Replacing the Aurora: Canada's Multi-Mission aircraft project.
Originally designed for anti-submarine warfare, the Aurora is capable of flying more than 9,000 kilometres without refuelling. It has taken part in missions ranging from the monitoring of illegal fishing fleets to the hunting down of a drug trafficking cartel's mini-submarine.
Over the last decade, the Defence Department has spent more than S1.6 billion to upgrade the plane. That has involved the installation of a new navigation system, a new communication management system, a data management system and new surveillance sensors, including an imaging radar and the L-3 Wescam MX-20 electro optical infrared camera.
But the Canadian Forces says the time has come to replace the four-engine turboprop, long-range maritime patrol aircraft that first Went into service more than 30 years ago.
In 2007 the Conservative government committed to structural upgrades for 10 Auroras to allow those planes to continue flying to 2020 and beyond. But also in that year, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the military had to ensure there was no operational gap in its surveillance capabilities when it came time to retire the maritime patrol planes.
He pointed out that potential replacement planes could include the U.S. Navy's Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft--the Boeing P-8 Poseidon--as well as the Bombardier-built Global Express aircraft. The Global Express is the airframe being used for the AS-TOR (Airborne Stand-Off Radar), Britain's airborne air-to-ground surveillance system operated by the RAF and British Army.
MacKay also pointed out that there was the option of transferring recently upgraded existing equipment on the Auroras over to a new airframe.
"We will look at how we can adapt some of the existing radar and surveillance equipment that we purchased through these upgrades to see if there is an adaptability to a new aircraft," the defence minister explained. "The Auroras will be outfitted with some very high-tech equipment that might well outlast the aircraft itself."
Unmanned aerial vehicles could also take over some of the surveillance duties from the Aurora in the future, but MacKay pointed out that because of Canada's often harsh weather conditions, in particular in the Arctic, UAVs would not be able to handle the surveillance role completely.
The RCAF has already begun work on the procurement of an Aurora replacement, now being called the Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft or CMA. According to Defence Department spokesperson Tracy Poirier, the Canadian government will purchase between 10 and 12 aircraft to replace the Auroras.
"Canada is currently at the options analysis phase of the CMA project, and is defining the requirements for a replacement for the CP-140 Aurora fleet," Poirier noted in an email.
The CMA "will become part of a surveillance 'system of systems' that will also comprise of unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites to monitor Canada's maritime approaches," she added.
Poirier noted that the CP-140 Aurora fleet will remain in service until the delivery of the CMA, but she stated it is too early to determine the CMA project milestones or the specific cost of the procurement.
However, Department of National Defence documents obtained by Esprit de Corps provide further details. According to those records, the estimated project cost of the CMA is $3 billion.
In addition, in April 20110 Col. Randy Meiklejohn told aerospace company representatives attending a Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) forum that the initial operating capability for the CMA would be in 2017/2018. Timelines on the program, however, have slipped somewhat to the right and the aircraft arc expected by 2020, according to defence industry officials. They note that to meet that deadline the government will have to issue a request for proposals for the project sometime in 2014.
The Canadian Forces is looking for an aircraft that can take part in joint operations. "The CMA must be able to detect, track and report potential threats to Canadian sovereignty, and be able to use force in response to those threats," states a DND outline of the procurement. "In support of Army operations overseas, the CMA must be able to detect, track, and report potential threats to Canadian and coalition forces, and be able to use force, and direct force to be used, against those threats."
In a 2011 report, the office of the Chief of Force Development raised concerns about the amount of money available for CMA, adding that the "challenge is to deliver as much capability and capacity as possible within constraints."
So what aircraft could be put forward by companies for the procurement?
According to James Detwiler, Boeing's manager for business development for P-8 international programs, Boeing plans to bid on CMA, offering its P-8 Poseidon that was developed for the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. Navy will purchase more than 100 of these aircraft, which is a derivative of the Next Generation Boeing 737-800. India has also become the first international customer for the long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, ordering eight of the planes.
Detwiler said Boeing has briefed RCAF officials over the years about the capabilities of the plane. "Our position is that P-8 encompasses all of the mission sets, all of the strategic requirements," he explained. "It has the highest end capability from a performance standpoint of anything on the market that fits this particular genre.
"There are some smaller aircraft that are either fully integrated or partially integrated with weapons but in our analysis, when you look at a business jet or a twin-engine turboprop that has been converted into a weapons carrier, you really sacrifice a lot of performance," Detwiler added.
But some Canadian aerospace industry representatives question whether Canada could afford to purchase the P-8, pointing out that each aircraft costs between $200 million to $220 million. Boeing officials, however, counter that the cost of their aircraft fits well inside DND's budget. In addition, they note that the P-8 is based on a widely available commercial aircraft and, because of that, there is a large pool of parts and support expertise around the world.
"(Canada) would be buying into a production program with cost certainty and low risk," said Egan Greenstein, Boeing's director of business development for P-8 programs.
And because the P-8 can fly fast and high and has sophisticated sensors, less aircraft would be needed to do missions, Boeing explains.
Airbus Military has also provided information to the RCAF on possible aircraft for the CMA. Pedro Mas, director of Canadian programs for Airbus Military, said the firm's C-295 aircraft could fit that role.
