Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fixed-wing SAR aircraft: Chief of the Air Staff fights back/Tank scandale?

The press and some lobbyists have been after the Air Force over this procurement; Lt.-Gen. Angus Watt gives the service's view:
Air force fires back at critics
Says choice of new search-and-rescue plane must be based on aircraft's speed, not where it is made

It's a "buy Canadian" feud with a life-or-death twist.

The head of the air force is lashing out at critics who say the military's plan to buy search-and-rescue planes is tailored to a foreign firm when there are suffering Canadian firms that can handle the job.

Lt.-Gen. Angus Watt sat down with select reporters to explain his pitch to the government to purchase 15 new aircraft that can fly from Winnipeg to the North Pole or from Nova Scotia to Shannon, Ireland, in under 15 hours in search of stranded sailors and adventurers.

The search-and-rescue squadron currently flies 42-year-old Buffalo and up to 34-year-old Hercules aircraft that must be replaced by 2015.

The range and speed requirements for the new planes fit the capabilities of Alena's Spartan C-27J of Italy, but would likely disqualify B.C.'s Viking Air, Airbus and several other interested firms.

"We did not design these ... capabilities to match a specific airplane. We designed it for the mission," Watt said. "Speed is life in this case."

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk authorized Watt to show the Star and CanWest News Service the air force's official presentation to the government, an extremely rare occurrence.

"It isn't yet at an approved stage, but we need to start to tell our story, because everybody else has had a free rein to pitch their view of what Canada's needs are," Watt said.

Officials in some government departments want the $3 billion contract to be spent in Canada.

Robert Mauracher, Viking Air's vice-president of business development, says his firm can produce new Buffalo planes 40 per cent cheaper than the Spartans with regional employment benefits in several provinces, including Ontario.

The government was criticized earlier this year when it gave a military truck contract to U.S. firm Navistar after it had laid off 500 workers at its Chatham, Ont., plant.

"We believe this is a `buy Canadian' decision because there are products in Canada that can meet their needs," Mauracher said.

Watt said he's not after the perfect aircraft, just a "basic minimum standard" of plane that can do the tough job search-and-rescue technicians are called upon to do thousands of times each year.

"Many (firms) challenge our specifications because their particular aircraft don't meet the specification," he said. "I'm open to any aircraft manufacturer that comes to me with an aircraft that meets that specification."

One industry source said the government and military were sold on the Spartan in 2004 because it could perform double duty as a transport plane [see below]. That was long before the military's recent purchase of C-17s that can fly supplies across the country or to Afghanistan [there is no way the C-27J and the very much larger C-17 can be compared - MC].

"Things have changed completely, and other than that they've dug themselves into such a deep hole, I'm not sure why they're still so adamant that they want a transport aircraft because they have lots of other means now of providing that service."
From an earlier post:
...The EADS CASA C-295 has been offered against the Alenia C-27J; the former is a decent enough aircraft and, one would think, should have a chance fairly to compete against the requirements set by the Air Force. And an oddity: neither the CF nor our media ever mention that the new FWSAR aircraft also almost certainly needs a decent capability as a regular transport. I am sure the Air Force sees the C-27J as [end at link]...
...the plane it clearly wants (with the most useful secondary transport capability to supplement within Canada--and maybe the hemisphere--our C-130J Hercules, once all our Es and Hs are gone to the boneyard)...
But there is no reason that role should not be included in a real competition. If, finally, the C-295 simply will not do (too slow, say, in the SAR role) the government should forthrightly say why. Otherwise it would be something of a scandal.

By the way, just keep in mind those journalists who produced stories in which certain interested parties bemoaned the fact that the Airbus A400M could not compete for the tactical airlifter contract (C-130J)--because the specs said contenders should be flying in 2006, when the selection was being made. Guess what? IT STILL AIN'T FLOWN YET [Update: latest here]!
As for Viking:
As I wrote in May [2008] when Viking Air first floated the idea:
I can't see the Air Force going for this. They want one plane for fixed-wing SAR across the country (instead of now the six Buffalos in B.C. and our remaining C-130Es in the rest of the country--I'm pretty sure nineteen are not still flying). I think they also want a plane that can double effectively as a tactical transport within Canada [and maybe the hemisphere] to supplement our C-130Js when the C-130Hs are retired. And I don't think the Buffalo, old or new-build, fits that role...
As for Bombardier, from another earlier post:
Some aerospace industry insiders question whether the ACAN procurement method will survive cabinet scrutiny. There is bound to be objections raised by firms such as Bombardier, which had previously proposed the Canadian-built Dash-8 [now Q Series] for the search-and-rescue program [emphasis added].
But the relevant Q Series versions in fact are general maritime surveillance planes, certainly not ones with a primary search-and-rescue role--and I doubt they have anything like the all-round SAR capabilities the Canadian Air Force wants. From an October 2006 post:
The potential horrors of military procurement: for some strange reason the current issue of Ottawa Life magazine (Vol. 9, Number 3) has a full page ad from Bombardier promoting a military version of the Dash-8 (actually now called the "Q series") for "Search and Rescue". "A Canadian made solution..." blah, blah, blah.

A Dash-8 derivative would not have a ramp, considered important for SAR mission, and does not have the fuselage configuration usefully to double as a light tactical transport...
When will our blinking journalists learn something about aircraft rather than simply parroting what their sources say to them? David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen, to his credit, does some aircraft comparison--based on his sources--at his blog, and with a certain, er, attitude.

