Defence is just 20% of Canada's aerospace sales, and its modest market is dominated by divisions of major US names like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. But a new player has emerged this decade - L-3 Communications Canada.

Recently ranked Canada's number one defence company, diversified L-3 has grown aggressively through the acquisition of former Canadian-owned companies and as the country's leading provider of in-service support (ISS) hopes to benefit from Ottawa's C$15 billion procurement of new transports and helicopters.

L-3 acquired Lockheed C-130 support specialist Spar from CAE in 2002, but after 45 years supporting Canada's Hercules fleet lost the contract to Cascade Aerospace in October 2005. That led to a dramatic shift in the Edmonton, Alberta-based company's fortunes. "Sales in 2006 were at the same level as 2005, but we went from 50/50 domestic/international to over 90% export," says L-3 Spar president Patrice Pelletier.

The key factor was development of the Herk 2020 sustainment programme to extend the life of early C-130s by 15-20 years. During 2006, L-3 designed and manufactured tools to refurbish the centre wings of New Zealand's C-130s. "This has never been done before. We are rebuilding the lower assembly from scratch," says Pelletier.

"Centre wing fatigue cracking is on the critical path for the life of the aircraft, and is a challenge to the market for avionics and other upgrades," he says. "We are finalising the next step now, a centre-wing re-life that replaces 90% of the wing including the upper assembly and brings it to the equivalent of zero time."

L-3 sees a market for 700 aircraft, with the bulk of the work emerging in 2010-11 as Vietnam-era C-130s encounter problems. "We expect a customer this year," says Pelletier. In another new development, the company is proposing to provide C-130 through-life support. "We are confident we can assume the risk, so we have gone to two countries to explain the concept."

Montreal-based L-3 MAS, bought from Bombardier in 2003, has supported Canada's Boeing F/A-18s for 20 years and will provide in-service support for its Sikorsky MH-92 maritime helicopter. Like Spar, the company exports its experience, and is working with Australia on a centre-barrel replacement programme for its F/A-18s. Preliminary analysis work is under way with Spain, says president Sylain Bédard.

L-3 is targeting the ISS contracts for Canada's new C-130Js (Spar) and CH-47s (MAS), work which must be placed in Canada. "The Maritime Helicopter Programme was the first where the government made the original equipment manufacturer responsible for performance of the aircraft over 20 years, and L-3 is the first to work under the new template," says Bédard.

Source: Flight International