A Case for the CP-140A Arcturus SAR
© 2004 FrontLine Defence (Vol 1, No 2)

Three Arcturus aircraft were bought for C$254 million to augment the Aurora fleet for Arctic and marine surface ­surveillance, Search and Rescue (SAR), drug interdiction, pilot training. Fitted by IMP Aerospace for surface surveillance duties with the AN/APS-507 maritime surface surveillance radar (w\ digital Scan Converter), and an optical window in the auxiliary escape hatch for handheld photography (instead of the Aurora’s belly-mounted ­vertical camera system), and four observer stations with bubble windows, the Canadian Forces (CF) took delivery of the three CP-140A aircraft between December 1992 and April 1993.

The three have now been classified surplus by the Department of National Defence as part of the comprehensive FSX fleet reductions. Disposal of the three CP-140A is to conditionally commence in 2005/2006.

The mid-2003 ‘Project Transform’ notes that the Long Range Patrol fleet must reduce from 21 aircraft to 16 in response to air force fiscal pressures but it “did not reflect the increased maritime… requirements accruing from the post-Sept 2001 environment.”

The premature retirement of the CP-140A is an opportunity to examine its suitability as a SAR replacement for the nearly life-expired CC-130E Hercules, ­utilized for SAR by 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, as “the Arcturus has a higher  availability/serviceability rate than the  Aurora... and greater overall airframe life.

By 2006, the CP-140As will have seen only 13 years service and would only need  a ‘low-cost’ mini-AIMP (Aurora Incre­mental Modernization Project). According to ­industry sources, few AIMP upgrades are required for the Arcturus SAR due to the  availability of post-AIMP spares.

The Arcturus SAR mini-AIMP projects required would be:

  • Navigation and Flight Instrument Moderniza­tion Project (Glass Cockpit); incl. Airborne Collision Avoidance System at C$4.167M per aircraft;
  • Communications Management System at C$5.556M per aircraft; and
  • Data Management System at C$11.111M per aircraft.

This works out to some C$26.5M per aircraft, compared to the C$160M for three Fixed Wing SAR [FWSAR].

The Arcturus SAR retains aircraft commonality benefits for aircraft technicians and flight crew, it also benefits from the existing Aurora/Arcturus spares and support structure at Greenwood. As York University professor Martin Shadwick argues “the premature disposal of the relatively new, and expensive Arcturus would be astonishingly shortsighted. The severe strain on the Aurora (including the recently ended Op Apollo commitment) could be partially mitigated by retaining the Arcturus until the AIMP is completed.”

In comparison, as shown in the table on page 24, the Arcturus’ 85kt advantage in dash-speed, 50kt advantage in cruise-speed for faster searches, all especially useful in lengthy SAR ocean search, make it ideally suited for SAR in Canada’s vast Atlantic/ Coastal Ocean areas of responsibility.

Speed is the determining factor in responding to offshore SAR incidents, and Arcturus SAR offers better performance than the two FWSAR contenders. The  EADS-CASA C-295 has a 260 kts dash speed while the Lockheed Martin/Alenia  C-27J’s dash speed is 325 kts. Both compare unfavourably to Arcturus’s 350 kts cruise, 410 kts dash. Also, Arcturus can fly over 5,000 nautical miles [nm] without refuelling, compared to some 3,000 nm for the C-295 and C-27J.

April 2003 – Arabian Gulf Region – Four CC130 Hercules aircraft from the Tactical Airlift Detachment are seem from under a CP 140 Aurora aircraft from the Long Range Patrol Detachment. The CC130's transport military personnel and cargo in the theatre. The CP140 provides maritime surveillance support and intelligence-gathering, in support of Operation Apollo, Canada's contribution to the campaign against terrorism.  (Photo: Cpl Henry Wall, National Support Unit)

While the Arcturus SAR would cost  more per-year to fly than FWSAR (FWSAR fuel consumption is 1/3 to 1/2 that of the CC-130 Hercules), its benefits far outweigh the small yearly operations premium (some C$6,138 less than Aurora’s C$30,170 flight-hour cost). More importantly, it would free up an initial C$80M that could be applied to Future Strategic Airlift (FSA) acquisition.

