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Mon, Jun 04, 2007

Canada Forced To Delay SAR Aircraft Purchase

War-Related Purchases Take Precedence

The Canadian military announced in 2004 a fast-track, priority program to spend more than $1 billion to replace all aging search-and-rescue aircraft by April 2009. Now military and defense industry sources say this isn't likely until at least 2010.

The original plan had the first aircraft delivery taking place in February 2006. But, because of various other needs and programs demanding funds, the replacement project has been pushed aside again - this time for at least four years.

There isn't even a projected date for the delivery of the new aircraft now, said Canadian Air Force spokesman Capt. Jim Hutcheson.

"It is acknowledged that there are other government priorities, other departmental priorities that are being pursued right now, largely associated with operations in Afghanistan," he said.

The $1.1 billion project was designed to not only replace the 40-year-old CC-115 Buffalo -- a variant of the DeHavilland DHC-5 --  but to lighten the load on their current Hercules SAR fleet with the purchase at least 15 fixed-wing aircraft.

According to Hutcheson, the Air Force is now investigating options to keep the Buffaloes in the air until 2010 and possibly beyond. One option is to replace the engines, he added.

"We'll most likely use the Buffalo and the Herc beyond 2010 until the new aircraft arrive," Hutcheson said. "How much beyond, they're looking at options that will cover that range."

According to Randy Price, EADS consultant former Canadian Forces SAR squadron commander, the military dislikes spending money on non-combat platforms like SAR aircraft. The Afghanistan war is also costing much more than the Canadian Forces ever predicted.

A specific reason the SAR fleet replenishment project got bumped to the back burner this time is the procurement of 100 used Leopard 2 tanks from the Netherlands, a purchase that exceeds $1 billion.

"Also we've been going full steam ahead on some other aircraft projects; the C-17, the heavy helicopters and the Herc replacements," Hutcheson said. The Air Force would be hard-pressed to field another aircraft at this time, he said.

The Canadian government announced a $10 billion project last year to purchase new fleets of C-17s and C-130Js as well as Chinook helicopters, in addition to separate long-term maintenance contracts for each platform, according to Defense News.

Giuseppe Giordo, president of Alenia North America in Washington, whose C-27J is a major contender for the replacement project, said his company knows acquiring war-related equipment such as tanks are priorities for the Canadian government. But, he says, the purchase of the C-130Js is far enough in the future to warrant funds be used now to pay for new SAR aircraft. New C-130Js are not expected until at least 2009 and negotiations are ongoing.

Giordo said Alenia North America could deliver the first search-and-rescue C-27J in 12 months. This would significantly decrease the cost of Buffalo maintenance and using the Hercules for SAR missions.

"I'm not saying the Canadian government does not need to have the C-130J," Giordo said. "But in the interim period, the Canadian government might find the solution that could cope well with their operational requirements and save money."

"What they're saying is that [the SAR aircraft program] is shelved," Price said. "They don't have any money."

(Photo of CC-115 by Mark Wagner)



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