FWSAR... Still waiting.

The Buffalo roams...  But for how much longer?

Canada is in desperate need for fixed wing search-and-rescue (FWSAR) aircraft.  It's current fleet of CC-115 Buffalo aircraft started service with the RCAF in 1967.  Like the Sea King helicopter, there is nothing glaringly wrong with the Buffalo current performance, but it is getting more difficult and expensive to maintain and find parts for this Canadian icon.  These new aircraft will also relieve the CC-130H Hercules from its search and rescue (SAR) duties.

The process to procure new FWSAR aircraft has been ongoing for close to 10 years now, with next to no movement into the process.  Compared to replacing the CF-18, finding an acceptable FWSAR aircraft should be a relative cakewalk, politically speaking.  The aircraft themselves are likely to be far more affordable than cutting edge jet fighters, and Canadians are generally far more willing to see their tax dollars being spent on equipment devoted to saving lives than aerial death machines.  The options themselves seem rather straight forward, with no option likely to spark controversy.  Well, maybe one option...

Alenia C-27J Spartan
The odds on favorite seems to be the Alenia C-27J Spartan.  Often dubbed the "mini-Herc", the Spartan looks like a C-130J that's been left in the drier too long.  This similarity goes more than skin deep, as the C-27J uses two of the same Rolls-Royce AE2100 turboprops utilized on the C-130J.  This was done intentionally in order to entice countries using the ubiquitous Hercules, as common parts often mean cheaper sustainment costs.

The Spartan also stands out by having the most spacious cabin, big enough for a HMMWV to drive in, then allow the driver to get out and stand comfortably.  This extra elbow room allows extra flexibility in what loads are carried and how equipment is laid out.

Madness?  THIS...  IS...  A SPARTAN!
Also of note is Alenia's recent showing of the MC-27J gunship.  The MC-27 Praetorian is similar, but smaller in concept to the AC-130 Specter gunship.  Fitted with a 30mm GAU-23 cannon, along with the option of anti-tank missiles and bombs, the MC-27J is clearly fit for the close-air support (CAS) role.  Something that the Canadian Forces seems a little shy on lately.  While Canada has no current tender for a CAS platform, it is no doubt something worth considering after Afghanistan.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  About the only real strike against the C-27J is its lack of Canadian Content. Alenia would likely have to work a little magic with indirect offset deals.  The Spartan also lacks the proven rough field STOL capabilities of the current CC-115 Buffalo.

Long and lean as opposed to short and stubby, the EADS CASA C-295 competes with the C-27J, offering similar performance while using less fuel thanks to its slimmer fuselage.  The C-295 also boasts a longer endurance, able to stay aloft up to 12 hours at a stretch.  This is an obvious advantage for SAR duties, strengthened even further by option of in flight refueling.

While the C-295's cabin lacks the C-27J's shoulder room, it does offer similar payload capacity by way of a longer payload compartment.  I also utilizes a "mission pallet" system that allows mission specific gear to added easily.

C-295 AEW&C
While the C-295 has no gunship version planned, it does have a Maritime patrol version already in use, as well as an AEW&C prototype.  Canada has little need for the latter, depending on, but no longer part of, the NATO AEW&C fleet. While a C-295 would likely be too short-legged compared to our current CP-140 Aurora fleet.

The C-295 is powered by two Pratt&Whitney Canada PW127G turboprops, so the C-295 is an easy sell when it comes to Canadian industrial benefits.  EADS CASA is also part of the Airbus aerospace group, so further offsets are pretty much a non-issue, if required.

There are two "made in Canada" possibilities as well.  The first, being offered by Viking Air, is a simple "Next Generation" Buffalo utilizing the tried-and-and true CC-115 Buffalo airframe utilizing modern P&W Canada PW150 turboprops off the Bombardier Q400 regional airliner.  The other option is to modify the existing Q400 into SAR duty.

Bombardier Q400.  Add some bubble windows, a bigger door, yellow and red paint...
Both of these options have real merit, but also a fair amount of risk.  The Viking Air proposal would require resurrecting an aircraft long out of production.  The Q400 proposal requires modifying a civilian design to perform much more demanding duties.  This particular strategy was done already with the S-92 Cougar/CH-148 Cyclone.  Not exactly a success story.

Does it come in yellow?  The Lockheed Martin CC-130J.
Then again, there is always the possibility of simply ordering a few more CC-130Js.  The current CC-130E/Hs have performed SAR duties quite well over the years, and there is a definite advantage to operating more of the type in relation to ease of transition.  No new training, supply chains, or other infrastructure would be needed.  It has the endurance, the range, the versatility, and the ability to take-off and land just about anywhere.  There are already plenty of industrial offsets in place from the original CC-130J purchase, so no troubles there.

The Herc isn't the cheapest aircraft to fly, however.  It is still a big, heavy, four-engined aircraft.  To put it simply, it's overkill for the SAR role.

Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.
While most of the FWSAR options for Canada would likely be accepted without much in the way of controversy, their is one option that would likely cause quite a stir...  The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.

Controversial as it is groundbreaking, the Osprey certainly has seen its share of print over the years.  The first operational tilt-rotor aircraft, it brings the added versatility of VTOL and STOL operations.  It's also known for its rather troubled development and reputation for being dangerous.

Contrary to its reputation, the Osprey is now the safest rotorcraft in US military service.  It is now a mature platform and it has performed well in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  It performs spec-ops, combat search-and-rescue (CSAR), basic transport, and are even part of the Presidential "Marine One" helicopter fleet.

It has similar payload capacity, range, and speed to the C-27J and C-295.  It is capable of air-to-air refueling.  Oh...  And it also has that tilt-rotor thing.  The Osprey's VTOL ability clearly puts it in an entire different league than the others.  Where the others all require a short runway, the V-22 requires no runway at all.  Combining the range and speed of the current Buffalo with the VTOL abilities of the Cormorant helicopter makes the Osprey the clear winner when it comes to versatility.  There is very little of Canada that an Osprey couldn't get to, or land near.  With this in mind, there certainly is a strong argument for the V-22.

So what's the catch?  For one, it's expensive.  A $70 million unit cost, compared to the $53 million unit cost of the C-27J is enough to give anyone pause.  The C-295 is even cheaper still.  While the temptation might be there to replace our entire SAR fleet (Hercs, Buffalos, and Cormorants) with Ospreys, it should be known that the Osprey should be seen as a aircraft that can fly like helicopter, and not the other way around.  It can't perform all the duties a pure helicopter can, so we might not want to get rid of all our choppers just yet.

Been there...  Done that.  The CL-84 tilt-wing demonstrator.

VTOL capable aircraft aren't entirely new territory for Canada.  We did develop the CL-84, after all.

Which aircraft is best suited for Canada's FWSAR needs?  Like anything else, arguments could be made for any one of these aircraft.  It's hard to find a wrong choice, actually.

The most important thing is that Canada actually stops dragging its feet and start the selection process already.

For more about Canada's troubled search and rescue system, check out CBC's "Doc Zone" episode "To The Rescue" here:  http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/episodes/to-the-rescue


  1. Side note: A RCAF officer recently toured a C-295MPA from the Portuguese Air Force at the Singapore air show. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYlschwoiLI


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