Alenia’s chances in Canada, which already seems to tilt toward the C-27J. Alenia improves their odds of winning by having the USCG use their solution as a lead customer, giving them parity with the fully integrated C295 MPA. It’s also better to have the USCG pay to integrate all of the required equipment, instead of adding that cost to a Canadian bid. Sources: Govtrack, “H.R. 1960: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014” | Alenia NA, “14 Alenia Aermacchi C-27Js transferred to U.S. Coast Guard”.

Aug 30/13: Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Government Services announces that after 2 years worth of Letters of Interest, Canada’s bureaucracy has produced… a draft RFP. Not a real RFP, which won’t arrive at the government’s BuyAndSell.ca site until 2014. A draft RFP “for final comments.”

The name of the ministry making the announcement is a clue regarding why this might be so. Canadian government.

June 17/13: Defence minister MacKay offers some thoughts on Canada’s SAR competition to

Aviation Week. It looks like Viking will have a very hard time pushing its modernized Buffalo. The required recertification of their upgraded aircraft comes with a time-to-service delay that could be a killer.

He also points to the Buffalo NG’s status as a developmental aircraft, though experience with Canada’s CH-147Fs and CH-148/S-92 helicopters shows that Canada is perfectly capable of turning an off-the-shelf buy into a developmental project. Aviation Week | CDFAI.

April 30/13: Report. The Auditor General of Canada’s 2013 Spring Report includes a section covering Canadian Search and Rescue. The bottom line is stark, but what’s DND doing? Still “reviewing its options.” Translation: nothing of substance. OAG:

“National Defence has not sufficiently replaced and has had difficulty maintaining its SAR aircraft at the level necessary to respond to SAR incidents effectively.”

Canada’s 11 CC-130E/H Hercules are based across Canada at Comox, BC (west), Winnipeg, MN (central), Trenton, ON (central), and Greenwood, NS (east). They lack modern SAR sensors and equipment, and are all over 20 years old. Maintenance is time-consuming and expensive, and 2 planes have received new wings to keep them flying. The Hercules planes are also needed for transport operations, so they aren’t always available.

The CC-115 Buffalos on the west coast cost $20 million per year to maintain, and will need new engines if they’re flown past 2015. In 2011, Buffalo airplanes were unavailable for SAR on 119 occasions, and in 5 of these cases there were no SAR replacement airplanes.

The CH-149 Cormorant/ AW101 helicopters have been spread more evenly across Canada, with 5 in B.C. on the west coast, 4 in Nova Scotia on the east coast, and 3 in Newfoundland to cover the northeast seas. Buying the USA’s failed Presidential helicopters has helped with spares, but “corrosion from salt water is increasing maintenance needs, with at least two helicopters always in maintenance…”

The 5 CH146 Griffon/ Bell 412 helicopters assigned to SAR duties lack range and payload. They’ve been relocated to Trenton, ON in a secondary role. OAG release | OAG Report, Chapter 7 | CDFAI.

March 19/13: The National Post runs an article covering DND’s SAR competition decisions, by former NDP (socialist party) candidate Michael Byers, and left-wing Rideau Institute research fellow Stewart Webb (q.v. also June 19/12 entry). Their failure to mention Public Works Canada’s role in defense procurement is odd, but their other factual assertions are pretty straightforward.

Byers and Webb allege that DND passed up an 2007 opportunity to buy Brazil’s retired fleet of Buffalo aircraft as a source of spare parts, and also dismissed an internal proposal to buy spare parts from Viking Air, which owns the rights to the design. A proposal to re-engine the Buffalos to allow service until 2015 was also reportedly rejected.

Their most damning allegation, if true, is that DND still hasn’t re-written their FWSAR specifications, over 3 years after the competition was derailed because the specification had been written to allow only 1 contender. We say “if true” because DND’s Aug 16/11 statement specifically said that the Statement of Requirements had been re-written. National Post.

2010 – 2012

Maneuvering and teaming by industry, disinterest and slipshod work by government; An alternative FWSAR proposal.

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End 2012: FWSAR+. US Army Lt. Col. (ret.) Jim Dorschner offers an alternative FWSAR framework, in DND’s Canadian Military Journal. FWSAR Plus: A Way Forward proposes that Canada buying 10 Bombardier Q200s in the same SAR configurations bought by foreign militaries, plus 10 dual-role HC-130Js to fulfill SAR and Special Forces roles. The Q200/ Dash-8s would be based on both coasts at CFB Comox, BC and CFB Greewood, NS. The HC-130Js would be based in central Canada at CFB Winnipeg, MB and at Canada’s main C-130 base: CFB Trenton, ON. All existing C-130H transports and transport/tankers would be retired, leaving only C-130Js in the fleet.

