Title: L-3 MAS: moving to new horizons

Sub-title: This Canadian division of U.S. giant L-3 Communications has long been known for its CF-18 maintenance, repair, overhaul and modernization initiatives. Now Canada’s NATO/Afghanistan mission is opening the door to new challenges.


Sylvain Bédard looked out of his office window and scanned L-3 MAS’s Mirabel campus, giving just a hint of satisfaction. He then turned slowly and thoughtfully began to lay out his vision for the company that he is now leading into one of its most challenging years ever.


“Worldwide military spending is forecast to grow at record levels during the next three to five years. Here in Canada we are seeing some of the largest defence procurements in more than two decades,” said Bedard, L3-MAS’s president. “It’s a changing world and if we can adapt quickly we can play a big role in helping the Canadian Armed Forces adjust to those changes.”


L-3 MAS’s accomplishments speak for themselves. The company, which employs 1,300 people at its Mirabel, Bagotville, Coldlake, Edmonton and Shearwater facilities, is now arguably the largest military aerospace organization in Canada. “We provide a broad range of offerings including air and UAV fleet management, life extension and in-service support services, as well as engineering and maintenance support for a wide range of Canadian aircraft and helicopters,” says Bédard. “Our extensive background and capabilities position us uniquely to meet many of DND’s future needs.”


CF-18 modernization: avionics and structural improvements

Despite L-3 MAS’s widespread impact, when defence industry stakeholders (especially CF types) think of the company, one project inevitably springs to mind: the CF-18 Hornet. Though Canada’s leading fighter aircraft is starting to show its age and is not scheduled to be replaced for a while, one of the main reasons the aircraft continues to perform at the level that is has, has been L-3 MAS’s more than 20-year commitment to the fleet’s various maintenance, overhaul and upgrade needs.  


According to Marc Leblanc, a director of business development at L-3 MAS, the versatile CF-18s continue to fill an important role within the armed forces. However key to the 80 aircraft fleet’s continued performance has been a series of avionics and structural upgrades, coupled with modifications to ensure interoperability with other NATO forces. These are encompassed in the CF-18 Modernization Program, the first phase of which has been completed. “We conducted extensive structural fatigue tests on the aircraft early in their life cycle to see where the potential pitfalls were,” says Leblanc. “We recognized early that by making structural adjustments in key areas, such as replacing the center barrels which hold the aircraft together, you can significantly extend the aircraft’s useful life.”


OWSM and international opportunities

One of L-3 MAS’s biggest challenges is adapting its CF-18 capabilities to the Department of National Defence’s Optimized Weapons Systems Management initiative, which seeks to streamline efficiency and eliminate bureaucratic overlap. OWSM, closely models the long-term in-service support concept currently used by DND in new acquisitions and is being extended over to its legacy fleets as well.


The idea is to provide the defence department with single point accountability by bundling numerous support contracts into one. The CF-18 OSWI initiative alone will reduce the number of suppliers that DND is forced to deal with in this area from three hundred down to just three.


In theory this will ensure DND long-term support, improved aircraft availability, greater flexibility and improved value for each dollar spent. Leblanc’s challenge is to help ensure that L-3 MAS leverages its unique capabilities to position itself for the Prime Air Vehicle (PAV) portion of the CF-18’s long-term in-service support contract (which accounts for about 60% of the OSWS initiative’s value and which is expected to be awarded later this year). This major partnership will extend until the end of the fleet’s estimated useful life which is expected to be between 2017 and 2020.


According to Leblanc, L-3 MAS’s key competencies with the CF-18 are increasingly being recognized around the world. Through various partnerships L-3 MAS has already done work for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. The company is also in the process of leveraging its extensive knowledge of F-18 support, particularly in the area of structural life-extension modification programs, to other F-18 users such as Australia, Spain and Finland.


Chinook: Medium Lift Helicopters

Canada’s ongoing commitment toward supporting our NATO allies in Afghanistan is causing defence industry officials to significantly revise their equipment needs during the coming decade. The Afghanistan mission is turning out to be a more daunting and lengthy challenge than many observers initially expected. Hostile forces continue to control wide swaths of terrain, a fact that is severely hindering NATO troop movements. In fact, one of the main sources of Canadian troop combat injuries has been the improvised explosive devises which often hit vehicles on the country’s road networks. As a result, NATO forces have been increasingly travelling by air whenever possible.


Among the most urgent equipment requirements identified has been for Medium Lift Helicopter capabilities. During the summer of 2006 Canada issued an Advanced Contract Advisory Notice stating its intention to acquire 16 Chinook CH-47Fs, an upgraded version of the helicopter that has been used by militaries extensively for several decades throughout the world.


According to Richard (Dick) Mohns, an L-3 MAS business development director, the move is a clear positive step for Canada, but which could also benefit the company he works for. “Although the purchase of the Chinooks has been extensively linked to the needs of our troops in Afghanistan, these are extremely versatile helicopters which can be used for a variety of purposes, notably disaster relief,” says Mohns. “For us the project is also particularly interesting. Boeing, which will be supplying the helicopters, will be looking for a long-term service and support partner, a role that we are uniquely qualified to fill.”


