The Canadian Air Force Association has issued a new position paper calling for an increased Canadian Armed Forces manned C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Capability. (1)
In simple terms the paper calls for the retention and structural upgrade of as many Aurora aircraft as possible (up to 18) thus preserving the maximum C4ISR capability possible over the next decade and a half.
The C.A.F.A. position paper points out the many attributes of the CP-140 and the importance of C4ISR to modern warfare and Canadian strategy. Nobody would disagree with these arguments. There are, however, less expensive options for increasing C.A.F. C4ISR assets.
In the United States the Air Force does not plan to keep all 42 of the MC-12 aircraft that it now has.(2) After the withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan from 2014, around 27 of the USAF's 42 MC-12W aircraft will be shifted to Air National Guard units across the United States. A few other MC-12Ws will be retained in the USAF's active inventory for training at Beale AFB in California. This leaves a balance of 10-12 surplus aircraft available for transfer to appropriate allies.
The twin-propeller Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350s, known as the MC-12W, has an aircrew of four: two pilots, a sensor operator and a signals intelligence specialist and is fitted with variety of surveillance sensors. They carry electro-optical and infrared sensors in belly-mounted turrets which includes an integrated laser illuminator/designator. Imagery collected from those sensors is fed to line-of-sight and SATCOM data links via a Signals Intelligence suite. The King Air is relatively simple to fly, operate, and maintain, it has a significant endurance/loiter capability and can self-deploy around the world.
Jim Dorschner, in an article at CASR (3) has laid out the advantages of acquiring readily-available ISR assets in the form of these soon-to-be-surplus USAF MC-12W Liberty aircraft.
One of the things that make this an affordable option is that the RCAF already has similar aircraft in service. (4) At least eight Beech King Airs are provided to the military under contract by their owner, Bombardier, and used for multi-engine training of military pilots by military instructors. Canadian MC-12Ws could be easily brought into the RCAF alongside the two leased King Air B200 utility aircraft of the Multi-Engine Utility Flight at CFB Trenton. (5)
Enough ISR expertise already exists in the Royal Canadian Air Force that the R.C.A.F. would quickly build up a flexible capability with applications for both international and domestic requirements. Because the US government is motivated to make budget cuts, relatively new ex-USAF MC-12Ws are available at a purchase price lower than any other available ISR options, manned or unmanned.
This is the kind of capability that the C.A.F. can use and unlike the CP-140 advocated by the Canadian Air Force Association, it is one they could afford. It remains to be seen if the DND is flexible enough to make the moves necessary to acquire this platform.
(1) Air Force Association of Canada Warns About Significant Degradation in Canada’s C4ISR Capabilities
(3) Sharing the Wealth by Jim Dorschner
(4) Eight Beech King Airs are provided to the military under contract
(5) The Multi-Engine Utility Flight: 8 Wing’s newest addition