The result would be a unified fleet of 27 C-130Js to serve in transport, tanker, SAR, and special forces roles, plus 10 lower-cost Q200s with conformal tanks to extend range. It’s an interesting proposal, and its venue ensures that it will be noticed.

Nov 27/12: Mixed signals. Defence minister Peter MacKay confirms to the Commons Defence Committee: “We’ve broadened the specs to include the possibility of a mixed fleet…” This confirms reports from Oct 16/12.

The public works ministry has given airplane manufacturers until Dec. 21 to express interest. Sun Media.

Nov 15/12: Embraer’s KC-390? The Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese writes:

“The recent industry day on the Canadian Forces fixed wing search and rescue (FWSAR) project brought a new player into the mix. Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embaer was invited to attend.”

The KC-390 is a twin-engine jet transport in the same performance class as the C-130J Hercules, and Embraer has built it into a trans-Atlantic, multinational project. Its faster cruising speed would give it advantages in a SAR/special forces role, and Embraer might be tempted to offer Canada a deal, in order to secure a high-end market endorsement. The bad news for Embraer is that they’re seen as a major competitor by Canadian aerospace firms, and especially by Bombardier. FWSAR’s rear ramp requirement caused Bombardier to bow out of the recent Industry Day. The political optics of shutting out Quebec’s flagship firm Bombardier, while giving the contract to their biggest competitor, make a KC-390 victory almost impossible to imagine.

Oct 16/12: Dual buy? The Canadian government is reportedly thinking of buying 2 different FWSAR platforms. That could open a West Coast niche for Canada’s Viking Air and its Buffalo NG. It could also open the door to a limited V-22 buy, if Canada wants to have those capabilities without compromising its entire fleet. Ottawa Citizen | Victoria Times-Colonist.

Oct 10/12: Team Airbus. Discovery Air in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to become Airbus Military’s primary Canadian partner, and provide training and in-service support if the C295 is picked for the FWSAR program. An Arctic partner is one way to strengthen their bids credential’s, and the partners hope their duties will include setting up a search and rescue base in Yellowknife, instead of dispatching planes from places like Winnipeg, many flying hours south. N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod adds his support for their bid:

“The Northwest Territories is many hours from the nearest dedicated search and rescue facility. Whenever I say that to people, they are surprised. They know how harsh our climate is. In any search and rescue operation, every minute counts. This is particularly true in our northern winters. Northerners are Canadians, too. We should not be penalized for where we live.”

See: CBC News | CDFAI | Discovery Air.

Sept 14/12: LoI. Letter of Interest (amendment 004) issued to publish FWSAR Essential Elements V2.0. Source.

LoI issued

Sept 3/12: Air Force only. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the government will not consider public-private partnerships for its SAR requirements, along the lines of programs in Australia and Britain. A July 2011 statement had appeared to open that option, but:

“…industry sources say that the option of allowing firms to provide aircraft and crews on a contract basis to the Canadian Forces never really stood a chance. The RCAF was not keen on the option as they see SAR as a high-profile role they want to continue providing in all aspects.”

June 19/12: Rideau Report. The left-wing Rideau Institute releases a report: “Search and Replace: The Case for a Made-in-Canada Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Fleet” advises the government to choose a mixed fleet of SAR aircraft, using an open competition, with a clear Statement of Operational Requirements (SOR) that permits Canadian bidders.

The only Canadian options would be Viking’s Buffalo NG and Bombardier’s Q400/ Dash 8. Co-incidentally, a separate article by the authors of that report recommends picking only those 2 planes. The Q400s would be used on the East Coast and in the arctic, but modified with side door deflectors for parajumps, and underbelly “drop hatches” for life rafts and other equipment. The Ottawa Citizen points out that the Q400 may have another issue, beyond its lack of a rear ramp:

“Defence Watch has visited the Bombardier [CANSEC defense trade show] booth a number of times over the years to ask about the Q400 or other Bombardier products for FWSAR, only to be met with blank looks and the suggestion that some information might be available from corporate HQ… maybe.”

The Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs institute also chimes in and asks, reasonably, why would one bother recommending a competition when one’s mind is already made up? CDFAI also cites, and sources, the Canadian Forces’ unstated requirement that the planes should double as tactical transport aircraft. Within Canada’s closed and opaque procurement process, the fact that a requirement is unstated is no barrier to having it determine the winner. Rideau Institute release | full report || BC’s The Tyee | CDFAI | Ottawa Citizen.

May 30/12: Team Lockheed. Lockheed Martin and Cascade Aerospace Inc. announce a partnership at the CANSEC 2012 trade show. Their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) includes offering the C-130J for Canada’s FWSAR, “as well as other programs and projects relating to Lockheed’s C-130J Super Hercules aircraft.” The obvious selling points of that bid will be range, commonality, and an established industrial offsets program. The obvious pitfall is cost.

In 2010, Lockheed Martin awarded a 20 year contract to Cascade for maintenance services to support Canada’s 17 new CC-130Js, the last of which arrived on May 8/12. Cascade also provides fleet management services directly to the RCAF for their older CC-130E/H fleet, and is 1 of just 2 Lockheed Martin-authorized C-130 Service Centers in the western hemisphere. Cascade Aerospace.

May 29/12: Team Alenia. Alenia Aermacchi announces its C-27J FWSAR team. General Dynamics Canada will offer performance-based aircraft support, and Provincial Aerospace will handle the SAR conversions. Fellow Finmeccanica subsidiary DRS Canada’s role is not made clear. The release professes faith that a draft RFP will materialize in the fall of 2012, and that a winner will be picked in 2014. Alenia [PDF]

May 8/12: DND’s Report on Plans and Priorities 2012-2013’s “Supplementary Tables: Status Report on Transformational and Major Crown Projects” include FWSAR. It says that the Treasury Board approved a budget in March 2012, but approval isn’t due until the fall of 2013, and even if this contract actually keeps its schedule, no order will be placed until spring 2014. The 1st new aircraft isn’t expected until 2017, and it will be 2018 before the new planes can really take over.

Other sources report that the approved expenditure authority was C$ 3.8 billion. Treasury Board DND “Status Report on Transformational and Major Crown Projects” | left-wing Rideau Institute.

March 23/12: Public Works Canada announces yet another Industry Day workshop for Canada’s FWSAR, on April 11/12. They are “now ready to resume industry engagement on FWSAR”, after taking since Aug 16/11 to move things forward again. Companies are “invited to provide comments and questions,” but failure to attend the workshops won’t exclude any suppliers from bidding later on.

Note that this competition was supposedly re-started in 2009. PWGSC | MERX Solicitation.

Feb 27/12: Better buy new. Alenia Aermacchi CEO Giuseppi Giordo gives an interview at Singapore’s air show, which throws a major wrench in American plans to re-sell the C-27J fleet. The contract itself reportedly has clauses that given Alenia discretion over resales, and if the USAF doesn’t reassign or store the Spartans,

“…we will do our best – not only us, but the Italian government – not to support those planes. They can sell, but as the original equipment manufacturer, I will not give spares, not guarantee configuration control, and so on…”

See full coverage in “The USA’s C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft“.

Jan 26/12: Buy used? Preliminary FY 2013 budget materials discuss coming shifts in Pentagon priorities, as the US defense department moves to make future cuts. The USAF’s 38-plane C-27 fleet will now be eliminated entirely, and sold:

“The new strategic guidance emphasizes flexibility and adaptability. The C-­27J was developed and procured to provide a niche capability to directly support Army urgent needs in difficult environments such as Afghanistan where we thought the C-130 might not be able to operate effectively. However, in practice, we did not experience the anticipated airfield constraints for C-­130 operations in Afghanistan and expect these constraints to be marginal in future scenarios. Since we have ample inventory of C-130s and the current cost to own and operate them is lower, we no longer need – nor can we afford – a niche capability like the C-­?27J aircraft. The Air Force and the Army will establish joint doctrine relating to direct support.”

This could be an opportunity for Canada, if DND can act with uncharacteristic haste. Australia has an approved request for 10 new C-27Js, and could decide to step in. Other C-27J operators looking to expand their fleet may also see an opportunity. Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF]

Jan 5/12: The Ottawa Citizen reports that the Cabinet of government ministers has signed off on the FWSAR project. DND spokeswoman Tracy Poirier adds:

“The $1.55-billion FWSAR project will acquire a new off-the-shelf fleet of fixed wing aircraft to replace the existing fleet of six CC115 Buffalo and ten CC130 Hercules SAR aircraft by 2015. A project objective is to provide an equivalent level of SAR service to Canadians while reducing costs associated with supporting the fleets.”

