Monday, August 1, 2016

Industry Consultation Questionnaire: A Positive First Step

And so it begins...  Again...
The Canadian Government has taken its first step towards (hopefully) restarting its quest to find a suitable replacement for the CF-18.

The "CF-18 REPLACEMENT INDUSTRY CONSULTATION QUESTIONNAIRE" was answered by five aerospace companies (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Saab, Eurofighter, and Dassault) regarding their respected fighters.

Earlier reports that the Canadian government may sole-source an "interim" Super Hornet buy were met with sharp criticism (not from me) that doing so would break a Liberal election promise to hold an fair and open fighter competition.  Selecting a sole-source Super Hornet as an interim solution would make it all but inevitable for a full purchase.  Even if a different fighter was selected afterward, the additional costs of operating a diversified fighter fleet would cause financial stress.

[NOTE:  I believe the interim Super Hornet idea may have been intentionally "leaked" to gauge reaction.]

Whatever the case, Canada is now back to selecting one of five modern fighters to replacing its aging CF-18s.

The usual suspects...
Reading through the questionnaire (and I highly suggest you do) it becomes very apparent that priority will be placed on three things:

  1. Costs.  Not only are purchase costs and operating costs requested but concurrency costs (modifications required after-the-fact) as well.  
  2. Industrial benefits to Canada:  Will Canadian companies be included in the construction and continued maintenance of this aircraft?  Is work already being done here?  Is there potential for growth in the future?
  3. Performance:  Figures are requested for a typical NORAD interception mission, (i.e.: flying out of Cold Lake to Inuvik than a 100nm dash)  This places emphasis on interceptor capability more than the strike role.
Interestingly enough, there is no mention of a specific number of fighters to be purchased.  Figures are requested for "Unit-Recurring Flyaway Cost " along with eight simulators, two sets of aircraft training aids, and training for 100 pilots and 250 technicians.

Along with these priorities (Cost, Industrial Benifits, Home Defense), there are a few other "tidbits" included in the questionnaire that stand out (along with my musings).


  • Weapons currently in the Canadian Forces inventory that can be employed on the new aircraft will be retained. If the current CF-18 gun ammunition, deployable countermeasures (e.g. chaff/flares), missiles and bombs, are incompatible with the new aircraft this item should include the cost of an initial stock of such items. If current CF-18 weapons are compatible with the new aircraft, the cost of certifying their use on the new aircraft should also be included under this item.  This severely hurts the Rafale and helps the Super Hornet.
  • Provide the aircraft's planned production capacity (minimum annual) from 2017 to 2030, the associated currently known production orders as well as the planned closure of the production line.  This hinders the Super Hornet, Typhoon, and Rafale.  They all have an uncertain future after 2018 (the questionnaire does ask what contingency is in place for spares and long term support, however).
  • Provide a list of current customers operating your aircraft type, and the status of current customer deliveries.  This hinders both the Super Hornet (small user base) and the F-35 (late deliveries)
  • please describe the potential opportunities for Canadian companies to be integrated into the production supply chain of this aircraft? Could these opportunities extend to the global supply for future sales of this aircraft? Please explain. Not good for the Typhoon, Rafale and Super Hornet if their production ends
  • Please describe your approach to the transfer or provision of access to intellectual property (IP) and technical data to facilitate the support of the hardware and software of the solution.  This hurts the F-35, which is pretty much "black box" in this department.
  • Identify if the proposed platform requires the use of a special access facility? If so, provide unclassified infrastructure requirements.  This hurts the F-35, which requires enhanced security measures.
  • What is the total maintenance man-hours per flying hour for the proposed platform?  This helps the Gripen, which is famous for its ease of maintenance.


Damn near disqualified.  
Now for the kicker.  

The questionnaire asks for performance data on the following tasks:

  • Profile 1: Goose Bay to Iqaluit
    a. Depart Goose Bay, NL (CYYR);
    b. Transit to overhead destination, Iqaluit, NU

    (CYFB);
    c. Continue to alternate Kuujjuaq, NU (CYVP); d. Hold 15min; and
    e. Complete an approach, landing with dry tanks.

  • -  Profile 1a: Dash from Iqaluit (using Profile 1 configuration)
    a. Depart Iqaluit, NT (CYEV);
    b. Proceed 100nm North at 30,000’MSL at

    optimum range airspeed;
    c. Accelerate to Mach X.XX and maintain for

    10min (proceeding North);
    d. Return to overhead Iqaluit at optimum altitude

    and airspeed;
    e. Continue to alternate Kuujjuaq, NU (CYVP); f. Hold 15min; and
    g. Complete an approach, landing with dry tanks. 


  • Profile 2: Cold Lake to Inuvik
    a. Depart Cold Lake, AB (CYOD);
    b. Transit to overhead destination, Inuvik, NT

    (CYEV);
    c. Continue to alternate Norman Wells, NT

    (CYVQ);
    d. Hold 15min; and
    e. Complete an approach, landing with dry tanks.

  • -  Profile 2a: Dash from Inuvik (using Profile 2 configuration)
    a. Depart Inuvik, NT (CYEV);
    b. Proceed 100nm North at 30,000’MSL at

    optimum range airspeed;
    c. Accelerate to Mach X.XX and maintain for

    10min (proceeding North);
    d. Return to overhead Inuvik at optimum altitude

    and airspeed;
    e. Continue to alternate Norman Wells, NT

    (CYVQ);
    f. Hold 15min; and

     g. Complete an approach, landing with dry tanks.
This would seem to be the typical intercept missions expected from a Canadian fighter aircraft.  Launching out of major airbase where CF-18s are routinely stationed with a stop at a Forward Operating Locations (FOL) for fuel, followed by a 100nm cruise followed by a high-speed dash to intercept, followed by a return.  

One small problem, however...

The F-35A, in its current form, cannot operate from Inuvik or Kuujjuaq.

As has been discussed before, the F-35A requires 8,000 feet of runway (preferably 10,000).  FOL Inuvik has a 6,001 foot runway.  Kuujjuaq has 6,000 feet of asphalt.  When you consider the possibility of less-than-ideal landing conditions, landing at either base would be a no-go with an F-35A in its current form.  

While Lockheed Martin is working on a drag chute for the Lightning II, it will not be flight tested until next year.  The JSF's drag chute is unique in that it must be designed in a way to keep the F-35 stealthy.  It also needs to be constructed of kevlar in order to withstand the heat of the F135 engine.  This poses a problem as the questionnaire stipulates the following condition for the above scenarios:
use actual aircraft configuration (utilize systems which are operational with Armed Services today only – non- developmental) 
While it could be argued that the Gripen JAS-39E would be considered "developmental" at this time, Saab could simply use figures derived from the current C/D variants.  It could also back this up with performance data from the "Gripen NG" flight demonstrator aircraft as well as the actual Gripen E which is expected to fly by the end of the calendar year.  

"What ya doing'?"
"Oh...  Y'know...  Bear stuff."

The new questionnaire seems refreshingly simplistic in its queries.  How much does a fighter cost?  How can Canadian industry benefit?  Can the fighter actually do the job we need it to do?

Of course, how much weight will be put into each question is anybody's guess.  A questionnaire requesting non-classified information is far from a official competition, but it is a good start.  Better still, nothing about questionnaire seems to to arbitrarily rule-in or rule-out any particular aircraft.

Even the F-35's landing distance issue could be addressed easily enough.  Drag chutes are nothing new and the JSF's can be seen as "low risk".

Ultimately, the decision will likely come down to each manufacturer's individual bid.  This is a good thing, as it will help Canadian get the right fighter for the right price.

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