And here's another scandale our intrepid press has uncovered:
DND leaves Canadian firms in cold by opting to rebuild tanks in Europe
The memorandum to Cabinet requests that 20 Leopard 2 tanks now in Europe be refurbished in Germany and then sent as quickly as possible to Afghanistan...
There is something rather scandalous in the Leopard 2 saga; getting operationally necessary work done, wherever, is not.

FWSAR Update: From yet another earlier post:
...As for that secondary transport capability, take a look at these squadrons:

435 Squadron, Winnipeg
424 Squadron, Trenton
413 Squadron, Greenwood
In most of the country the SAR and transport roles have been combined for years.

Upperdate: Take a look at Alex's informative comment about the considerable advantages a squadron enjoys using one type of aircraft for both SAR and transport roles.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

our intrepid press is, surprisingly, accepting comments.

4:35 p.m., March 28, 2009  
Blogger Alex said...

I work on the aircraft in one of the bases you've listed, so I can confirm what you're saying - most of our Hercs do double-duty, moving between SAR and transport roles. One of the big advantages there is that we can rotate aircraft between jobs in order to keep them in service longer and minimize wastage. A SAR squadron may have, say, two dedicated aircraft, both of which must be flyable at all times. If one of them becomes unserviceable, it takes about an hour to reconfigure a plane from the transport squadron and put it on the line as a SAR aircraft. That way you've still got two aircraft available for the high-priority search and rescue operations, and you can fix the broken aircraft at your leisure. Whereas if your SAR aircraft aren't capable of being used as transports, you'd probably need to have another aircraft sitting in the hangar as a standby. So now instead of having 2 dedicated aircraft and borrowing others as needed, you need 3 sitting there at all times, just in case anything goes wrong.

Another advantage is that if we find that the SAR squadrons are putting much fewer (or much more) flight-hours on their aircraft, we can rotate aircraft through there in order to keep the whole fleet at roughly the same level.

We can also rotate them in order to extend the time between required inspections, and maximize aircraft availability for all roles. For instance, "periodic inspections" can take an aricraft off the line for months at a time, which could be a big problem for a small SAR squadron. Having more aircraft available means you have more flexibility in how much you use each one, so that you don't end up having half of them down all at once.

Basically, having an aircraft which can fill multiple roles gives us more versatility and maximizes aircraft availability, while minimizing manpower and resource requirements. Whereas buying these SAR-only aircraft has - as far as I can see - no benefits other than a lower up-front cost and a made-in-Canada sticker.

4:32 a.m., March 29, 2009  
Blogger blogwatcher1 said...

Things over at the Defence Watch Blog are getting even more strange...

After bending over backwards to counter Mike Blanchfield's news story on the Air Force fighting back against its critics on the FWSAR front, David Pugliese now seems to be taking the censorship route.

First he pulled down one of my posts claiming it defamed former government official involved in procurement. Although he asked me to repost without defaming the person, I didn't, because a) the thread was getting stale and b) there wasn't any defamation.

Then it really gets strange when I post on the latest FWSAR piece on his blog - he concocts a story that the pulled post of mine made some sort of a claim about kickbacks - and apparently if you oppose his views, you are opposed to Canadian aerospace and defame people:

I challenged him twice (once in a submission and once by email) to show where the post he pulled down alleged kickbacks. His response to the challenge? Telling me in an e-mail he won't be posting my subs anymore.

So hopefully, with the help of The Torch, here's the post you won't see on Defence Watch...

(Starts here)
Okay David, who is defaming who?

That post said nothing at all about kickbacks - it referred to the individual as being the government individual who was in the key position of responsibility for a procurement which politically driven from the moment the Chretien government cancelled the original EH-101 contract.

Nowhere did it talk of kickbacks!!!!

It spoke of a skewed, procurement process which was determined to ensure the best helicopter couldn't win.

Since you must have the original post (your system doesn't provide a copy for the original poster) please send it back to me at the email address I contact you with. (NOTE FROM ME - HE DIDN'T).

There was nothing in the post which hasn't already appeared in the media. I refer to Jim Bagnall's excellent piece on "the Helicopter Deal from Hell" or the recent well-researched pieces by Sharon Hobson which outline how flawed the procurement was:

"From the beginning, the evaluation had an odd feel. On the Rockcliffe air base, those studying the competing proposals wondered whether the Liberals would actually accept any analysis that showed the winner to be AgustaWestland."

"Was the fix in for a Sikorsky win? The possibility hung over every aspect of the evaluation. Indeed, AgustaWestland had already signalled its willingness take the issue to court over precisely this point if it lost."

"Sikorsky's latest variant, the MH-92 Super Hawk, was still far from ready for service in 2004 ... Indeed, it was not clear how the MH-92 managed to clear some obvious hurdles to reaching technical compliance. "

"Given all these red flags, the government procurement team -- led by Paul Labrosse and Alan Williams, the defence department's top procurement officials -- would have been careful to probe Sikorsky's claim that it could deliver its first helicopter to Canada's navy in November 2008."

It will be 25 years from the original procurement before we see (maybe) the first mission ready helicopter for the Maritime Helicopter Program as a result of this major procurement mess. The latest crash of the Sikorsky S-92 and the tragic loss of live resulting from it, may prove to be yet another turning point.

As for blogger motives .... people who throw stones shouldn't live in glass houses!

(Thanks Torch!)

9:38 p.m., April 02, 2009  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Much as I appreciate your comment, Blogwatcher1, and much as I've seen just how thin his skin can be when challenged, I'd prefer that you keep any feuds between you and Pugliese between you and him. This isn't the place for them.

11:10 a.m., April 03, 2009  

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