April 15, 2010

By David Pugliese

Defence Watch

At a meeting with Air Force officers and defence industry representatives in Ottawa last week the extent of the paralysis that plagues the $3 billion Fixed Wing Search and Rescue project was front and centre.

An Air Force officer was running through the various equipment projects on the go while images were projected on to a screen.

When the slide came for FWSAR, the screen was filled with a giant question mark.

The defence industry representatives laughed but a number told Defense Watch that the incident was truly indicative of the state of the program. “The Air Force doesn’t know where it is going on this one,” said one industry representative.

The official line from the government is that it is studying a National Research Council report on the FWSAR project.

The NRC report was sought by the Department of National Defence, Public Works and Industry Canada as an independent view of what the minimal standards for the aircraft should be. That report came after allegations were made that the requirements for the fixed-wing search-and-rescue ((FWSAR) project had been rigged by the Air Force to favor Alenia’s C-27J.s

“A recommendation to Government on a proposed solution to acquire FWSAR is planned for Spring 2010,” DND stated in January. “The DND project office, with their counterparts at PWGSC and IC, is currently formulating the recommendation that will be advanced for Government approval.”

A spring 2010 “solution” appears highly unlikely now; thus the question mark when it came to the FWSAR slide in the Air Force equipment briefing.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has not indicated if the government would follow the NRC recommendations to redo the requirements.

FWSAR was originally launched in the spring of 2004 as the top priority for the Air Force but it quickly became bogged down amid allegations from industry representatives about the favoritism towards the Alenia plane. In December 2008 MacKay said he was going to fast-track the project but again that quickly derailed amid the similar favoritism allegations made in the House of Commons and among industry.

At an industry day for the project, held last summer, company representatives were told the Defence Department would require all deliveries of aircraft to be completed within 60 months of a contract being awarded.  However, the department did not provide details on a timeline for the procurement, nor the number of planes needed, say industry officials.

At that time Canada said it was looking for an aircraft that could conduct search and rescue maneuvers equivalent to those currently performed as well as able to fly from one of four current bases to conduct a search for a minimum of an hour before returning to an airfield. According to a 14-page power point presentation from Public Works and Government Services Canada, presented at the industry day the aircraft must have a cargo compartment of sufficient height and width to allow search and rescue technicians to perform all necessary tasks and cockpit visibility to allow the crew to safely conduct maneuvers.

The FWSAR statement of requirements has never been formally released.


March 11, 2010

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

Canada’s new Chinooks will be outfitted with a new state-of-art laser-based counter-missile defense system, military officers have told Defence Watch.

The first of the 15 Chinook F models ordered by Canada are scheduled to arrive in the summer of 2013.

They will have undergone some modifications that the military deemed to be worthwhile for Canadian scenarios. Those include the installation of larger fuel tanks for increased range and an upgraded electrical system that is designed to handle improved avioncis as well as a laser-based counter-missile defence system.

The Canadian Chinooks are different from those being operated by the U.S. Army because of the increased fuel capacity, defensive suite and improved electrical system, said Canadian Air Force Lt. Col. Rick McLaughlin, operational requirements manager for the medium-heavy lift helicopter project.

The Canadian Chinooks will be outfitted with an enhanced survivability package using a directed infra-red countermeasures system, he noted. The turreted system constantly watches for missile launches and “defeats the eyeball on the heat-seeker (of a missile) using a laser shot,” McLaughlin said.

Also on board will be more traditional countermeasures against missiles such as flares. The upgraded electrical system that is being installed on the Canadian Chinooks is designed to handle the extra power needs to run the laser-based countermeasures system.

McLaughlin also said Canada will have large-size fuel tanks installed in the Chinooks for increased range, to deal with the country’s large geographic size as well as a result from lessons learned from Afghanistan. He noted that many operations being flown in-theater with Chinooks involved the use of fuel bladders, outfitted in the rear cabin area, to provide added range.

McLaughlin said Canada had safety issues about using such fuel bladders as well as concerns that putting the extra fuel containers in the rear of the aircraft would cut down on the number of troops that could be carried.

