Canadian Defence Review

December 10, 2015

Canada’s FWSAR community mulls over Peruvian C-27J
In mid-December Team Spartan flew one of the C-27Js that it is building for the Peruvian Air Force into Ottawa for Canadian Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue stakeholders to get a closer look at.

The last time that Canada began a successful rethink of its fixed wing search and rescue aircraft acquisition strategy was nearly a half century ago. That means the folks at Public Works and Government Services Canada, charged with making the acquisition, have few experienced colleagues to turn to for advice. One of the ways that procurement officials get around such cases, which are common to the defence establishment, is to study what other countries are doing.

A couple of weeks ago, Alenia Aermacchi, took an innovative step to help out, by flying in one of the C-27Js that the company is building for the Peruvian Air Force into Ottawa, for Canadian government officials and the media, to have a look at. True, the Peruvian C-27J, was fresh off the production line, had no mission systems installed yet, nor even the final paint. Furthermore the Peruvian model will fill a multi-mission role, not just FWSAR, so the comparison is not perfect. That said, Peru does have a long Pacific coastline to patrol and its aircraft need to be able to operate in tough mountainous regions similar to Canada’s, so there are parallels.

Comparing acquisition best practices
Even a cursory glance at the Alenia Aermacchi C-27J, its spacious interior, back-cargo door, and short takeoff capability, suggest that it could be an ideal candidate to replace the Buffalos and Hercules C-130s that now anchor Canada’s FWSAR fleet. Furthermore according to Steve Lucas, a senior advisor to Alenia Aermacchi, Peru isn’t the only international user that has acquired C-27Js for search and rescue, domestic transport, humanitarian relief and other operations.

The US Army, US Coast Guard and Australian Air Force have also done so. The latter case is highly relevant, because Australia, which has many commonalities with Canada, including similar population, per capita GDP and vast expanses to cover, is a country that Canadian government officials look to, when seeking model solutions on a range of issues. As if that was not enough, according to one Alenia Aermacchi official, the C-27J has also been extensively tested in Finland, which has a tough Northern climate similar to Canada’s.

Canadian content could make the difference
While direct comparison with purchases decisions made in other countries are a useful tool, the process has limits. If Canada does buy the C-27J, the aircraft’s long-term success in its search and rescue role, will also rely in large part on local content. That includes the mission systems, which would be overseen by General Dynamics Canada, long-term service and support by KF Aerospace and training by DRS Technologies.

That said, Team Spartan’s initiative in flying in the Peruvian C-27J  was an innovative marketing strategy, of the kind the company needs, as it battles competitors such as Lockheed Martin, Airbus and Embraer for the big prize. Public Works and Government Services Canada officials for their part, need to be diligent, because given past history, the aircraft they acquire will be around for a long time.

Peter (at) peterdiekmeyer (dot) com


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