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Future New Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue  –  FWSAR Project  –  Nov 2012/Mar 2015

Canadian Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue Project: Current Candidates
Include the C-27J ,  C295 ,  DHC-5NG ,  C-130J ,  KC-390 ,  and V-22

Update 31 March 2015: The FWSAR Secretariat has published yet another RFP (Request for Proposals) notice. Details are available to industry only, citizens need not worry their heads.

Back on 16 Feb 2015,  David Pugliese reported that FWSAR candidates had been reduced to the predictable three. When the FWSAR Request for Proposals is released later in 2015, only Airbus Military (with the C295), Alenia Aermacchi (C-27J), and Lockheed Martin (C-130J) are expected to respond. Other potential competitors for  FWSAR  have lost interest or patience.

Tracking the progress (or lack thereof) of DND's Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project has always been difficult. Government priorities shift and change accounting for some of the on again/off again nature of  FWSAR. But the Department and Air Force have also cloaked the FWSAR Project in their usual blanket of secrecy – to the point that the decade-old FWSAR Statement of Operational Requirements  (or its half dozen successor documents) were never released to the public, whilst internal DND audits of  FWSAR are released heavily redacted.

Rather than sport with CASR  readers'  intelligence through continued attempts to track the Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project, we'll present a  FWSAR Project timeline  (which will be updated as details emerge) and, here, review the current crop of candidate aircraft types.

An Outside Review of DND's SOR  for FWSAR  by the National Research Council (NRC)

Two changes came out of  the National Research Council's review of  the FWSAR Project's Statement of  Operational (or Operating ) Requirements. A revised  SOR resulted, following instruction from government. These were: to consider 'Alternative Service Delivery', and to allow proposals for the FWSAR which included more than one aircraft type. The possibility of contractor-provided ASD was rejected by DND (not surprisingly considering that Peter MacKay is both  MND and  Lead Minister for the National Search and Rescue Secretariat ).

The change allowing more than one aircraft type is having a more profound effect on current candidates for the FWSAR Project. That means that an aircraft type which might be seen as uneconomical for FWSAR operations in British Columbia  (or simply too large to manoeuvre within the confines of BC's Coast Mountains) may still be in the running for the other SAR Regions. Candidates benefiting from this type split might include larger aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin C-130J SAR variant and  the as-yet-unbuilt  Embraer KC-390 jet transport.

The two type split also benefits candidates better suited for the British Columbia operating environment. This might include slower, shorter range aircraft such as the proposed Viking DHC-5NG Buffalo and Bell-Boeing's V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor VTOL. Such types also benefited from a relaxation of the requirement that all  FWSAR candidates fly out of  existing FWSAR Main Operating Bases in the south. Proposals can now suggest options for FWSAR basing (including temporary operating locations) assuming they "account for all associated costs".

Statement of Operational Requirements Changes: Who wins, Who Loses, Who Benefits?

The changes to the FWSAR Project SOR discussed above work to the detriment of one of the original  FWSAR Project candidates and to the benefit of the other. Alenia's C-27J was to be a jack-of-all-trades. Capable of quick transit to the north ( Strategic Direction 5 for the National SAR Secretariat) while being more economical than existing FWSAR Hercules, the C-27J Spartan was also seen as small enough to be a compromise for SAR operations in BC. But, with a two-type competition, Alenia is put in a more difficult position. The Italians must now press for a single aircraft type, arguing the economic benefits of one type commonality.

Airbus Military mush also argue the single-type benefits of its C295. But the Airbus Military candidate does benefit from the possibility of alternative basing for a future FWSAR aircraft. Indeed, the original suggestion for forward basing came from the C295 team back in 2005. [1] Northern bases for FWSAR aircraft gets around the requirement for fast transit to the Arctic.

Below are the aircraft types announced as being put forward for the FWSAR Project at the time of writing. None of these aircraft have been officially submitted yet  (although several of these types will be familiar to readers from previous incarnations of the FWSAR Project. We have listed these potential FWSAR Project candidate types in roughly the same order that the aircraft were put forward by their manufacturers as possible FWSAR 'platforms'. [2]

Alenia Aermacchi C-27J Spartan

From the outset, the Alenia C-27J Spartan has been the Air Force's favoured candidate for FWSAR. It has been alleged, repeatedly, that the FWSAR requirements were written specifically around this aircraft type.  If so, then little wonder that the C-27J met key DND's performance requirements such as: high transit speeds between SAR Main Operating Bases in the south and the Arctic; and  the ability to carry a complete spare propeller in its hold to aid in the recovery of grounded FWSAR aircraft in a remote location.

