Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has unveiled a 2004 defence budget that commits C$1.3 billion ($980 million) over several years for an accelerated fixed-wing search and rescue (SAR) programme.

The Canadian military is seeking up to 15 aircraft to replace its ageing fleets of Lockheed Martin CC-130E/H Hercules and de Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalos.

EADS Casa plans to offer militarised variants of its CN-235/C-295 family, while Lockheed Martin-Alenia Tactical Transport Systems is proposing the C-27J. A Bombardier regional jet also could be entered.

"This [aircraft] will significantly enhance the capability of the fleet and it will free up the Canadian forces to invest in other priorities," says Martin.

Canadian military officials envisage a fixed-wing fleet providing an onboard mission control capability and a search element that includes an onboard radar. The aircraft will be required to act quickly to calls for help and be able to operate in austere conditions.

The fixed-wing SAR replacement is the highlight of a defence modernisation package totalling C$7 billion announced since December by Canada's new government. Martin has dramatically raised the profile of defence programmes, addressing what had been considered a key weakness of the previous Chretien administration.

Shortly after taking office, Martin's government also relaunched the C$3 billion acquisition of a maritime patrol helicopter, which has since been narrowed to the AgustaWestland EH101 and Sikorsky S-92. "We are expecting proposals from the companies within weeks," says Martin.

Budget materials released so far have omitted resources for a dedicated transport aircraft fleet, such as the Boeing C-17 or Lockheed Martin C-130J.


Source: Flight International