START OVER ON CANADIAN FORCES FIXED WING SEARCH AND RESCUE, REPORT SUGGESTS

BY DAVID PUGLIESE

OTTAWA CITIZEN

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.

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