“For each one that goes in there you loose upwards of a dozen seats in the back,” he explained. “The whole issue of carrying gas in the back and losing cargo capability came into the discussion.”

All aircraft are expected to be delivered by June 2014.


March 9, 2010


By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

KABUL –   The white blimp that hovers over this city has been a constant presence in Kabul’s dust and pollution-filled skies since it was sent aloft last summer.

Known as the Persistent Threat Detection System, it consists of an aerostat or “blimp” mounted with camera equipment. The system is flown on a tether at several thousand feet to enable around-the-clock surveillance of a wide area, according to International Security Assistance Force.

Through the PTDS, Afghan National Security Forces have access to high resolution imagery, including full-motion video and audio data from the greater Kabul area, ISAF officials say. That information, together with surveillance data from other security systems, allows for better and earlier threat recognition, which in turn will helps security forces’ “effective responses to threats and attacks,” or so ISAF claims.

The aerostat’s full-motion video camera can pan 360 degrees and provide nonstop, instant surveillance. “With that camera, we can go anywhere in the city to allow us to look for any threats or any intentions from the insurgency,” Col. Marilyn Jenkins, a U.S. Army intelligence officer told the Armed Forces Network Afghanistan last year.

The surveillance system is anchored at Bala Hissar, an ancient fortress on one of the hills that overlooks Kabul.

According to ISAF, such systems have a successful history of integration with security technologies to combat threats in Iraq, and dozens of PTDS have been employed effectively in eastern Afghanistan since early 2004. (ISAF is providing the technology to support the Afghan National Security Forces.)

But how effective is the system?

In the last six months Kabul has been hit by three spectacular insurgent attacks, with suicide bombers and insurgent assault teams targeting high-profile government sites as well as areas frequented by foreigners.  There is no indication that the government or ISAF had advance warning of such attacks because of the aerostat, although the system could have provided surveillance data as the attacks unfolded.

A similar system keeps watch over Kandahar but some military officers I have talked to suggest that the more open approaches to that city make the aerostat a more effective surveillance system for that environment.

Nevertheless, such aerostats/blimps appear to be making a comeback in military circles. Walter Pincus, the veteran security issues reporter for the Washington Post, has noted that the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and the Army Forces Strategic Command have revived a previous attempt to come up with a self-powered, intelligence-gathering airship. The ideal model would be able to linger for more than three weeks over a target area at 20,000 feet, carrying a 2,500-pound payload of signals and imagery interceptors with a view of 173 miles, according to a special notice issued recently by the Pentagon.

The notice, Pincus points out, outlines how the engines would be able to keep a steady speed of 20 knots, but if needed possess an 80-knot “dash speed.” Though it is expected to be unmanned and operated from the ground, it may be operated with a crew.

Added Pincus in his article: “The ambitious and new five-year program for a 250-foot-long “Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle” calls for 18 months of performance testing “followed by additional tests and demonstrations conducted in Afghanistan,” according to the notice.”


March 8, 2010

First flight of Canada’s new C-130J. Photos provided by Lockheed Martin:


February 13, 2010



Commissioner Robert Wells, the head of an inquiry into offshore helicopter safety, has came out before his own final report has been tabled, noting the need for better rescue capabilities to be put in place immediately.

He has recommended a temporary halt to night flights and faster emergency response times. (Wells’ inquiry is looking to the March 2009 crash of a helicopter  on its way to oil platform off St. John’s–17 people died).

“The issue about which I am now writing has for several weeks been a growing concern for me,” Wells wrote in a letter to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. “However, the evidence which I have heard at the inquiry during the past two weeks causes me to believe it is a matter requiring immediate attention. A full-time, dedicated and fully equipped response helicopter ready to go in 15 or 20 minutes is what is needed in St. John’s and needed as quickly as possible,”

From Sue Bailey of the Canadian Press:

“One of the early recommendations from Wells spurred the federal-provincial offshore regulator to press energy companies for a fully equipped rescue chopper on standby in St. John’s whenever workers fly.Wells wrote in a letter to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board dated Monday that emergency response provided from St. John’s “does not meet the highest standards.”

Offshore workers in the North Sea and other parts of the world can count on response times of 15 to 30 minutes, he wrote.

