Wednesday, 21 November 2012


 It has been recently announced that the
Embraer KC-390 is a candidate for Canada’s Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) program. The reason for this is that the RCAF may change course and consider the purchase of two types of search-and-rescue aircraft instead of one.

The RCAF believe that with a large, long-range, fast aircraft they could maintain their current model of providing Search and Rescue (SAR) services to the north using southern air bases. (Which is rather like providing Search and Rescue service for Vancouver Island from Winnipeg, but let’s not dwell on that, or give anybody any ‘fresh’ ideas) According to this model, smaller, more maneuverable aircraft would provide SAR in appropriate areas.

It’s hard to know where to begin to criticize this option.

From the viewpoint of any kind of national industrial policy it makes no sense at all. The KC-390, sometimes described as “a C-130 killer”, is a product of Embraer, described in Wikipedia as;

Embraer S.A. is a Brazilian aerospace conglomerate that produces commercial, military, and executive aircraft and provides aeronautical services. Headquartered in São José dos Campos, Embraer is the third-largest commercial aircraft manufacturer in the world.”

Of interest is the description in Wikipedia of Bombardier Aerospace;

Bombardier Aerospace is a division of Bombardier Inc. and is the third-largest airplane manufacturer in the world after Boeing and Airbus. It is headquartered in Dorval, Quebec, Canada.”

Alert readers will note that both companies are described as being “the third largest aircraft manufacturer in the world”. The reason for this is that the companies are of similar size and are direct competitors in many markets.

It is hard to understand why the Government of Canada, having rejected Bombardier's aircraft offerings for the FWSAR program would help to develop a competing product from a competing foreign company.

Canadian Defence Matters (CDM) has corresponded with the Minister of National Defence on the FWSAR issue. At first, assuming rather cynically, that the purpose of maintaining an RCAF SAR mandate was to acquire more tactical air lift capacity, used C-27 Spartans were advocated. Having been assured by the minister that the only purpose for the aircraft to be acquired was SAR it became obvious that some variant of Bombardier’s Dash 8 Maritime Patrol/Search and Rescue variant was the answer.

CDM was informed that a Review of the Statement of Operational Requirement for the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue Aircraft by the National Research Council had recommended that a rear ramp was mandatory. Although the DND was not interested in some of the other suggestions contained in the report (for example alternate service providers) the issue of a rear ramp was considered non-negotiable.

After correspondence with Fleet Aviation CDM was assured that as far as they were concerned the Air-Operable Door (AOD) modification they provided, as approved by all other users, was suitable to the task, but had never been trialed by the DND or the National Research Council.

In communications with Bombardier it was made clear that the company saw no point in making modifications to the Dash-8 which would bring it into compliance with the NRC recommendations.

 The current candidates for Canada’s FWSAR program include the C-27J, C295, DHC-5NG, C-130J, KC-390, and the V-22. CDM does not advocate national industrial strategies being followed at the expense of properly equipping the Canadian armed forces. At the same time, if Canadian forces can be appropriately equipped with nationally sourced items it makes no sense not to do so.

It is a symptom of the shambles that FWSAR has become that CDM finds itself in agreement with the Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Rideau Institute.  The FWSAR program has become a textbook study in procurement failure. No matter what aircraft are eventually acquired it may be that the best thing that can come of this fiasco will be for all concerned to learn and apply the lessons being given on how not to buy an airplane.