CH-148 marine helicopters

According to Mohns, the extensive experience that L-3 MAS acquired in its design and development of a world class integrated in-service support solution for Canada`s maritime helicopter program will play a big role in helping its bid for medium lift in-service support work. The maritime helicopter bid was an L-3 MAS joint proposal with Sikorsky to supply and provide in service support for 18 new CH-148 Cyclone marine helicopters.


The Cyclones are scheduled to be delivered starting in November 2008 and will be based in Shearwater Nova Scotia and Pat Bay British Columbia. However L-3 MAS has already done significant ground work in preparing for their arrival. Steps taken include overseeing the construction of a state of the art training center, conducting design and layout for the physical and functional space required at each Main Operation Base and defining the bases’ maintenance and equipment supply chains.


“The returns to scale that can be derived from leveraging the capabilities that we acquired from the Cyclone initiative toward the Chinook CH-47F Medium Lift Helicopter bid can be found primarily in the processes and procedures as to how the maintenance is conducted,” says Mohns. “However other factors, such as our ongoing relationship with Boeing, will also factor into the equation.”


The biggest challenge that is facing DND is the fact that, as highlighted in the recent Manley Report, although the Chinooks are needed in Afghanistan right now, the new “F” series aircraft are not scheduled to begin arriving until 2011.


As a result, Canada is trying to acquire advanced immediate advanced helicopter capabilities through any means that are possible in practical terms. If that happens, Canadian defence contractors could be asked to do some quick upgrades and/or modifications. And few companies would be better positioned to contribute to these efforts than L-3 MAS.


Hercules C-130J: strategic airlift

Earlier this year the Canadian government announced that it had agreed to a US $1.4 billion deal to buy 17 C-130J Hercules transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin Corporation, a move that will put a major plug in one of the Canadian Armed Forces’ most glaring capability gaps: its lack of sufficient strategic lift capabilities.


The initiative also opened up a significant opportunity for L-3 MAS, because as part of the deal, Lockheed Martin is required to invest in the Canadian economy the same amount of money that the government spends on those aircraft. Much of this investment will likely take the form of a long-term, 20-year in-service support agreement with a Canadian partner, a role says Mohns, that L-3 MAS is well positioned to fill.


“L-3 MAS/SPAR is already an approved Lockheed C-130 service center,” says Mohns. “When you combine that capability with the fact that we also have 40 years of C-130 support experience and we also have the current Optimised Weapons Systems Management solutions in place for the CF-18 and the Maritime Helicopter programs, the combination makes us a potentially very attractive partner for Lockheed.”


Unmanned Aircraft Systems: LFISTAR and NOCTUA

Another key capability that is increasingly required by our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan is “eyes in the sky,” situational awareness that can be most efficiently provided by UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). The Canadian Forces is currently in the process of acquiring two capabilities to support its deployed forces.


The first requirement, known as Land Forces Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (LFISTAR), is for a contractor to routinely provide up to 36 hours of UAS services per day. These UAS systems will include the use of simultaneous Electro Optic and Infrared Sensors in 12 hour flight operations spread among three forward operating bases. The CF requires the contractor to provide individual and team training as well as a support system.


“Managing the complex payload, communications links, control stations and support equipment that are inherently involved in UAV deployments is natural role for L-3 MAS,” says Fig Newton, one of the program’s largest boosters within the company. “We are teamed up with L-3 BAI to provide the reliable, flexible and capable Viking 100s. And we will ensure that all of the CF’s performance criteria are met.”


For the $120 million Project NOCTUA initiative, L-3MAS has joined forces with Elbit Systems Ltd. of Israel in a bid to assemble the Israeli company’s more advanced Hermes 900 UAVs. These aircraft, which are comparable to the more well known Predator drones, have a distinct advantage of Canada`s existing Sperwars which can stay in the air for only five hours.


The NOCTUA aircraft, will be runway-launched and provide wide-area coverage to support CF deployments. They will also require many of the same support options as other CF air platforms --- capabilities that Newton believes that L-3 MAS can deliver.


A challenging year ahead

Few people are better positioned to oversee the daunting challenges that L-3 MAS will face in the coming year than Bédard. Education wise, he brings to the table both a solid industrial engineering and management training background, which he acquired at Montreal’s École Polytechnique and École des Hautes Études Commericales respectively. Prior to taking on his role as L-3 MAS’s president, Bédard worked in a slew of aerospace, technology and defence industry executive roles – in short, he is used to change.


That said, with so many challenges and opportunities on his plate, it’s hard to understand how Bédard can remain so calm. “We have a job to do,” says the aircraft industry veteran simply, with a smile. “And we are going to do it.”


Company snapshot:


Name: L3-MAS Canada Inc.

Locations: Mirabel Quebec, Edmonton, Bagotville, Coldlake, Ottawa, Shearwater, Patricia Bay

Key Competencies: Fleet management, life extension and in-service support services, as engineering and maintenance support for aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.

President: Sylvain Bédard

Number of employees: 1,300

Phone: (450) 476-4000

Internet: www.mas.l-3com.com/


Peter Diekmeyer (peter@peterdiekmeyer.com) is Quebec correspondent and a senior writer at Canadian Defence Review.





Home | Economics| Foreign Affairs | Magazine/Government| Gazette | Books |



  © 2008 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.