Canada's long-running debate on future airlift is expected to intensify with the planned release of a study recommending that Boeing's C-17 and Airbus Military's A400M be considered. Ottawa is also indicating extra defence funding will be made available in February's budget.

Consulting and Audit Canada was commissioned to consider Canada's airlift capabilities. The results will be released by mid-December. It says the C-17 and A400M should be considered as replacements for Canada's five Airbus A310s and 32 Lockheed Martin C-130E/H Hercules, says Col Patrick Dowsett, study project manager.

The report is a refinement of last year's Future Strategic Options Analysis study, which favoured larger aircraft. The new study covers aircraft costs - including leasing, capabilities, lease/purchase and outright purchase, as well as the impact on personnel of replacing older aircraft with fewer, larger transports.

Lockheed Martin has been waging a campaign to sell its C-130J to Canada and successfully reversed an earlier study's recommendation to exclude the smaller transport. The C-130J is part of the new study, but not as a strategic airlift alternative, rather a possible replacement for Canada's first generation Hercules.

Critics contend that Canada cannot afford strategic transports and should focus on a tactical transport replacement. A national fleet alternative is the German-led study of a NATO strategic transport fleet, to which Canada is a signatory.

"The A310s can't move freight and 19 of the 32 Hercules are 40 years old and can't move larger vehicles because they were not designed to be a strategic airlift aircraft," says Dowsett.

Former defence minister Art Eggleton supports the study and says Canada's C$12 billion ($7.7 billion) military budget for purchasing transports and maritime patrol helicopters is short of at least C$1 billion.

Source: Flight International