Twin Otters for Twin Otters – Buying ‘New’ makes financial sense … so does adding similar Guardian 400 surveillance aircraft to the mix

Ed: In my previous Op/Ed article, Twin Options for the Twin Otters – Simple Solutions are often the Best, I noted that the cost of buying brand-new Series 400 Twin Otters from Victoria’s Viking Air is only a tad more than the DND scheme to rebuild the RCAF fleet of original, now-44-year-old DeHavilland Canada CC-138 Twin Otter utility transport aircraft.



Graphic originally prepared for CASR by Stephen Priestley. Used with his gracious permission.


Based on average sales figures for the ‘new-build’ Viking Air DHC-6-400, the unit cost for the Series 400 Twin Otter is conservatively set at about $8.95M. [1] Contrast that figure with the current DND estimate of around $8.625M per airframe to refit the RCAF’s old CC-138s (which are Series 300 Twin Otters). Adding another $325,000 per aircraft is nothing to sneeze at but it is the difference between trying to resuscitate old airframes and buying brand-new aircraft.

There may be a method in the RCAF’s apparent madness [2] but this isn’t something that the Government of Canada should entertain. On the other hand, Ottawa should take support for Canada’s aerospace industry very seriously (and claims to do so). To put those Government of Canada promises into practice, here is a simple suggestion. The GoC should abandon the DND plan to spend between $20M and $49M refurbishing and updating four older CC-138s.

DND’s scheme for bigger, faster Utility Transport Aircraft at some vague point in the future should also be dropped. [3] The UTA Project’s budget (preliminary estimate being $500M to $1.5B) could then be applied to directly replacing aged CC-138s with new, Made-in-Canada Twin Otters. The extra money from a cancelled UTA project adds options. Most obvious is supplying the CC-138s’ operators – 440 Transport Squadron at Yellowknife, NT – with more Twin Otters. For who seriously believes that four aircraft can adequately cover 3.9M sq. km of Canadian territory North of 60°? Then again, the GoC could also just pocket the savings.

Twin Otters for Twin Otters: Buying ‘new’ makes sense … so does adding Guardian 400s

A Modest Proposal by Steve Daly

The option of replacing the RCAF’s existing CC-138 Twin Otter fleet with newly built Twin Otters seems like an obvious idea. Such a replacement option does, after all, combine fiscal prudence with revitalized capabilities for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The new-build, next- generation Twin Otters from Viking Air are capable of doing far more than the simple utility transport role though. Viking didn’t rest on its laurels with the relaunching of the Twin Otter.

Almost on the heels of the Viking Air Series 400 Twin Otter launch came the announcement of a dedicated patrol variant – Viking Air’s Guardian 400. Based on the standard Series 400 Twin Otter airframe, Viking’s Guardian 400 has impressive capabilities for its small package.

The Guardian 400 can be fitted with extended-range fuel tanks, surface-search radar (placed in the nose or the belly) and an electro-optical turret. With a 10+ hour endurance, Guardian 400 can maintain surveillance over a wide area while affording reasonable SAR capabilities.

Guardian 400 would make an excellent addition to an expanded 440 Transport Squadron. At a relatively modest purchase price of about US$10M per aircraft, Guardian 400 would signal that, after decades of inaction, the Government of Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, and the RCAF were finally beginning to take Canada’s official presence in the North seriously.

At present, Canada has no significant, permanent military presence ‘North of 60’ – there are no military patrol or surveillance assets permanently assigned to this vast region. Nor does the Government of Canada provide any permanent aerial SAR assets. By purchasing 3-to-4 Guardian 400s to serve alongside new Twin Otters and assigning them all to a re-dedicated 440 Transport/Patrol Squadron, both shortcomings are addressed rapidly and economically.

A rededicated ‘440 TPS’ could deploy a Guardian 400 to Resolute Bay during the navigable season for Northwest Passage surveillance. From Yellowknife, another Guardian 400 could be fly surveillance missions over the Northwest Passage in the area around Cambridge Bay.

Such operations would be ‘on call’. At least one flight-ready 440 Guardian 400 would always need to remain on standby for search operations. The simple existence of the Guardian 400s in RCAF service and their basing ‘North of 60’ would go a long way to proving that Canada does indeed takes its responsibilities to its Northern regions and territorial claims seriously.

There would be other RCAF roles for the diminutive Guardian 400s. One can easily imagine these aircraft being used economically to assist Canadian Army training in cooperation with other RCAF ISR ‘platforms’. [4] The Guardian 400’s substantial ‘loiter’ endurance, combined with its fairly comprehensive suite of sensors, would maximize CAF training opportunities.

The Twin Otter is one of the few Canadian-built aircraft whose capabilities have outweighed a strong ‘Not Invented Here’ bias long held by the US military. All that is needed now is for the Government of Canada to insist that procurement officers for the RCAF drop their own prejudice against ‘Invented Here’ which has limited opportunities for Canadian-built aircraft.

[1] Based on average sales figure of $7M USD. Note that most of the aircraft sold by Viking have VIP or airliner configurations. RCAF utility transport models would be rather cheaper.

[2] By keeping the RCAF’s four CC-138s in the air until at least 2026, the RCAF’s Directorate of Air Requirements hopes to keep its much-delayed Utility Transport Aircraft project alive. Their envisioned UTA is a much faster aircraft to avoid the need for further Northern bases.

[3] DND’s Utility Transport Aircraft project was supposed to deliver CC-138 replacements in 2011. That’s slid to 2020 for Definition, 2025 for Contract Award, and 2026-2035 for Delivery.

[4] Current RCAF Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms consist of the CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft at the ‘strategic’ (an LOI for ‘tactical’ ISR platforms was issued in Aug 2013). Discussions of future RCAF ISR platforms tends to revolve around the proposed JUSTAS UAVs. However, it’s worth noting that the DRDC’s Advanced Integrated Multi-sensing Surveillance (AIMS) system was trialled aboard the NRC’s Twin Otter. AIMS (including RMASS as tested on a CC-130) employs the same Wescam MX-20 as the CP-140.


15 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. I now write to let the thoughts in my head get out where I can see 'em. :)

Posted in Acquisitions, Arctic, Canadian Forces, Canadian Industry, Modest Proposal, RCAF, Sovereignty
One comment on “Twin Otters for Twin Otters – Buying ‘New’ makes financial sense … so does adding similar Guardian 400 surveillance aircraft to the mix
  1. […] “Twin Otters for Twin Otters – Buying ‘New’ makes financial sense … so does adding sim… – “Twin Option for the Twin Otters: Simple Solutions are often the Best” […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow DefenceMuse on
Canadian ~ American Strategic Review

CASR has announced that it will cease operations on 31/December/2016.

I have grateful to have been given the opportunity to write for them, and to repost my material on Defence Muse.

Previous Posts
June 2017
« Mar   Aug »
%d bloggers like this: