Fixed-Wing Search & Rescue Project – Canadian Alternatives –
'FWSAR Plus': an expanded scope provides comprehensive solutions to satisfing multiple operational requirements
with Canadian aircraft
By Jim Dorschner 
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
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
In addition to airdrop capability, the FWSAR mission requires observation windows on either side of the fuselage
(with the corresponding observer seats) and an intensive-care medevac package. Surveillance system
requirements include: a multi-mode [ search/weather ] radar and day/night electro-optical turret (with the ability
to downlink imagery) along with satellite voice and data communications capability and workstations for sensor
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.  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.
Hercules FWSAR potential roles and missions addressed by FWSAR Plus range from augmenting the fleets of airlifters
and long-range patrol aircraft to aerial refuelling [ replacing CFB Winnipeg CC-130H(T)s] and
support of Special Operations Forces ( SOF ). This inherent mission flexibility enhances
overall RCAF support to the increasingly important Arctic operations and, in the case of the HC-130J
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).
 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.
 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.