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.

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