FWSAR - Search and Rescue
© 2011 FrontLine Defence (Vol 8, No 1)

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Could TRSAR become part of the Canadian Forces’ lexicon? It will if Bell-Boeing has its way. Tilt Rotor Search and Rescue (TRSAR) would apply to the ­versatile V-22 Osprey as an alternative to conventional fixed-wing replacements for the Canadian Forces’ remaining fleet of superannuated fleet of de Havilland CC-115 Buffalos.

Originally acquired by Canada in the mid-1960s for tactical transport, most of the Buffalos were retasked for SAR missions in 1975. There are just eight left, including one dismantled in storage and one used for battle-damage training. The six others are operated by 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron (TARS), part of 19 Wing at CFB Comox on Vancouver Island; their relatively compact size and phenomenal short-takeoff and landing capability, coupled with an operational range of 2,240 kilometres, makes them ideal for the mainly mountainous terrain that stretches from the Arctic to the U.S. border as well as up to 1,200km offshore. SAR missions elsewhere are handled by CC-130 Lockheed-Martin Hercules crews from 424 TARS (8 Wing, CFB Trenton, Ontario) and 413 TARS (14 Wing, CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

While still highly capable, the Buffalos (shown above), which were supposed to have been retired 19 years ago, now cost an estimated $20 million a year to maintain operationally. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said there are no plans to keep them flying beyond 2015. Meanwhile, the debate about their replacement drags on and there are suggestions that until a replacement aircraft is chosen, the West Coast work could be handled by some of the newer Hercs.

Until Bell-Boeing appeared on the scene with its unique option, the main contenders for the SAR aviation role were the Spanish-built C-295 (EADS/CASA) and the Italian C-27J Spartan (Alenia). These are similar to the Buffalo only in they both are high-wing twin-engine turboprops. The latter, built by Alenia, seemed headed for a sole-source contract with the Canadian government, but the Seville-based builder of the C-295, a subsidiary of EADS Airbus Military, has managed to keep its aircraft in contention, aided by (or possibly contributing to), the seeming paralysis within Canada’s defence procurement bureaucracy.

Alenia’s candidate is derived from its G.222, which is now in service with the U.S. military as the C27A Spartan joint cargo aircraft, despite a challenge from the C-295 offered by EADS in partnership with Raytheon. Alenia began discussions with Lockheed-Martin in 1995, to upgrade the G.222 with the C-130J’s glass cockpit, a more powerful engine and a new propellor design. The C-27J has also been ordered by a half dozen other countries. Its cabin height is 2.6 m (8'6").

The EADS candidate, based on the commercially-successful CASA CN-235, features a stretched fuselage, cabin height of 1.90m (6'3"), late-generation Pratt & Whitney PW127 turbines, and a 50+ payload hike. It made its first flight in 1998 and is in service with France, USA and Mexico.

Even as the project stagnated, Alenia and EADS maintained an aggressive lobby in Ottawa, most recently appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence. EADS was represented by Senior Vice-President Hervé Garnier, doubling as Chairman of EADS Canada. He astutely pointed out that EADS subsidiaries, including Eurocopter Canada and Composites Atlantic, employ 700 Canadians directly and draw from more than 460 Canadian suppliers. The CASA option allows the ­sustainable participation of Canadian ­companies coast to coast, small and large, in the global supply chain of EADS.

Antonio Rodriguez Barberan, Senior VP of commercial and transport platforms at Airbus Military, added that more than 350 C-295s and its CN-235 variant have accumulated more than 1.2 million flight hours. Calling it a “solid, proven aircraft with robust landing gear to operate on soft and unpaved terrain,” he called it the only ramp- and sensor-equipped SAR platform in its class, with the highest reliability and lowest maintenance and operating costs. “The C-295 allows operation in high winds and extreme cold. It is capable of supporting itself in austere airfields. It is operated today in mountainous terrain under adverse conditions, and operates over the world’s oceans, from the tropics to the polar regions.” He also pointed out that Brazil had opted for it as a Buffalo replacement. “Similarly, Chile and Colombia operate our aircraft. These nations serve terrain that is as mountainous and desolate as anything in Canada… Mountain nations require search speed below 150 knots to ensure area coverage, to reduce the impact of mountain turbulence, and to safely manœuvre in narrow mountain valleys… Our cabin, with the largest floor space in its class, is three inches longer than the C-130s, which provides tremendous capability in multi-role missions, allowing considerable room for equipment and personnel.” Mr. Barberan said the aircraft’s electronic capabilities, including forward-looking infrared electro-optic sensors integrated with a multi-mode search radar and direction finder, give it unmatched detection capability over water and snow, and that it can be deployed essentially maintenance-free for up to 800 flight hours in remote areas. “We look forward to a competition that will allow us to provide a program of professional solutions with a high level of Canadian content and with a very low life-saving cost.”

The case for the Rolls-Royce-powered Spartan was presented mainly by Massimo Tarantola, Chief Operating Officer of Alenia North America. “Canada’s SAR requirements form a unique set of demands for fixed-wing aircraft,” Mr. Tarantola explained to the committee, pointing out that the Buffalo are reaching the end of their useful lives. While the company had another potential contender (its proven ATR model), it opted to offer the Spartan “due to its unique military and operational requirements.” Unstated was the prospect of being able to use the aircraft tactically.
“The reliability and maintainability of the C-27J have been proven in tough and difficult operations in Afghanistan and various northern European countries,” he added. “According to the Italian air force, the C-27J has demonstrated an aircraft availability and mission capability in Afghanistan that have met or exceeded its design targets.” Its key attributes included quick transition to search areas at speeds beyond the C-130s currently doing Canada’s East Coast SAR work and “at least 50 knots higher than any other two-engine potential competitors.” However, it also offers the kind of low-speed operation often required in mountainous terrain. Moreover, he said, “the cargo compartment is… the best in its category so that… whatever is needed can be accommodated easily.” As for industrial regional benefits, he promised a “robust” plan which would “support thousands of high-quality jobs” and have a value equal or exceeding the value of the procurement.

Clearly, both contenders believe their platforms can accommodate Canada’s SAR requirements.

As for the V-22 Osprey, Bob Carrese, Executive Director of Business Development for the Bell-Boeing program, says its key attribute is the way it blends the high-speed, long-range capabilities of a fixed-wing platform with the manoeuverability and vertical take-off and landing attributes of a helicopter. “Integrating an appropriate number of these exceptional and proven aircraft into the Canadian Forces rescue community maximizes the level of SAR service by dramatically reducing time to rescue while reducing total mission costs.” In full production, and already proven in Afghanistan and other austere environments, more than 400 are scheduled for delivery to the U.S. military. Capable of ­in-flight refuelling, it would be compatible with current Canadian tankers. “In addition to its unique performance attributes, the V-22 provides a cost-efficient solution in a time of financial constraints,” says Carrese. “Total mission costs include the allocated costs of many complementary elements in addition to direct operating costs of the platform itself. Tilt-rotor technology greatly reduces the need for many support structures and systems, providing a substantially lower mission cost when compared with legacy partnerships of today.”
Ken Pole is a Contributing Editor to FrontLine.
© Frontline Defence 2011