From Greenwood, Arcturus SAR can reach northernmost areas of Arctic SAR Region faster than FWSAR would from  Comox, Winnipeg or Trenton. As Transport  Requirements Director, LCol Francois Fortin, notes “the most critical issue in SAR is to locate the crash site… [and] get help to the  scene fastest,” because if a ship is going down, or you have injured people, you want to be overhead ASAP – especially pertinent for Atlantic Ocean where cold-water hypo­thermia is a major risk or northern-Arctic SAR.

CP-140A retention as Arcturus SAR would also allow resumption of regular Arctic Sovereignty NORPATs (Northern Patrols), while new FWSAR would not be sufficiently capable in this role. A recent DND study noted CFNA (CF Northern Area) “is alarmed at the emerging reduced commitment to demonstrating Sovereignty over, and ensuring the security of, the Canadian Arctic” – an area that encompasses 40% of Canada’s landmass and several strategic waterways.

It is widely expected that, by 2020, global warming will open up the Northwest Passage for regular shipping, and an internal DND note to senior officers affirms that “circa 2020 the Northwest Passage sovereignty issue will be played out.” Even General Ray Henault, Chief of the Defence Staff, confirms that the CF is concerned about asserting Arctic Sovereignty. “I think the possible movement of vessels through the northern passages would be one which would require us to perhaps adapt or adopt a different Sovereignty posture or at least be able to monitor that type of activity more intimately,” he warns.

While long-endurance UAVs such as Global Hawk may be well-suited for NORPATs, they come at an exhorbitant cost, exceeding US$50M each – including ground stations, plus additional annual contractor support costs, and would require some 100 CF personnel for squadron operations. While this capability may become necessary in the future, supplementing Arcturus SAR NORPATs, it is presently unaffordable due to the number of Global Hawk UAVs that would be required – a prohibitive US$500M  initial acquisition cost.

For a cost of C$80M, Arcturus SAR would provide both an improved east coast SAR capability and a footprint Canadian Military presence, demonstrating Arctic Sovereignty through increased NORPATs. Ongoing increases in polar air travel and projected increases in Arctic maritime travel create the potential for more Arctic SAR incidents, including the increasing risk of a major air disaster, as the CFNA Commander predicts 500 polar  flights daily before 2010.

An internal business case analysis of DND’s operational basis for Air Mobility Fleet recapitalization, finalized one day before the unexpected April 2003 shutdown of  the FSA project, affirmed “the 23 CC-130E and H73 aircraft will be retired during the 2005-2012 period. To avoid any significant refurbishment costs to the CC-130E/H73s, it’s assumed that the FSA will achieve full operational capability (FOC) between 2005 and 2009, and that the FWSAR will achieve FOC between 2009 and 2012. However, the budget announcement of “accelerated” FWSAR acquisition from 2005 seemingly ignores DND’s timelines and intends to save the upgrade costs apportioned to 10 CC-130Es of “about C$300M, all of which could be avoided if the aircraft are retired at ELE” of 2010. This also contradicts the 2002 DND document “AIR MOBILITY CONCEPT the Future” which stressed that “due to a significant shortfall in strategic lift capacity, the FSA acquisition must precede the new FWSAR acquisition. No CC-130 aircraft can be retired from service until an FSA solution is delivered. This, in fact, underscores the importance of proceeding immediately with the FSA acquisition,” as CC-130E cost avoidance savings from FWSAR replacement are only realistic if an integral FSA capability is concurrently introduced.

Arcturus the constellation is moving towards the Sun at three miles a second and will one day disappear from our view forever. Let us hope that Arcturus the aircraft will not vanish from our skies as well.

Mark Romanow is a freelance writer and Independent defence/ geopolitical analyst with interests in maintaining adequate defence capability for Canada. He can be reached at [email protected]
© FrontLine Defence 2004