Critics of the C-27J as a choice for future FWSAR note that, while the Spartan is faster than many of its propeller-driven competitors, it struggles to remain airborne at the lower speeds needed while performing aerial searches. And, of course, the majority of aerial SAR missions are performed over the more highly populated south of the country in any case. But, when a FWSAR mission is required in the harsher Arctic environment, timely responses are critical. The C-27J would be able to reach the Arctic more quickly but the Spartan's relatively heavy footprint restricts the number of northern airfields that can easily accommodate this aircraft.

An inability to operate from softer airfields also limits the Spartan in its secondary FWSAR role as a tactical transport aircraft. The C-27J can readily carry the palletized cargo loads DND demands. But, if the aircraft cannot land on High Arctic airfields, its utility in the resupply role is greatly diminished. The other great selling point for the C-27J was its considerable commonality with the Lockheed Martin CC-130J transport. Cooperation between Alenia and LM has been replaced by competition but the benefits of commonality between types remains.

Alenia announced in Sept 2012 that FWSAR C-27Js would be 'missionized' in Canada. That gives the Spartan its first injection of Canadian Content. The C-27J has US cockpit systems, British engines and propellers, and an Italian airframe. The latter is a problem for the Harper Government. In the first instance, it is awkward that the Italians do not employ the Spartans for SAR duties. An even bigger issue is Canada's on-going trade deficit with Italy (with 72% of  its value in Italian manufactured goods imported into Canada ). That trade imbalance has been growing for decades but the last figure from Parliament put the trade deficit at $2.6B.[3]

Team Spartan consists of  Finmeccanica SpA subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi North America teamed with General Dynamics Canada, DRS Technologies Canada (a division of US-based DRS,  itself another Finmeccanica subsidiary), and  Provincial Aerospace of  St. John's NL. Alenia Aermacchi has also signed an agreement with its USAF Joint Cargo Aircraft partner, L-3 Communications  –  on the off chance Canada goes the US Foreign Military Sales route.

Another FWSAR Project contender almost from the outset was the Spanish C295.  Like the C-27J, the C295 is a tactical transport but one designed to also appeal to civilian markets. [4] The manufacturer's name and the style of the aircraft's designation has shifted slightly over the ten years that the FWSAR Project has been running. The C295's Spanish maker, CASA, became part of the EADS group back in 1999 but was absorbed by Airbus Military in 2009.

Airbus Military (EADS CASA) C295

By comparison with the C-27J, the C295 has a slightly smaller airframe and is much lighter. The trade-off  is in cabin height and total payload.  But, being lighter, the C295 can land on those soft fields that the C-27J has trouble with. However, the C295's landing run is longer and, once down,  the C295 has a much longer take-off run than the Italian plane. [4]  Its critics also note that the C-27J is much faster than a C295 but the latter is better at slow-flying searches.

Beyond speed requirements, the C295 cargo hold cannot carry a fully-assembled propeller. Bizarre as this requirement may seem, this was an early stumbling block for the CASA C295.

Although C295 airframes would be built in Europe, the Spanish aircraft does have major 'Canadian Content' in the form of  its twin Pratt & Whitney Canada  PW127G turboprops. These engines are related to the in-service PW120s that power CT-142 'Gonzo' navigation trainers. However, beyond those PW127G  turboprops engines, there is little direct 'Can Con'. Airbus Military will be relying on Industrial Regional Benefits.

Canadian Team promoting the C295 consists of: Airbus Military and its Canadian partners, CAE  (providing flight simulators and training), and Discovery Air  (for In-Service Support ).

Viking DHC-5NG Next Generation Buffalo

Viking Air's 2008  FWSAR proposal included the upgrading of existing CC-115 Buffalos in order to extend their useful service life and the production of new DHC-5NG aircraft. These 'Next Generation' Buffalos would have 'glass' cockpits akin to those in Viking's new-production Series 400 Twin Otter.

