DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN COMMENTARY: MOVEMENT ON A NEW CANADIAN FORCES SEARCH AND RESCUE AIRCRAFT BY THE SPRING?

DEFENCE WATCH ANALYSIS

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.

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