USAF C-27J Spartan Transport – Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue
Project – February 2012
Is the USAF Disposal of New/Used C-27J Spartan Transport Aircraft a
Procurement Opportunity Canada
Should Take? Re-assessing FWSAR
Update: 27 Feb 2012 –
Alenia Aermacchi has now announced that it won't support any C-27Js sold by the US government. According to
CEO Giuseppi Giordo, Alenia is simply exercising its contractual rights. Giordo also expressed
confidence that involvement in the F-35 program will protect Alenia from any future US retributions. So, no
FWSAR procurement opportunity. But, considering the limitations of support contracts with Alenia, perhaps it's
a lucky escape?
The Harper Cabinet has signed off on the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue
( FWSAR ) project. But we've been here before. FWSAR has been 'next on the list' several times but
has proven incapable of culmination. The intention of the $1.55B FWSAR project is to replace the existing FWSAR
fleet of six CC-115 Buffalo at CFB Comox and ten older
CC-130H Hercules aircraft by 2015. As usual, DND and the Air Force are vulnerable
to accusations of single-sourcing with the appearance of having written the FWSAR requirements around the
Italian C-27J Spartan.
Alenia's C-27J Spartan is a good aircraft in its intended tactical transport role. But Canada is
looking for search-and-rescue aircraft. Transport makes up only a tiny percentage of FWSAR aircraft's flying
time. In the past, CASR has suggested that Arctic sovereignty might be
better served by having tactical transport aircraft stationed in our North – currently there is only the four
aging CC-138 Twin Otter utility transports
based at Yellowknife. And an opportunity to procure such an
aircraft – that self-same Italian C-27J Spartan – barely used has just emerged.
"It is an ill wind that blows nobody good"– US Defence Cuts/DND Procurement Opportunity
On 26 Jan 2012, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced a US $525B budget plan for FY 2013. Included in those
spending reductions is a US Air Force plan to dispose of its C-27J fleet. These USAF Spartans were
bought to support the US Army as tactical transports. Now the USAF intends to sell off 13 in-service C-27Js
and another 8 Spartans yet to be delivered. Obviously there is a potential bargain to be had here.
CASR contributor James Dorschner has posed the question: "Will Canada
make an offer on C-27Js about to be 'divested' by the USAF to satisfy the FWSAR requirement?" The answer to that is
so far unknown by those who will ultimately foot the bill for FWSAR. Nonetheless, the question warrants a little
' future-gazing '.
Before kicking the tires on used C-27Js, Canadians should re-assess the FWSAR requirement. Questions have already
emerged in the press. Does a Cabinet sign-off on the FWSAR project equate to an order to Alenia for new-production
C-27Js? Will the Associate Defence Minister, Julian Fantino, be making an announcement on C-27Js soon? The answer
to both questions is 'probably not'. An imminent C-27J order would ignore a Government statement that
'domestic' options would be re-examined along with investigating the rather more promising potential of private contractor-performed FWSAR in lieu of further RCAF
procurements (including C-27s).
The notion of a pending C-27J purchase announcement by ADM Fantino, on the other hand, simply ignores the role
of 'optics' in modern politics. The nature of this 'optical challenge' in shelling out to Italy
deserves a more in-depth discussion. [ See: Blah blah
Time for a Think ... or Fumbling towards FWSAR and La Dolce Vita in the Comox Valley?
Struggling to fill an 'outstanding' requirement without asking whether said
requirement is still relevant smacks more of blind will than gritty determination. Rather than rehashing the CASR argument in favour of asserting Canadian sovereignty in our High
Arctic through year-round presence, perhaps we should just ask what's the counter argument? It would be difficult?
That is a given. It'd be expensive? Compared to $1.55B just to purchase 'required' FWSAR aircraft?
In theory, all Canadian Force aircraft are available for SAR duty. So, buying ex-US C-27Js kitted out for the
tactical transport role doesn't exclude these aircraft from SAR responses and many of the FWSAR-specific
features could be added later. Were these tactical transports being permanently based in the North, issues of
response time become moot – nearby transports capable of SAR being superior to FWSAR dedicated aircraft types
that must fly 4000km North to even begin an Arctic search pattern. 
"Can you run ...?" A Glimpse of the Competition & DND's Bargain-Hunting Track Record
So, tactical transports already approved by the RCAF Directorate of Aerospace Requirements (albeit for a different
role) are about to become readily available from our next-door neighbour. Cat's in the bag, right? Well, there
is a recent precedent in the purchase of
VH-71 Presidental helicopters as spares for the CF's rotary-wing SAR CH-149 Cormorants. In many
other cases, other countries simply move faster and more efficiently than Canada – the Australians being a
case in point. And that is the point. The most obvious competitor for ex-US C-27s is Australia.
The Australians have already chosen the C-27J Spartan to replace its aging Canadian DHC-4 Caribou
tactical transports. The US disposal has taken Australians aback since they relied, in part, on commonality with
their US ally. Once the Aussies recover from that shock, we should expect them to return to horse-trading ways. In
other words, the Australian DoD will have spit in hand, deal sewn up, before DND have collected their
'double-double' from the Hortens. 
'Give a Bloke a Fair Go!' In the Face of a Strong Competitor, Cooperation May Benefit Both
The RAAF hoped to benefit from commonality with USAF C-27Js as well as their larger parts supply chain. So that
USAF C-27J disposal has given Australian planners momentary pause. That could be turned to Canada's
advantage. Jim Dorschner suggests that both Australia and Canada would be better off if C-27J training
and maintenance were a joint effort. Again, there is a recent precedent in Canada training Australian crews to
operate Heron UAVs and EROC vehicles. Indeed, there is a history of 'quiet' cooperation between
the militaries of Canada and Australia. In this case, sharing potential assets makes more sense than being in a
Given DND's procurement track record, cooperation with Australia also increases our chances of success. The
question is: Does Canada want a modern tactical transport aircraft to increase our presence in the Arctic?
If so, how can the existing RCAF FWSAR 'requirement' be folded into this new transport requirement
quickly enough to benefit from the available ex-US C-27s? More to the point, is the Harper Government fast enough on
its feet to take advantage of this opportunity? If so, Cabinet must overcome their own bureaucracies.
Like all such institutions, DND and its Public Works attendants suffer from hysteresis. Worse, a bureaucracy
left to its own devices will always spring back to its original position just like a Memory Foam mattress.
There's an opportunity here. But for it to work, PM Harper
et al would have to simultaneously overcome an institutional drift back towards the familiar comfort of
the FWSAR Project, move at least as quickly as our potential Australian partners, and stay focused on efficiency
instead of reverting to 'business-as-usual' or succumbing to political grandstanding. It could
 It's been a bad week for CF SAR. With the tragic death of Northern Labrador teen, Burton Winters,
family is asking why the non-specialist crew of an ill-equipped civilian helicopter was able to land when CF crews
were grounded by weather for two days. The Forces might have a good answer. But, politically, not the
best time to ask for $1.55B, southern-based SAR aircraft.
 Another, much less probable competitor is the US Coast Guard. An unoffical proposal has the USCG
turning surplus C-27Js into patrol aircraft in lieu of more CASA CN-235s/HC-144As.