“There are no doubt longer response times, but a window of 15 to 30 minutes is, I believe, an acceptable standard.

“If a helicopter is forced to ditch in our waters, the life expectancy of survivors is limited, even with the best immersion or flotation suits and the best training,” he wrote.”

Will this change Canadian Forces SAR posture or will the government let private industry take the lead?

Now, for background information, below is what I wrote on Defence Watch in November, 2008:

The positioning of Canadian Forces search and rescue aircraft as well as the speed in which SAR crews respond continues to be an ongoing issue for some of those who make their living at sea or in the remote areas of the country.

Laurie Sullivan, the owner of a Newfoundland-based fishing vessel which sank in September, has criticized the fact that a SAR helicopter was not based in St. John’s to assist in responding to emergencies in the North Atlantic. Two crew members from the fishing ship died in that incident.

The recent rescue of an Inuit teenager on an ice floe in the North has also raised questions about whether more SAR assets should be based in the Arctic while other have in the past suggested that the Air Force should increase its SAR posture to a 30-minute continuous readiness posture.

Defence Watch has obtained a report on that issue, with the Air Force firmly coming out against a 24/7 30-minute readiness.

The current position is that when tasked, an aircraft must be airborne within 30 minutes during normal working hours and within two hours during all remaining quiet hours, according to the Air Force.

Unlike the two-hour SAR posture where crews and technicians hold a recall standby away from the squadron, a 30-minute SAR posture requires aircrews remain poised to launch from the flight line.

A 30-minute SAR posture is too expensive and would provide little benefit, according to The Canadian Forces Search and Rescue 30-minute Continuous Readiness Posture Force Generation Analysis obtained by Defence Watch.

An analysis of incidents between the years 2000-2004 determined that had a 30-minute posture been in effect on a 24/7 basis, “only a small increase in the probability of victim survival would have been gained by adopting a 30-minute posture.”

To reach the increased level of readiness would add more maintenance, require more aircraft and infrastructure upgrades, the report noted. According to the Air Force it would cost $387 million in extra capital costs and $540 million in overall annual recurring costs.

The Air Force also concluded that the timeline to achieve the enhanced posture would likely require six to eight years.

The end result is that the status quo will be maintained well into the future.

In January 2008, DND’s Chief of Review Services examined SAR and concluded the Canadian Forces “component of SAR operations functions quite well and remains highly relevant.”

That conclusion, however, will likely not be accepted by some of those who have called for improvements.


February 12, 2010



There are indications that a draft report produced by the National Research Council on the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue project is recommending that the government and Canadian Forces start afresh on how they approach the $3 billion procurement.

The Defence Department, Public Works and Industry Canada brought in the National Research Council to look at the FWSAR issue and make recommendations on what is needed in an aircraft. In turn, NRC has brought in some researchers from various universities to help out.

Sources tell Defence Watch that the NRC is recommending starting over on the FWSAR procurement. But it is unclear whether such a recommendation would be accepted and sources point out that the report is at this point only a draft.

The air force has had specific ideas on what it wanted in a FWSAR aircraft right from the beginning. But those specifications have sparked claims that the competition was designed to favor the Alenia C-27J, allegations that have been hotly denied by the air force.

Among the criteria the air force wanted was a minimum aircraft speed of 273 knots/505 km/h and a flying range of 1,699 nautical miles/3,147 km, according to the FSWAR High Level Mandatory Capabilities outline produced last year and obtained by Defence Watch.

Still, the allegations of favoritism, political squabbling and intense lobbying from some domestic firms opposed to the specifications, has resulted in the program being delayed for years.

During the industry day held last year for the FWSAR project, other details were provided. Industry representatives were told that Canada was looking for an aircraft that could conduct search and rescue maneuvers equivalent to those currently performed as well as able to fly from one of four current bases to conduct a search for a minimum of an hour before returning to an airfield.

The 14-page power point presentation from Public Works and Government Services Canada, presented at the industry day, also noted that the aircraft must have a cargo compartment of sufficient height and width to allow search and rescue technicians to perform all necessary tasks and cockpit visibility to allow the crew to safely conduct maneuvers.

