C4ISR Capability
Mar 15, 2013

It’s said that the military is hooked on acronyms, and the more complex, the better. If so, C4ISR, the military acronym for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, ­Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, must be a much beloved acronym indeed. But what does it really mean? While there are many definitions for C4ISR available, a recent RCAF document describes it as “the means by which data is collected from RCAF sensors and transmitted through a trusted communications network whereby it can be placed at the disposal of decision makers in a timely fashion, either directly or after some level of intelligence processing.” In practice, C4ISR provides the means for governments and military commanders to glean the information needed to pierce the ‘fog of war’ and make well-informed, timely decisions.

CFDS Tasks
The Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) assigns the following strategic C4ISR-related responsibilities to the Canadian Forces:

    To work closely with federal government partners to ensure the constant monitoring of Canada’s territory and air and maritime approaches, including in the Arctic, to detect threats to Canadian security as early as possible;

    To identify and deal with such threats as over-fishing, organized crime, drug and people smuggling and environmental degradation and maintain capabilities to address these quickly and effectively if so directed; and

    To have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic.

In addition to domestic operations, the CFDS also requires the CF to be prepared to make a meaningful contribution to the full spectrum of international operations – which, as we’ve seen in Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, inevitably rely heavily on information derived from C4ISR capabilities.

C4ISR Assets
While many CF capabilities contribute to C4ISR, arguably the most effective strategic platform available is the CP-140 Aurora. This aircraft, obtained in the early eighties, has been significantly upgraded in recent years as part of the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP). In addition to replacing outdated navigation and communications systems, AIMP introduced highly capable new sensor systems for:

  • acoustic processing;
  • electro-optical and infra-red (EO/IR) surveillance;
  • electronic warfare support (ESM);
  • radar imaging;
  • magnetic anomaly detection (MAD); and
  • data management.

The upgraded CP-140 is considered by knowledgeable observers as being, from a systems perspective, one of the most capable multi-mission Long Range Patrol aircraft currently in existence. Indeed, the CP-140’s surveillance capabilities have been described by operators as being comparable to those projected to be fielded in the US Navy’s next generation surveillance aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon.
In addition to electronic systems upgrades, as part of the CP-140 modernization process, DND has taken steps to extend the Aurora’s available service life through the Aurora Service Life Extension Program (ASLEP). Although all 18 Auroras were originally expected to be life extended, the currently announced plan is for only 10 aircraft to undergo ASLEP.
The Evolving Situation
Modernizing the CP-140 Aurora has provided new life to the Aurora fleet and has given the CF a renewed capability to carry out joint (land, sea and air) C4ISR m issions at home and abroad. As demonstrated in recent operations near and over Libya, the aircraft has the ability to conduct surveillance over land or water, to command and control joint forces, and to conduct other complex C4ISR missions of great value to Canadian and Allied Joint Force Commanders. Of course, the CP-140 also retains an outstanding ability to carry out anti-­submarine warfare operations should these be required.
While it’s always difficult to foresee what our offshore C4ISR requirements may prove to be, domestic requirements are somewhat more predictable. Certainly, surveillance requirements in the North are projected to increase as warming weather and increased resource exploitation bring more human activity to that area.
In the sixties and seventies we surveyed the Arctic and our other ocean approaches with a fleet of 30 CP-107 Argus aircraft. In the eighties and nineties we ­covered the same task with 18 of the more capable CP-140 Auroras – but with the understanding that we were leaving vast reaches of our territory frequently ‘unexamined’ because of resource limitations. Paradoxically, at a time when our C4ISR requirements are on the rise, for reasons stated above, if only 10 CP-140s are life-extended, there is a significant risk that we could soon enter an era where the resources available to conduct strategic C4ISR, while highly capable, are also numerically limited.
The CFDS originally called for the Aurora fleet to be replaced by 10 to 12 modern maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) in about 2020, as part of what was characterized as a surveillance ‘system of systems’: manned aircraft; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); and satellites. While detailed information regarding plans for the introduction of these assets is understandably scarce, it has become increasingly evident of late that at least the MPA portion of this plan – the P-8 Poseidon ostensibly – will not be obtained any time soon, and there is concern that other elements of the surveillance ‘system of systems’ may be delayed as well.
Under the circumstances, the Air Force Association of Canada has reached the logical conclusion that the best option would be for the Canadian Government to take advantage of the highly capable modernized CP-140 by upgrading as many of the existing aircraft as possible. This would give Canada the opportunity to maintain this critical C4ISR capability beyond 2025, while protecting our financial investment in AIMP and giving DND time to investigate and move forward with alternative and perhaps more radical replacement options.
Canada’s CP-140 Aurora fleet represents a critical strategic C4ISR capability, one that will become increasingly important to Canada for future deployed operations, coastal surveillance and Arctic sovereignty. The modernized CP-140 is now a multi-mission platform, one fully capable of contributing to operations over land and sea and across the full spectrum of operations, from search and rescue to combat.
Canada has made a significant investment in the Aurora over the past decade to modernize the aircraft’s avionics and sensor systems. As a result, this platform has capabilities that match or exceed those of the most technologically advanced ISR platforms available in the world. While replacement of the CP-140 is certainly possible, given the uncertainty that currently surrounds DND’s capital program, it strikes the Air Force Association that it would make sense for Canada to structurally upgrade as many Aurora aircraft as possible (up to 18) to preserve the maximum C4ISR capability possible over the next decade and a half.

LGen (ret) Lloyd Campbell retired in 2003 as Commander of the Canadian Air Force. He is currently Chair of the Air Power Advocacy Committee.
© FrontLine Defence 2013