On December 8th of this year, Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote, and RCAF Commander, LGen Michael Hood announced that the Airbus C-295W is the winning Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) Aircraft Replacement Project candidate.
From the outset this has always been seen as a contest between the C-295 and the Alenia C-27J Spartan.
During the course of the project and following the report of the National Research Council on the FWSAR Project Statement of Requirements it was decided that rear ramps were a necessity for the successful deployment of SAR Techs and the safe loading of stretcher cases. It can also be argued that the desire for ramps also reflected the FWSAR aircraft's secondary role as tactical transports.
It was widely believed that the C-27J was the RCAF preference, based on a degree of commonality with the in-service CC-130J Hercules and it should be noted, the perception that the Spartan had greater utility as a military transport.
There is no question that the chosen aircraft, the C-295W will be a capable aircraft for Search and Rescue purposes. Equally there is no question that the government has opted for a status-quo response to whole issue of Search and Rescue and that there is no thought of changing our current Search and Rescue system or of tasking some other government agency with the role.
In the past it was assumed that the RCAF could use its assets, specifically fixed wing aircraft, to aid in Search and Rescue while at the same time maintain a fleet of transports with military utility. In choosing an aircraft for this role that has a lesser military utility the government and the Air Force have signalled that this is no longer the case.
To a certain extent, the tail now wags the dog. While the government should be congratulated for making a decision, any decision, on the FWSAR file, the choice they have made reflects a troubling development.
In the “Summary Report – The Evaluation of Options for the Replacement of the CF-18 Fighter Fleet” provided by DND the department makes the unusual claim that “Canadian engagement in future state-on-state conflicts will be highly unlikely”. Far more likely, according to this report are military engagements that are not clearly defined and that can choose to take part in “on a case-by-case basis”. They believe that not only will the Government “not be obliged to undertake such a mission” but that “the Government has choices regarding the type, degree and duration of Canada's involvement in, and contribution to, an expeditionary mission.”
Rather than trying to determine what are the threats to Canadian security and trying to decide how those threats can best be met, within an affordable economic framework, the department has decided that the above description of use of military force as being at the governments discretion means that “The capability-based planning process for the Canadian Armed Forces uses these considerations when deciding what type of capability, if any, is required.”
“What type of capability, if any, is required” appears to be the guiding sentiment behind the choice of the C-295W. While it may be a perfectly good SAR aircraft, it’s more limited utility as a military transport means that using it to replace DHC-5 Buffalo and C-130 Hercules aircraft means that Canada will have less strictly military strength after this project is completed then we did before.
The fond belief that we will always be able to pick and choose our military engagements flies in the face of everything we know of history and common sense. In the long run, equipping our Armed Forces based on this fallacious belief is a mistake that will be paid for in both treasure and the lives of our service people.
Summary Report – The Evaluation of Options for the Replacement of the CF-18 Fighter Fleet