The new aircraft would replace both the Buffalo and the C-130 Hercules now used in search and rescue.

A recommendation to Government on a proposed solution to acquire FWSAR is planned for Spring 2010, according to Defence Department spokeswoman Lianne LeBel. “The DND project office, with their counterparts at PWGSC and IC (Industry Canada), is currently formulating the recommendation that will be advanced for Government approval,” she added.

FWSAR was originally launched in the spring of 2004 as the top priority for the air force but quickly became sidetracked.

In December 2008 Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he was going to fast-track the project, purchasing a plane in the spring of 2009 but that also went no where.

Besides the C-27J, Airbus Military is proposing the C-295.

Viking Air has proposed that it provide new production DHC-5 Buffalo aircraft, with the work being done in manufacturing facilities in Victoria, BC and in Calgary, Alberta. The Buffalo is currently used by the Canadian Forces for fixed-wing search and rescue.

Bombardier of Montreal is interested in  offering its turboprop Q400 series aircraft for the program, said Bombardier spokeswoman Sylvie Gauthier.

In early 2008 the Canadian Forces announced it would be flying the current fleet of Buffalo search-and-rescue aircraft until 2014 or 2015.


February 11, 2010



Federal government officials say the security is in place for the Olympic Games with more than 16,000 police and military personnel involved in the operation.

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games open in Vancouver on Friday but Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile, commander of Joint Task Force Games has told Defence Watch that the Canadian Forces presence is expected to be low-key.

“Our role has always been to be behind the scenes and low profile to support the RCMP as the lead security agency,” he said. “But obviously as we deploy into theater with a total of 4,500 Canadian Forces personnel we will be visible. There will be ships and aircraft and people moving about. It’s still our intent to be there to take on those unique roles that really nobody has the capacity to do.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is expected to visit military personnel at the Games either Thursday or Friday.

On Wednesday federal representatives held a press conference in Ottawa as well as a technical briefing to outline security details.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the Olympics was a good example “as to how organizations can come together effectively.”

Naval, air force and army units, as well as those from CANSOFCOM are all contributing the Games security. Other federal departments and various police forces are also involved.

“We have Auroras, we have maritime helicopters, and Griffon helicopters for land surveillance,” Pile said in a recent interview. “We’ll have NORAD dealing with aerospace surveillance, writ large and that will be a bilateral effort between Canada and the United States. We’ll have an AWACS aircraft deployed assisting with that and Canadian F-18 aircraft.”

The military contribution is varied. A component of JTF2 is expected to be on standby in the Vancouver area. A Port Security Unit, made up of naval reservists from across the country, is now actively enforcing security zones 24 / 7 in Vancouver Harbour. It is supporting the RCMP for waterborne security operations within Vancouver Harbour, including Force Protection of the three temporary accommodation vessels sheltering Olympic security forces.

The Combined Operational Dive Team, comprised of clearance divers and port inspection divers from across the country, has completed more than 115 dives since Jan. 7. CODT has also conducted searches of waterside Olympics venues such as Canada Place and the Athletes’ Village.

U.S. Navy and Coast Guard units will also be involved on the American side of the border. “They will have Coast Guard cutters deployed,” Pile said. “They will have United States Navy assets deployed. It’s in their security interests and it is a border area. That’s why we want to share information rapidly and correctly with them.”

At the Wednesday press conference Toews also mentioned the security co-operation with the U.S. “We’ve been working every closely with the Americans, part of the security area does include parts of the United States,” he said.

Protests are expected against the Games but according to the RCMP it does not plan to be heavy-handed in how it deals with such issues. “In terms of the Olympic Games, it will be a measured response,” Bill Sweeney, deputy commissioner of the RCMP, said at Wednesday’s press conference.


February 10, 2010

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

The end of January has come and gone without the promised sea/ship trials for the new Canadian Forces Cyclone maritime helicopter.

“We’re still working out the details with Sikorsky,” Lianne LeBel said Tuesday in an interview with Defence Watch. “They’ll (the tests) start imminently.”

The sea trials should have been completed more than 20 months ago, according to the delivery schedule contracted with Sikorsky in 2004.