Oct 1/11: V-22. Reports surface that Bell Helicopter and Boeing have demonstrated their V-22 to the Canadian Forces, as a possible solution to that country’s long-running on-again, off-again domestic search and rescue aircraft competition.

The competition is currently off-again, so there’s no live RFP, and no commitment yet by Boeing to bid. AIN Online | Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch.

Aug 16/11: Canada’s DND finally addresses the FWSAR project:

“Based on the NRC review, the SOR(Statement Of Requirements) has been amended to allow for a wider range of Fixed Wing Search and Rescue solutions and to reflect a capability-based rationale.”

Jan 25/10: Defense News reports that a recommendation for Canada’s FWSAR program is expected to be put before the government by May 2010 for approval. In addition, the government has asked the National Research Council in Ottawa, to examine the military’s search-and-rescue needs and how such capabilities could be improved. That review is due March 5/10.

Even so, Defense News reports that some of their sources believe that even when FWSAR recommendations are made, the Canadian government will not move on it. Relief from incoming C-130Js, and statements that the Buffalo fleet could last until 2015, are likely to remove any sense of urgency. Barring some sort of systemic SAR failure that costs lives, of course.

2007 – 2009

Incoming government delays FWSAR in 2007, re-launches in 2009.

CC-115 Buffalo
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July 15/09: Re-launch. Canada’s DND formally re-launches the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Program. It is very vague on specifics, and mostly discusses Canada’s required Industrial/Regional Benefits policies. According to an Ottawa Citizen report, the 140 or so people who showed up for the Industry Day launch were generally unimpressed:

“Government representatives who called the meeting couldn’t answer questions on how many planes would be bought, when they would be purchased, whether they would be equipped with sensors or how they would be maintained… About 140 people were jammed into a room in a military hangar, with some having to stand in a nearby hallway. The audio-visual presentation that was to outline details of the program did not work and the microphones for the main speakers and audience members failed.

At the last minute, the Harper government shut down an invitation for the media to listen to the presentations, leading to a bizarre situation where government employees refused even to confirm they were government employees.”

Sources: DND Backgrounder | Ottawa Citizen | Halifax Chronicle Herald | Aviation Week | David Pugliese’s Defence Watch.


July 9/09: Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese notes that the July 14/09 Industry Day for the C$ 3 billion FWSAR project is scheduled to be only 90 minutes long, and wonders if the fix is still in:

“…only setting aside 90 minutes for his presentation and to deal with all the questions from industry that might be associated with a $3 billion project has some cynics in the defence industry world suggesting not much has changed on this project. They expect the same details from four years ago to be trotted out and polished up as something new, with the usual “fair and open competition” buzz words to be thrown in for good measure.

But again, they are very cynical about this project.

It also doesn’t look from the details the government has posted that Industry Canada and Public Works officials will be taking part in this industry day.”

Jan 20/09: The Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese reports that political considerations are spawning proposals for a different procurement strategy as the purchase recommendation is prepared for Cabinet – but not for a different outcome:

“Nothing would change, I’m told. The C-27J would be selected but there would be the appearance of a competition. The way the requirements are now set, the Airbus Military (CASA-EADS) C-295 would be automatically excluded. Same goes for Canadian company Viking and its proposal for new build Buffalos. One way a competition could be held, however, is if Lockheed Martin were to bid the C-130J for FWSAR… [but] C-130J would be disqualified because the FWSAR budget would not allow for the purchase of enough of the aircraft.”

Dec 23/08: Buffalo. Viking Air CEO David Curtis issues an open letter, offering to refurbish existing Buffalo aircraft and re-start production in order to fill the government’s SAR needs. An excerpt from the letter’s reproduction on the CASR site:

“The requirement to replace the present [SAR] fleet is not based on a lack of ability for the Buffalo to do the job, but simply due to the aging of the aircraft. By breathing new life into the program, the DND can continue to operate the best-suited aircraft, safely, reliably, and with a huge reduction in acquisition and direct operating costs [including aircrew / maintenance personnel training, airframe spares, etc.]… Canadian taxpayers will receive a proven, low-risk product with huge economic benefits and cost savings, thus allowing the DND to either acquire more aircraft for search and rescue or reallocate the funds to other projects within DND.”

See also: “DHC-5NG – a New-Production Buffalo Compared with C-27J.”

