Friday, 6 September 2013



Although there are a number of candidates for the title,” Worst DND Procurement Ever”, the attempt to replace Canada’s fixed wing search and rescue assets must surely rank as first among equals. Canadian Defence Matters has written about this debacle before, but it deserves to be revisited.

The effort to renew Canada’s search-and-rescue fixed wing aircraft fleet began under Jean Chr├ętien’s Liberal government in 2002; the 2004 federal budget provided the necessary funds and promised new planes “within 12 to 18 months.” The Conservative government under Steven Harper closed the procurement office for search-and-rescue planes in favour of other projects. 

Since then the project has stalled over the Air Forces attempt, under an ACAN bid, to acquire the C-27J Spartan. An ACAN bid essentially picks the desired aircraft and then invites other competitors to make an offer. To date, ACAN experience is that the requirements are explicitly written to exclude many competitive choices. ACAN bids by other manufacturers are generally a waste of time. Complaints by Industry Canada led to the rejection of the original proposal. Even after Public Works became involved in the procurement process the program has drifted.

Canada must have adequate search and rescue aircraft, it is the 2nd-largest country in the world in terms of square area. Its ocean borders to the east, west and north expand its required coverage into large and hostile environments. Each year, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers handle an average of more then 8,000 air and marine SAR cases, and Canadian Forces SAR aircraft conduct well over 1,000 missions per year

JRCCs are staffed by a combination of coast Guard and Canadian Forces personnel, and are currently located in Halifax, Trenton, and Victoria. The SAR crews and aircraft are based in Gander, with CH-149 Cormorant helicopters, Greenwood, with CH-149 Cormorants and CC-130 Hercules aircraft, Trenton, with CH-146 Griffon helicopters and CC-130 Hercules air, Winnipeg with CC-130 Hercules and Comox, with CH-149 Cormorants and DHC-5/ CC-115 Buffalo fixed-wing aircraft.

These are supplemented as required by Canadian Forces’ Griffon helicopters in Goose Bay, Bagotville, and Cold Lake, and by a small arctic fleet of 4 CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft based in Yellowknife.

The early model Hercules and aging Buffalos that makes up the fixed wing portion of this fleet are in desperate need of renewal. What is needed is an immediate purchase of Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft, suitably modified for the search and rescue mission.
As the table below illustrates, there is little difference between the candidate aircraft in terms of performance.
Bombardier Dash 8
Series 400
Alenia C-27J Spartan
Overall length
107 ft 8 in
(32.81 m)
74 ft 6 in
 (22.7 m)
80 ft 3 in
 (24.50 m)
27 ft 3 in
(8.3 m)
31 ft 8 in
( 9.64 m)
28 ft 3 in
(8.60 m)
Maximum cabin width
8 ft 3 in
(2.51 m)
8 ft .5 in
(2.45 m)
8 ft 11 in
(2.70 m)
Cabin length
61 ft 8 in
(18.8 m)
28.15 ft
(8.58 m)
41 ft 6 in
(12.70 m)
93 ft 2 in
(28.4 m)
94 ft 2 in
(28.7 m)
84 ft 8 in
(25.81 m)
2xP&W 150A
5071 HP
(3,782kW) each
2×R-R AE2100D2A 
4,640 HP
(3,460 kW) each
2×P&W  127G
2,645 hp
(1,972 kW) each
Cruise speed
414 mph
(667 km/h) 360 kt
362 mph
(583 km/h) 315 kt
300 mph
(480 km/h) 260 kt
27,000 ft
(8,230 m)
30,000 ft 
(9,144 m)
25,000 ft
 9,100 m
Range *

1,610 miles
(2,591 km)
1,151 miles (1,852 km)
828 miles
 (1,300 km)
Takeoff run at MTOW
3,150 ft
(960 m)
1,903 ft
(580 m)
2,200 ft
(670 m)
Maximum takeoff weight
64,500 lb
(29,260 kg)
67,241 lb
(30,500 kg)
51,146 lbs
(23,200 kg)
26,615 lb
(12,075 kg)
25,353 lb
(11,500 kg)
20,392 lbs
(9,250 kg)
* It should be noted that range figures are dependant on payload and can be extremely variable.

At last count some fourty Bombardier Dash 8’s were in service for search and rescue with ten other countries. The cost of these aircraft is dependent on the sensor fit and a reasonable number of Dash 8’s could be purchased within the budget parameters already established. The former minister of National Defence assured this writer that aircraft purchased for search and rescue are for search and rescue only and that secondary military air mobility uses are not a priority. That being the case there is no reason that the lack of a rear loading ramp should be any impediment to the recommended purchase.

It has been alleged that at least one Canadian in need of search and rescue services has already died because the current fleet was unserviceable. What is certain is that if the program to replace our aging fleet continues as it has there will be more tragedies. The new Minister of National Defence and his colleagues at Public works should move immediately to implement their CanadaFirst procurement policy and purchase a suitable number Canadian manufactured and modified Dash-8 search and rescue aircraft.