Wednesday, December 19, 2007

C-130J: "Controversial military cargo planes get Treasury Board approval"

It appears the government has finally given the go-ahead. About blinking time:
The Defence Department's long-awaited and controversial purchase of the newest version of the Hercules transport plane has been approved by the federal Treasury Board, defence sources say.

A replacement for the air force's aging C-130E and C-130H fleets was first proposed in the summer of 2006 by former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.

Sources said the $4.6-billion purchase of 17 C-130Js received funding approval last Thursday, but a contract has yet to be signed with U.S. aircraft giant Lockheed Martin.

The in-service support portion of the deal will be the subject of further discussions [check the "oink" at the end of the post], said one source familiar with the agreement.

Officials at National Defence declined comment, and it's unclear whether the federal cabinet needs to review the package again.

But in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press last week, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier said he understood the cargo plane was in the final stages of approval...

The Defence Department refused to explain why in-service support for the C-130Js has been left open for discussion, but it is clear a storm is brewing among Canadian defence contractors, who increasingly feel left out.

As military aircraft become more sophisticated and fewer are being purchased, many Canadian aerospace firms have downsized and discontinued separate production lines. Instead they now rely on the Defence Department to buy maintenance data, such as technical drawings, up front from the aircraft-maker, most of which are foreign-owned.

The system has had problems, notably the purchase of the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from AgustaWestland. Federal bureaucrats negotiated technology licences on a piece-by-piece basis, resulting in a part and maintenance nightmare for Halifax-based IMP Aerospace, which has the support contract.

Since the Conservatives announced sole-source deals with both Lockheed Martin and Boeing, there has been a change in practice. The government intends to contract in-service support directly with the aircraft-maker, but require them to spend money in Canada on industrial offsets - something that will generate work, but not to the same degree as the old system.

The Public Works Department has been working feverishly to persuade the skeptical aerospace industry of the merits of the new approach, but companies have demanded to see the terms in writing.

The purchase of new C-130s has also prompted a repeated storm of criticism over the way it was handled and the choice of aircraft itself.

The Conservative government decided early in its tenure that it was going to deal exclusively with Lockheed Martin for the air force's medium-lift transport planes.

Rival European aircraft-maker Airbus Military complained publicly and took the unusual step of putting its case before the House of Commons defence committee, saying its yet-to-be-tested cargo jet [It's a turboprop, Mr Brewster and it's not been tested--it's not even flown yet] was being unfairly excluded from competition...
What's really "controversial"? What justified the "repeated storm of criticism"? Hardly the full story. Why does CP reporter Murray Brewster not mention some relevant facts about the Airbus A400M?

The problems with the A400M were well covered in the aviation press as this example from late July 2006 illustrates (Canadian journalists do not seem to use these sources for balance whilst writing their stories about "controversy"):
EADS reports problems with A400M and NH90
The management of Airbus Military and the A400M programme head within Airbus have been overhauled. The programme contains material risks on the overall time schedule, and system providers continue to face challenges that may infer late design implications. Final assembly of the A400M military transport aircraft is expected to start at the end of August 2007; first flight is expected to occur in the summer of 2008, and the consequence on deliveries and cost is under assessment by the new programme management...
And along the same lines:
Last year, Airbus Military officials also raised concerns about a program to buy new tactical transport aircraft, appealing directly to Parliament to allow it to compete against the Lockheed Martin C-130J.

Parliament did not comment on the government’s decision to allow only the C-130J to compete for the tactical transport contract...
This is the current situation as CTV's David Akin blogged on Nov. 4, quoting Aviation Week & Space Technology:
...the A400M airlifter...also being driven largely by EADS, will be at least six months late and the company warns a further six-month delay is possible ..
Some things just seem to be ignored in much of our media's reporting on defence matters. The political focus of their stories--rather than an informed presentation that includes other relevant aspects of the issue at hand--seems to me to be one major factor.

Now this aspect of the eventual contract may in fact be worthy of controversy (oink? oink?):
Update: More interesting facts about the C-130J worldwide that are largely unknown in Canada (the pieces note the problems the Jerc program has faced):
The C-130J program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy – and recently, of a full program restructuring. As a number of the C-130J's faster-moving foreign customers band together to create a common upgrade set for their serving fleets, the plane officially reached "initial operating capability" for the US military late in 2006. Australia, Britain, Denmark, and Italy were all ahead of that curve, and have been operating the privately-developed C-130J for several years now.

India and Norway recently moved to join [emphasis added] the global C-130J customer base, and with the US tactical transport fleet flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs, C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding. A number of variants are currently flying in transport (C-130J), stretched transport (C-130J-30), aerial broadcaster (EC-130J), coast guard patrol (HC-130J), aerial tanker (KC-130J), and even hurricane hunter weather aircraft (WC-130J). The privately-developed C-130J has demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that represents a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors – but does it break the key limitations that have hobbled a number of US Army programs?..


Anonymous Anonymous said...

let's not forget that EADS went into heavy duty Spin & Torque mode to get the Quebec Aerospace industry fired up and provided slimeballs to Bloc Quebecois MP's about how EADS and the A400M would be soooooooo great to Quebec. This was incredibly cheap politics, played out national unity implications and with the lives and safety of our Soldiers and Aircrews as the bargaining chips, but not deemed to be a story. Why ?

How quickly they forget that EADS screwed Quebec over big time in the first place with their engine selection. That is part of the story that isn't often put forward by the MSM

So we have an aircraft that is very, very late, over budget, over weight, unproven, with very high technical and financial risks, designed by a company that has never, ever built an aircraft like this before and is actually yet to be built, flown and tested. So even considering the A400M for purchase as a replacement for our clapped out Hercs would have been an appalling waste of time and money.

That the MSM, for the most part, have failed to provide a balanced view of this story remains a mystery to me.

12:59 p.m., December 20, 2007  
Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

Fred, the problem that The Usual Suspects in politics and the MSM have with the C-130J is that Lockheed Martin is (a few bars of sinister music, please!)

Not only is that a sin in itself but it violates the Liberal-instituted BABNA policy. Buy Anything But NOT American. This notwithstanding the fact that the US Defense Dept. spends BILLIONS every year in Ontario and Quebec. LAVs, for example.

(That's a good example because the LAV's history in Iraq and Af-stan has shown them to be excellent vehicles that have proved their worth to the US Army and Marines. As will the C-130J to the CF.)

And what do we want to bet that the first of these C-130Js will be flying in CF livery BEFORE Airbus gets their sh*t together and gets any A400Ms to their captive EUro-customers?

3:19 p.m., December 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Couldn't agree more

I'd bet we have the first 130 Jercs in CF paint jobs doing Operational missions before the A400M, also know as the "Bratwurst" in some circles, even completes its flight test program and gets the Initial Certification.

It will be a great day when the first one is parked on the ramp beside a couple of 17's/177's

3:42 p.m., December 20, 2007  

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