Public Works and Government Services spokeswoman Tricia Van der Grient had early said that the sea trials would be taking place in the new year, before the end of January. That followed claims in November by Defence Minister Peter MacKay in the fall that the first Cyclone would soon arrive in Canada.

LeBel said the tests for the Cyclone are not related to “compliance testing” of the helicopters.

“It’s to see how it (the helicopter) will fit on the ships,” she added.

But LeBel could not provide more specific details about the tests, adding that more information will be released later.

Sources tell Defence Watch that part of the delay is because of the planning for a “media event” to unveil the arrival of the helicopter in Canada. That is to offset the negative publicity and numerous delays that has dogged the troubled multi-billion project. It is still unclear whether the media event will go ahead, according to sources.

After the sea trials and completion of other flight testing to verify compliance, Sikorsky is required to start the delivery of the Interim Maritime Helicopter (IMH) in November 2010 as per the contract, according to Public Works.

After many denials, the government announced in December 2008 that the $5 billion project was not going to make its original delivery deadlines and that it would cost taxpayers more than originally expected.

Little additional information has been released on the troubled project, sparking concerns about further cost overruns and more delays. The ongoing secrecy has also raised issues about a lack of public accountability concerning the money being spent.

Members of DND’s helicopter project office have repeatedly declined interview requests. Van der Grient also confirmed PWGC does “not grant interviews on this issue.”

Sikorsky still has not responded to a Defence Watch request for comment made months ago.

The first Cyclone helicopter was originally supposed to be delivered in November 2008 but that never happened.

Because of that delay, Sikorsky faced financial penalties of up to $89 million but that was set aside by the Harper government. Little explanation has been provided on why penalties that could have been imposed were not.

In January 2008 MacKay brought up the penalties after news reports suggested Sikorsky would fail to deliver the aircraft on time. He suggested they would be a deterrent to Sikorsky. “There are penalties and clauses that will kick in,” he warned.

The first 19 helicopters delivered to the Canadian Forces will be designated as Interim Maritime Helicopters (IMH). These IMH aircraft will be fully functional and able to conduct testing and evaluation and training for MH maintenance and air crews, yet will not be fully compliant with the delivery contract, according to DND. Delivery of the first fully capable MH aircraft that meets all contract specifications will be in June 2012, at which point the previous IMH aircraft will then be retrofitted.


February 9, 2010


By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

Defence Watch has confirmed that the proposed purchase of Force Mobility Enhancement (FME) vehicles is still a priority for the Canadian Army.

There was some question about the status of the project in the wake of a Jan. 15 letter sent by Public Works to the defence industry regarding the army’s vehicle programs.

That letter, sent by Public Works and Government Services official Kristen Ward, and obtained by Defence Watch, noted that the LAV-3 upgrade and tactical armored patrol vehicle (TAPV) project “are considered priorities in ensuring renewal of core capabilities.”

“These two projects are proceeding as scheduled,” wrote Ward, Supply Team Leader Close Combat Vehicle Project. “The Close Combat Vehicle project, however, has been delayed to ensure that resources are geared toward key procurement priorities of DND.”

Ward’s letter raised concerns in some areas of the defence community since it made no mention of the  purchase of Force Mobility Enhancement vehicles, a fleet of armored engineer vehicles to support Canada’s Leopard 2 tanks.

But Defence Department spokeswoman Annie Dicaire confirmed that FME is still considered a priority. “The FME project will be implemented in two phases,” Dicaire told Defence Watch. “The first phase includes the acquisition of Armoured Engineer Vehicles (AEV) and Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV), while the second phase will be to procure tactical mobility implements, including dozer blades, mine ploughs, and mine rollers.”

“For Phase I, a letter of interest was issued in July 2009 to assess the level of interest from industry,” she added. “A draft request for proposal (RFP) for the acquisition of AEVs will be issued in the spring of 2010, followed by a revised, final RFP in the fall 2010.”

But the Close Combat Vehicle or CCV appears now to be on hold with no new timelines for it to proceed. Some defence observers believe the project will eventually be cancelled or simply remain in limbo.

The Harper government has already selected General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, the builder of the LAV-3, as the prime contractor and systems integrator for the upgrade program. The project will upgrade 550 vehicles. There is also an option for upgrades to an additional 80.

