In a country as wild – and in parts inhospitable – as Canada, and with a coastline that stretches far up into the Arctic, a fleet of search and rescue aircraft that is as rugged as the landscape is vital.
An interesting statistic, then: one element of Ottawa’s SAR coverage is provided by aircraft – the de Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo – that have an average age of 48 years.
In comparison, the second type in its inventory – the Lockheed Martin C-130H – averages a sprightly 27 years. Better, but only marginally.
Canada has been attempting to replace its fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) fleet for 11 years now, making it one of the nation’s longest-running acquisition programmes.
But it has some stiff competition in that field. For some reason, Canadian procurement has become a byword for shambolic.
Take, for example, the efforts to replace its fleet of 1960s-vintage Sikorsky Sea King helicopters, which have been ongoing since the mid-1980s. The maritime helicopter project has seen a contract awarded, cancelled, awarded to another contractor, and then heavily modified amid cost overruns and delays. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Air Force has yet to take delivery of a single Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone.
Ottawa has had little success in the field of unmanned air systems either. Its JUSTAS programme stretches back some 13 years and now appears to have a delivery target of 2021. And then there’s the future fighter programme. In 2010, Canada tentatively committed to the Lockheed F-35, but has yet to place an order. In the meantime, its Public Works and Government Services Canada procurement body is investigating whether the Joint Strike Fighter is actually the right choice.
Canada’s recently-released Defence Acquisition Guide suggests it will be another three years before any contract is awarded. Final deliveries could now stretch out to 2035.
But the FWSAR process schedule should now proceed at a relatively brisk pace. Bidders have until the end of September to submit proposals, with a decision due next spring.
The field is likely to come down to three manufacturers: Airbus Defence & Space, Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed. They will be hoping for a swift, and uncontestable, decision.
Perhaps this time Canada will get the procurement process right. Equally, don’t hold your breath.