Dec 18/08: C-27J sole-source? Reports begin to surface that the Canadian DND plans to issue an Advance Contract Award Notice (ACAN) for the SAR requirement, specifying Alenia’s C-27J as its preferred type. Martin Sefzig, Airbus’s director of Canadian programs, is surprised when the Ottawa Citizen asks him about it:

“We’re caught off guard by the current initiative calling for an ACAN… After five years of no evaluation and very little discussion, they now go for an ACAN. No aircraft has been tested. Why?”

The move would have to survive Cabinet scrutiny, and the unstable state of Canada’s Parliament makes that far less likely. Handing out a manufacturing contract that creates jobs in Italy, while shutting out Canadian competitors and creating controversies in Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia, isn’t a winning move if one’s political margins are as thin as the current Harper government’s. Time will tell. See also: Canada.com | Halifax Chronicle-Herald op-ed | The Torch | Flight International.

Dec 13/08: Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay is quoted as saying that a proposal to replace the CC-115 Buffalos is on his desk, and ready to be presented to the federal cabinet in early 2009. He will ask the Cabinet to approve up to $3 billion for the project, and says “I hope to move very early in the new year toward procurement.”

The purchase of 15 new aircraft is now expected to cost around C$ 1.5 billion, with an additional C$ 1.5 billion tacked on for a 20-year service contract. Toronto Star.

June 4/07: Delay. Aero News reports that the Canadian SAR competition has now been pushed forward 4 years, and quotes Canadian Air Force spokesman Capt. Jim Hutcheson as saying that there isn’t even a projected delivery date any more.

“It is acknowledged that there are other government priorities, other departmental priorities that are being pursued right now, largely associated with operations in Afghanistan… We’ll most likely use the Buffalo and the Herc beyond 2010 until the new aircraft arrive… How much beyond, they’re looking at options that will cover that range.”

Giuseppe Giordo, President of Alenia North America in Washington, DC, notes that negotiations are ongoing and the first CC-130Js aren’t expected until 2009 at the earliest. He contends that the funds could be used now to finance SAR recapitalization.

Canada’s Conservative Party is a minority government, which means it can be brought down at any time via a vote of no-confidence by the other political parties. The deferral of this purchase is likely to prove contentious in many regions of Canada, which is the world’s second largest country and has large remote areas that are thinly-populated but important to its economy.

Stay tuned.

FWSAR delayed 4 years

Jan 3/07: Sole-source? Canada’ Globe and Mail newspaper reports that:

“A DND document obtained by The Globe and Mail confirmed that only one aircraft is being considered as a “viable bidder” for the search-and-rescue contract. The project is worth about $3-billion, including the maintenance of the aircraft over 20 years… Defence contracts are among the most lucrative deals the government signs, and if the Spartan is bought, it will illustrate a growing government habit of signing multibillion-dollar deals without accepting competing bids.”

Additional Readings

Main Documents

Public Works & Government Services Canada – Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Aircraft Replacement (FWSAR) Project.

Canada DND (March 18/10) – Backgrounder: Canadian fixed-wing search and rescue. Net takeaway: no decisions made yet, no RFP yet. That was still true when a revised backgrounder was issued in August 2011.

Public Works and Government Services Canada – Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) Aircraft Replacement Project

Canada DND (May 2009) – Audit of the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) Project

CBC News In Depth – Search and Rescue. Details the Canadian Forces’ current SAR assets.


Alenia – C-27J Canadian SAR competition site.

DID – The USA’s C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft.

EADS – C-295 Canadian SAR competition site. No longer active, 2007 snapshot.

Lockheed Martin – Canadian CC-130J transport advocacy site.

CBC News In Depth – Search and Rescue. Details the Canadian Forces’ current SAR assets.

CASR – DHC-5NG – a New-Production Buffalo Compared with C-27J.

Other News & Coverage

Wings (March-April 2013) – Evaluating FWSAR hopefuls. Only covers the C-27J and V-22, plus Provincial Aerospace for some reason.

DND’s Canadian Military Journal (Vol. 12, No. 4) – FWSAR Plus: A Way Forward. This 2012 article proposes 10 Q200s and 10 dual-role HC-130Js, while retiring all C-130Hs.

CASR (November 2012) – Canadian Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue Project: Current Candidates Include the C-27J , C295 , DHC-5NG , C-130J , KC-390 , and V-22.

DID Spotlight – Replacing Canada’s Failing CC-130s: 17 C-130Js.

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