Ken Yamashita, the company’s manager of corporate affairs told Defence Watch that GDLS Canada is currently awaiting government approval to move to the definition phase of the program. The precise elements of the upgrade will be defined during the definition phase, he added.

Army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie has said the army wants the LAVs equipped with larger engines and more protection.

General Dynamics Land Systems Canada has already developed a light armoured vehicle technology demonstrator with an improved engine and drive train as well as more robust suspension. Those improvements on what it called the LAV-H would allow the vehicles to carry more weight, including armour if needed.

The tactical armored patrol vehicle would replace the army’s existing fleet of RG-31 mine protected vehicles and the Coyote wheeled light armored vehicles. Besides the initial procurement of 500 vehicles, there is an option for an additional 100. The TAPV will be delivered in two variants, a reconnaissance vehicle and a general utility variant.


February 8, 2010


By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

The official word from the Defence Department on the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue aircraft project is that the various government players will be ready in the “spring” to make a recommendation on how to proceed on the program.

And the unofficial response from the aerospace industry? Don’t hold your breath.

Most people in the aerospace and defence community remember Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s boast in December 2008 that he was going to buy a new FWSAR aircraft fleet by the spring of 2009. Yes, buy.

“As Minister MacKay has noted, these aircraft are a critical component of Canada’s home guard and, simply put, we need to have them,” Jay Paxton, the minister’s press secretary, told Defence Watch on Dec. 17, 2008. “The minister’s goal is to procure FWSAR early in the new year. Beyond that, it is premature to speculate on the exact nature of the aircraft.”

It also appears it was a little premature of MacKay to claim that the government would buy a FWSAR aircraft in the spring of 2009.

So now the project will be moving forward in the spring of 2010.

But then again, DND can’t even give a specific date or define what the term “spring” means.

Would that be April, May or even June?

Asked what month in the “spring” that DND expects to make its recommendation on the way forward on FWSAR, Defence Department spokeswoman Lianne LeBel responded, “Spring.” (You have to feel sorry for some of these public affairs officials who are sent out with five or six printed “media response lines” that say nothing. The FWSAR project office is too scared to put someone up front to deal with the news media since they would be facing some tough/embarrassing questions, such as how come it is taking so long to buy an aircraft?….so they shove Ms. LeBel into the fray)

That aside, LeBel did give Defence Watch a rundown on the official government “media response” on what is happening with FWSAR.

“In July 2009, the Government of Canada requested industry’s feedback on the proposed requirements and key considerations detailed during the FWSAR Industry Day,” LeBel pointed out. “Industry was given 60 days to comment. The submission period concluded on September 15 and the Department of National Defence (DND), Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), and Industry Canada (IC) have reviewed the submissions from industry. Industry’s feedback will complement the work already done by DND to ensure the new aircraft is the best possible solution for Canada’s complex SAR environment. A recommendation to Government on a proposed solution to acquire FWSAR is planned for Spring 2010. The DND project office, with their counterparts at PWGSC and IC, is currently formulating the recommendation that will be advanced for Government approval.”

“Don’t buy into that DND line for the media,” one aerospace industry veteran told Defence Watch. “This program is moving at a snail’s pace. Don’t expect any fast action, spring or summer.”

Added another long-time FWSAR observer: “They told you it would be ready in the spring? Well, at least that’s an improvement over their usual the program will be moving forward ‘soon’.”

The Defence Department, Public Works and Industry Canada have brought in the National Research Council to look at search and rescue in the country and make recommendations on what is needed in an aircraft. In turn, NRC has brought in some researchers from various universities to help out. The report is due March 5 but could be delivered as early as Feb. 15, according to some observers.

DND does have some breathing room on FWSAR. The Buffalo will continue to fly until 2014/2015 or even perhaps beyond that date.

C-130s could also be used to contribute to SAR coverage as they do already. With the arrival of new C-130Js, older C-130s used for SAR could be replaced with “younger” C-130s now currently in the transport fleet. The only problem is that it the C-130 is an expensive aircraft to operate for SAR, air force officers acknowledge.