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Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue Project – Canadian Alternatives – April 2012

'FWSAR Plus': an expanded scope provides comprehensive solutions to satisfing multiple operational requirements with Canadian aircraft

By Jim Dorschner [1]
Ed: The following is an edited extract preview of 'FWSAR Plus: A Way Forward', an article by Lt-Col Dorschner which appears in the Canadian Military Journal, Autumn Vol 12 No 3.

"We will continue to provide persistent air control of Canada’s airspace and approaches. We will ensure our continuing mobility and ability to respond rapidly to domestic and internation- al events. We will continue to be interoperable with our allies. We will continue to be expedit- ionary  –  at home and abroad. Our operations in the Canadian Arctic will grow in importance. We will continue to provide one of  the best search and rescue capabilities in the world."

Commander of the RCAF and Chief of the Air Staff, L-Gen André Deschamps, 22 March 2012

An Expanded 'FWSAR Plus': a way forward for the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Project?

The requirement to replace Canadian Forces Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) aircraft capability was formalized in 2004, but the  FWSAR project  has remained more or less stillborn amidst Government confusion over the program's scope, which procurement path to take and repeated delays engendered  by the pressing needs of  CF combat operations in Afghanistan. Recent developments offer an opportunity  to  finally advance  domestic  SAR while adding a slate of new and improved RCAF operational capabilities using a focused mix of aircraft types.

In January 2012 the Government signalled  its intent to proceed with the FWSAR Project and, in March, Public Works and Government Services Canada informed the author that, "PWGSC is planning to release the RFP in the Winter  2012/13 time frame."  The PWGSC spokeswoman added that the determination of a revised Initial Operational Capability (IOC) date depends on "consultation with industry." If a contract is concluded in 2013, that IOC will likely be in 2016.

With a program launch looming, a detailed examination is merited of both the FWSAR Project and the potential to broaden its capabilities beyond that of domestic aerial search and rescue.




The Existing RCAF FWSAR Fleet,  FWSAR Project Requirements, and  other Contenders

Since 2004 the Government, DND and the Air Force have consistently  leaned  towards the sole-source acquisition of 15 Alenia C-27J Spartan  light  tactical airlift aircraft to replace the current FWSAR fleet of  CC-115 Buffalo and  legacy Hercules.  This  ignored  alternatives by potential competitors EADS, Lockheed Martin, and Canadian firms Bombardier, Field Aviation, and Viking Air, which all worked to keep this project competitive.

The RCAF currently assigns 13 CC-130H Hercules and six  CC-115 Buffalo aircraft to FWSAR response. Hercules operate from CFBs Greenwood, Trenton and Winnipeg, while the Buffalos are all at CFB Comox. The Buffalos and  Hercules at Greenwood and  Trenton are dedicated to aerial SAR with transport as a secondary mission, while CC-130H(T) Hercules at Winnipeg are predominantely employed on airlift or aerial refueling tasks. The Buffalos have been in service since the 1960s while many of  the Hercules date from the 1970s. All 18 of these RCAF aircraft nominally assigned  to FWSAR are now approaching  the end  of  their effective service lives.

FWSAR contenders  include  the  EADS CASA C 295 and short-bodied version of Lockheed Martin's C-130J Hercules. Canadian options include the proposal from BC-based Viking Air for new or refurbished DHC-5NG Next Generation Buffalo with Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150 engines, modern propellers, and avionics suite all taken from the Bombardier Q400 regional airliner. In turn, Bombardier with Field Aviation offer a  Q400 based on the Maritime Surveillance Aircraft versions of the Dash 8 now in service with multiple customers around the world. Dash 8 MPA features integrated sensors, longer range,  plus doors for  SAR Techs and survival equipment.

In addition to the airdrop capability, FWSAR requires observation windows on either side of  the fuselage (with observer seats) and an intensive-care medevac package. Surveillance system requirements include: a multi-mode radar and day/night electro-optical  turret (able to downlink imagery) along with a satellite voice and data communications capability and workstations for sensor operators/mission managers.




How to Broaden the Capabilities of  FWSAR beyond Aerial SAR: the FWSAR Plus Concept

An often-understated factor in FWSAR analysis thus far is that modern platforms are capable of much more than serving as strictly  domestic aerial  SAR assets.  Even with more than 1,000 SAR missions  flown annually by the RCAF,  the total capacity of  available assets  is  heavily underutilized. Dedicated  FWSAR aircraft can and should  be available to perform surveillance plus other  support missions  without risking the necessary aerial search and rescue coverage.

By expanding FWSAR, broader capabilities can be achieved beyond aerial search and rescue. The result is FWSAR Plus which consists of  two separate but interrelated components:

•  Reduce the dedicated  FWSAR aircraft  purchase from 15  C-27J Spartans  to 10  Canadian- manufactured  SAR aircraft  based on the Bombardier Q400 series. These 10 aircraft would be split between Canadian Forces Bases at Comox, BC and Greenwood, NS. From these southern bases, the aircraft would deploy as required to Forward Operating Bases such as Goose Bay, Yellowknife, and  Iqaluit  for  SAR,  Medevac, and  Arctic/offshore  sovereignty surveillance.

•  Retire/sell-off all remaining  'H-model Hercules transport aircraft and purchase 10 additional Hercules based on the HC-130J Combat King II  SAR platform now  entering service with the US Air Force. [2] These HC-130Js would be split between CFBs Winnipeg and Trenton in the aerial refuelling and Special Operations / Combat SAR roles respectively, along with domestic aerial SAR response in Central Canada [ ie: the Trenton SRR or  Search and  Rescue Region ].

Reducing the FWSAR buy from 15  Italian-made C-27J Spartan  light tactical transport aircraft to 10 less expensive, but better-equipped and more capable Canadian-built aircraft will expend less than half of the $1.55B earmarked for FWSAR. The balance remaining can then be applied towards procuring 10  HC-130Js. Given the 17 new CC-130Js already in service with 8 Wing at Trenton, a standardized fleet of  27 multi-mission capable 'J-model Hercules serving alongside ten modern, state-of-the-art dedicated  FWSAR aircraft offers enormous operational flexibility, training/maintenance advantages, as well as obvious procurement and  lifecycle cost benefits.

Potential roles for FWSAR Hercules and missions addressed by FWSAR Plus range from augment- ing the airlifter and long-range patrol aircraft fleets to aerial refuelling [replacing CC-130H(T)s at CFB Winnipeg] and the support of  Special Operations Forces. This inherent mission flexibility enhances overall RCAF support to the increasingly important Arctic operations and,  in the case of  the Combat King II, a range of potential international missions.

An example of the flexibility inherent in a mixed FWSAR Plus fleet can be seen in the scenario of responding to a major ship or aircraft accident in the Canadian North. A FWSAR Plus fleet would allow for forward-deployed aerial SAR and medevac, surveillance, airlift, on-the-ground helicopter refuelling, dispersant spraying , plus on-scene airborne Command and Control (C2).


[1] Lt-Col James Dorschner (Ret.) served with the US Army's Military Intelligence Branch. He is now a  Special Correspondent  for  Jane's Defence Weekly and  Jane's Intelligence Review.

[2] Ultimately, 78 HC-130J Combat King IIs are to equip rescue squadrons of the USAF. The USAF HC-130J is to achieve IOC in mid-2012. It differs in equipment fit from USCG HC-130Js.



CASR | Editorials and Opinions | Interim FWSAR ModProp | In Detail | Background