Canada has finally reached a decision on a new Fixed Wing Search And Rescue aircraft, choosing the EADS/CASA C295 airframe as the winner of the competition, and the contract. 16 aircraft will be acquired to replace the CC-115 Buffalo and the legacy CC-130 Hercules A/C currently fulfilling this role. The RCAF SAR variant will apparently be closely based on the C295M Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), carrying a surface search radar and an optronic turret. Not known at this time is if the Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) that is sometimes seen on the MPA variant will be fitted. There is obvious utility to the SLAR radar in the SAR role, that radar could scan a broad swath of terrain looking for evidence of a crash site. A similar SLAR is carried by Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program DASH-8’s. There is no reason to not add it to the C295, and good reason to include it.
I, for one, approve of the choice. The C295 does have weaknesses: It is somewhat slower than the C-27J in cruise speed, has a slightly lower range and the cabin is somewhat more cramped side-to-side. What it gains is a cabin length that allows for sensor operators and SAR Techs to not be bumping elbows on a mission. Crew stations are a little more separate, which is not a minor consideration on gruelling SAR missions.
Delivery of the new planes, scheduled to start in 2019 will revitalize RCAF SAR capabilities. There is also significant Canadian content in both the engines (Pratt and Whitney Canada PW127G) and the optronic turret from L-3 Wescam Canada. There is every reason to believe that the plane will be a great asset to Canada.
What of innovation in the Canadian aviation manufacturing sector though? Canada has chosen another foreign aircraft to meet RCAF needs. This obviously doesn’t help the aircraft manufacturing sector to develop new products.
But it can.
The coming retirement of the CC-115 Buffalo will undoubtedly lead many airframes being sent to various bases and museums as “Gate Guardians” or historical displays. One, or possibly two, airframes should be set aside though. Set aside and sent to Viking Aircraft, along with a grant. The size of the grant would be cost sharing in a project that is worthy of investment. Once there, and with grant money in hand, Viking would produce the prototype(s) of the DHC-5NG. The “Next Generation” DHC-5 Buffalo could be prototyped and flown. Canada gains possible future sales and supports our manufacturing sector. This is no minor consideration, a revitalized Buffalo could fill a market niche that has few competitors.
This is how we do innovation, even as we buy from overseas. We leverage the purchase, gain whatever we can as long as it doesn’t mean reducing the original goal of revitalising RCAF SAR capabilities. It isn’t hard, nor is it prohibitively expensive.
Lets do this right. We’ve picked one plane, let’s pick up the chances of another being born.