Critics of the proposal note that the 'legacy' Buffalo is very slow compared to other potential FWSAR candidates, its cabin isn't pressurized, and the proposed DHC-5NG variant does not yet exist. There is a flip side to those arguments. While fast transit speed may be demanded by the SOR, FWSAR aircraft must also fly search patterns at slow speeds. Since the DHC-5 is a genuine STOL aircraft (unlike most of its FWSAR Project rivals), the 'Buff' can fly slower without stalling. And there are downsides to pressurizing aircraft. An unpressurized airframe can have a longer lifespan, as amply demonstrated  by the 'time'  still remaining on in-service CC-115s. It is true that the proposed DHC-5NG variant remains unbuilt. Still, the DHC-5 type is hardly unproven and DHC-5NG prototyping would be a matter of modest conversions. [5]

Viking's strong suit, of course, is its Canadian Content. This BC firm proposes the new production of a classic Canadian aircraft design but  re-engined with a modern Canadian powerplant. These engines are the made-in- Montreal  Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150 turboprops that powers the widespread Bombardier Q400 airliners.

No 'Team Viking' has been announced thus far. It is likely safe to assume that Viking Air Ltd would be joined by Field Aviation (which provided the design and prototyping of BALE, the Buffalo Avionics Life Extension as well as being a major supplier of CC-115 spares). Another possibility would be Kelowna Flightcraft (which completed the BALE installations as well as providing CC-115 maintenance support services). Obviously, PWC would provide engines.

Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules

Although rumours that  Lockheed Martin would enter its 'Super Hercules' as a FWSAR candidate have swirled for some time. Just prior to FWSAR being halted once more in 2010, Lockheed Martin itself  was showing interest. The Jan 2012 re-start of the FWSAR Project firmed up interest at  LM. Now it's official, LM will enter the C-130J into the contest. But the question is: which sub-type? A good match already exists in the USAF HC-130J.

The USAF HC-130J is not an exact match to FWSAR. As the USAF HC-130J's Combat King II  name suggests, this aircraft has been tailored for combat search-and-rescue. That is not a current CF capability. But maybe it should be. In addition to a secondary transport role, were the HC-130J chosen as a future FWSAR aircraft,  the CF could add new  combat SAR duties.

There is another HC-130J, that of the US Coast Guard. In this case, SAR is not a primary role (the USCG's HC-130J is considered a 'Long Range Surveillance Aircraft' ). Still, the USCG does perform FWSAR with their version of the HC-130J. The advantage of both Hercules variants is the total commonality with the CF's longer-bodied CC-130Js now entering service as transports. Indeed, being short- bodied, FWSAR HC-130Js would have advantages over their longer kin in some transport roles. A short Hercules can also land places a C-27J can't.

In May 2012, Lockheed Martin partnered with Abbotsford-based Cascade Aerospace for the FWSAR Project, a natural pairing since LM already signed a MoU with Cascade for CC-130J heavy maintenance. Now all that remains is to see which Herc type is proposed for FWSAR.

Embraer Defesa e Segurança KC-390 – The Long-Shot, Brazilian Medium-Lift Airlifter

A surprise announcement was the entry of an unbuilt  Brazilian twin-jet tactical transport for FWSAR. Promoted as a future C-130 Hercules replacement, the Embraer KC-390 design was tailored to Brazilian Air Force needs (but with an eye on potential future exports as well). As the 'KC' designation suggests, inflight refuelling is a secondary role but no mention of  SAR.

At present, the KC-390 remains in the wind tunnel testing stage. The first jet transport is not scheduled to fly until 2014 with no service entry in Brazil until 2016. Even if Canada was first on the list for exports, that makes a planned 2017 FWSAR Initial Operational Capability very tight. Unfortunately, that probably relegates this intriguing aircraft to an 'also-ran' category.

The KC-390 medium-lift transport is a lot more aircraft than DND was looking for in a new FWSAR platform. Such an aircraft has fascinating possibilities. If a fast transit to the Arctic is required,  it's hard to imagine a better-suited aircraft. Alas, new CC-130Js won't need replacing for decades. And that is a pity. The KC-390 would be an excellent medium transport for the CF. But timing is as important as capabilities.

Beyond musing on imaginary increases in future CF transport capabilities, the KC-390 faces major challenges as a FWSAR Project contender, including: operating costs, its slow-flying ability, and a near complete lack of any Canadian Content (although it is not unique in that).

Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey  –  a Fixed-Wing  ( but Tilt-Rotor  ) Search and Rescue Aircraft

The V-22 Osprey is yet another aircraft type long rumoured for the FWSAR contest but only recently declared. The Aug 2011 announcement that Canada was willing to consider a mixed- type fleet, opened the door for this Bell-Boeing tilt-rotor vertical take-off and landing aircraft. By Oct 2011,  Boeing had unofficially offered the V-22 Osprey VTOL for the FWSAR Project.