"We understood that Canada was thinking of a mixed fleet of P-8s--the least number possible for long range endurance--and perhaps a medium aircraft like C-295 would be the solution for short range," he said.
Airbus officials point out that Chile has acquired the C-295 in an anti-submarine warfare configuration. "We have already presented that with the Canadians and we'll continue to discuss with them the capabilities," Mas added.
Weaponization of the C-295 is also moving along. In July Airbus Military and MBDA announced they had successfully completed the first flight of the C-295 maritime patrol aircraft with an instrumented Marte MK2/S anti-ship inert missile installed under the wing. The flight was the first of a series of trials planned in a joint Airbus Military--MB DA collaboration to validate the aerodynamic integration of Marte on the C-295. Subsequent flights will include handling qualities tests and aircraft flight performance tests.
The MBDA Marte MK2/S missile is a fire-and-forget, all-weather, medium-range sea-skimming anti-ship weapon system, equipped with inertial mid-course guidance and radar homing terminal guidance; it is capable of destroying small vessels and heavily damaging major vessels. In the anti-submarine warfare role, the C-295 is already in-service carrying the MK46 torpedo, the company points out.
The competition could also attract other aircraft manufacturers, such as Bombardier of Montreal. Last year, Bombardier and Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (TAT), teamed up to begin marketing a maritime patrol aircraft based on Bombardier's Q400 aircraft.
IAI is promoting the plane as a replacement for the Lockheed Martin P-30 Orion/Aurora. The firm was promoting the aircraft at the Singapore air show in February. Company officials at the show noted that Elta would provide the sensor systems and integration for the patrol plane while Field Aviation in Mississauga, Ont., would handle modifications to the Q400. Those could include the installation of long-range fuel tanks to the fuselage.
At the same time Raytheon Canada indicates it would be interested in the CMA procurement. Denny Roberts, vice president of Raytheon Canada, points out that the company's systems are on both the P-8 and the ASTOR. The P-8 uses Raytheon's AN/ APY-10 multi-mission surface search radar and also carries the company's Mk-54 anti-submarine torpedo.
ASTOR was developed by Raytheon for the U.K. Ministry of Defence and uses a dual-mode synthetic aperture/moving target indication radar. The company points out that the system provides 24-hour surveillance and target acquisition capability and delivers wide area, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance imagery in near real time. According to Raytheon, the ASTOR systems can also provide maritime surveillance.
"Raytheon would be involved if Canada's requirement is for an ASTOR-type aircraft or a Boeing P-8," Roberts said.
Depending on what exactly is in Canada's request for proposal for the CMA, other firms could also bid.
Lockheed Martin is starting to market its SC-130 Sea Hercules to a number of nations. The Sea Hercules is a maritime patrol version of the company's C-1 30J aircraft already being operated by the RCAF. The aircraft's $150 million price tag could be attractive to militaries that feel they can't afford a P-8, say industry representatives.
Sweden's Saab also has a multi-role airborne surveillance platform based on its Saab 2000 twin-engine turboprop. The aircraft, which the company highlighted at this year's Farnborough International Airshow, would carry a maritime surveillance radar as well as an active acoustic system for anti-submarine warfare missions. It could also carry RBS-15 missiles.
Saab has also unveiled a less costly alternative maritime surveillance aircraft, which is based on its 340 regional airliner. The price tag for that plane would be around $20 million.
Aerospace industry sources say the Conservative government has voiced concerns about the cost of the maritime patrol aircraft project and has also asked the RCAF to examine whether unmanned aerial vehicles can take on more of a role for both maritime and overland surveillance and targeting.
A key attribute for any new RCAF multi-mission patrol aircraft will be the ability to operate on missions over land.
The Air Force started seriously studying the potential for using the Aurora in ground operations in 2006. The same year it also looked at arming the planes with precision weapons such as the Harpoon SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile), which would have given the aircraft the ability for the first time to strike at ground targets. But, ultimately, the service did not proceed with installing such weapons on the planes.
However, during last year's war in Libya, the CP-140 Aurora did take on a significant overland role.
Royal Canadian Air Force Brig.-Gen. Derek Joyce said the Aurora aircraft assigned to the Libyan operation started out conducting maritime patrols but then the RCAF pushed the "operational envelope" and began using the planes to help direct naval gunfire against Libyan military positions. That capability was found to improve accuracy of the gunfire, said Joyce, and was further developed with the Auroras being used against other Libyan ground targets.
"We brought Canadian Forward Air Controllers that had been trained and experienced in Afghanistan, put them on board the Aurora, and the next thing you know they were controlling jets and conducting airstrikes," said Joyce, who was the commander of the headquarters and aviation component of Canada's contribution to the Libyan war.
Besides directing airstrikes, the Auroras can also provide battle damage assessments. "In essence, the Auroras built brand new capabilities while they were in an operational theatre," Joyce explained.
The upgrades for the Aurora, particularly in the area of sensors, helped in the new role for the plane. The aircraft was also used to conduct battle damage assessment when a CF-18 fighter dropped Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) on a Libyan target, the first time the RCAF bad used such a weapon in combat.
Joyce said new tactics and procedures would have to be developed to support future ground missions for such patrol aircraft. "I'm going to be working very closely with the Air Force and the Army to see where we're going to take this capability in the future," he said.
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|Publication:||Esprit de Corps|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2012|
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