VTOL aircraft are not completely new to the CF. Prototypes of  Canadair's experimental 'tilt-wing' CL-84 flew in CF markings in the early 1970s (as the CX-131 Dynavert, right ).  But, when the US lost interest in the CL-84 program,  Canada was unprepared to 'go it alone'. The CL-84 survivors ended up in museums and Canadair's pioneering VTOL work  faded other than as V-22 footnotes.

Considering the Canadian Forces' risk-averse approach to home-grown VTOL technology, it would be highly ironic if a later US approach were to come into CF service. Still, such ironies are not unique and  the CF is not alone among Western militaries in being contemptuous of domestic products. But none of that detracts from the V-22 Osprey's potential or capabilities.

After a rocky start, the tilt-rotor [6] Osprey appears to have gotten past its technological hurdles. The program has also suffered from cost-overruns that will make individual airframe costs quite high. And, while an Osprey airframe is actually smaller than its FWSAR competitors, the smaller V-22 cabin affects only the secondary cargo-carrying  role. Of course, the V-22 can do something that no other candidate for the FWSAR can. After a successful search, Osprey could hover for rescue and recovery.

Who's missing from this Round of the Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project Bake-Off?

Over the decade, many aircraft types have been put forward in the past as possible FWSAR Project candidates. Canadian contenders rejected by DND include two Bombardier designs. One was a special missions variant of the Bombardier 415 water bomber. Canada operated a flying boat in the FWSAR prior to the Buffalo but, apparently, water flying is a skill set that our Air Force has no interest in renewing. [6] And, of course, amphibians have no rear ramp.

That lack of a rear ramp was also the kicker for the other Bombardier offering  –  the Q Series. At one point, a union rep suggested that the Q200 used by many foreign countries as patrol aircraft would meet the FWSAR Project requirement. The aircraft is certainly faster than most propeller-driven FWSAR candidates and able to land on softer airfields. But Bombardier was pushing its larger, more powerful Q400 variant (see Jim Dorschner's 'FWSAR Plus' concept ).

In the last round of FWSAR Secretariat 'Industry Days', Bombardier didn't show up. And it's understandable. Their patrol Q200s, Q300s, and Q400s serve around the globe ( 'missionized' by potential Canadian contributors to the FWSAR Project – Provincial Aerospace and Field Aviation). But the NRC review of the FWSAR Project SOR backed DND's insistance on rear ramps. With ramps a mandatory requirement, Bombardier had no choice but to cut its losses.

So, industry (whether in or out) has its ducks in a row. Now industry (and citizenry) wait for DND to announce what it actually wants out of the FWSAR Project. FWSAR Secretariat, in the meantime, has stated it "will start sharing elements from the Draft Request for Proposal" in the summer of  2013.  Perhaps, by government work standards, that qualifies as progress?

The actual Request for Proposals document is now anticipated in "early 2014". A result of a little flurry of procurement announcements made by the Harper Government on 20 Dec 2013 (when in doubt, politicians like to make announcements just before a holiday break). The 20 Dec 2013 announcement was for issuing a Letter of Interest request for FWSAR – potential suppliers being given until 24 Jan 2014 to provide a 'Statement of  Capabilities' for FWSAR. In August 2013, Spring 2014 was the anticipated date for a FWSAR Project contract award. That isn't going to happen but, then again, delays are nothing new for the FWSAR Project.

[1] EADS' Martin Sefzig recommended Yellowknife, Iqaluit and St. John's bases in April 2005.

[2] An exception is the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. While the V-22 was presented as a potential FWSAR candidate before the Brazilian KC-390 jet airlifter, we placed the vertical take-off and landing V-22 Osprey last for the unique operating mode of this tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

[3] The last figure was for FY2009. The Canada-Italy trade deficit hit a high of $3.04B in 2006.

[4] The C295 has its origin in the Airtech CN235 which was a co-development of  CASA and IPT Nusantara of  Indonesia (the latter of which desired a military and civil transport in one).

[5] Prototyping could be incremental or involve more than one airframe to further reduce risk. Eg: One 'legasy' Buffalo could be re-engined with PW150s, another fitted with a new cockpit.

[6] Technology wonks argue endlessly over the relative merits of  tilt-rotor versus tilt-wing. Both approaches have their advantages (tilting avoids placing upper wing surfaces in rotor downwash, tilt-rotors are said to be mechanically simpler). Regardless, it's tilt-rotor on offer.

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