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CASR – Canadian American Strategic Review –
Canadian Sovereignty – Search & Rescue
– SAR Treaty – June 2011
Aerial SAR — the Arctic Council and The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime
Search and Rescue in the Arctic — Part 2
The 12 May 2011 Arctic Council treaty on Arctic search and rescue is binding on the eight member
nations. Of those Council members, Canada is probably least well prepared to meet its treaty
obligations. So why did Canada sign on to an Arctic SAR treaty in the first place? In Arctic SAR Part 1 we reviewed the key clauses of the
new Treaty relevant to Canada. In Part 2, we'll suggest the political aims
behind Canada signing this treaty.
The Arctic Search and Rescue Treaty, FWSAR Project, and the Air Force's Ancient History
Neither Arctic aerial search and rescue, nor Canadian SAR generally, can be properly discussed without mention of
the Department of National Defence Fixed-Wing Search and
Rescue Project. The rational behind the FWSAR Project is replacing what we've got without exerting any mental energy on why we're
doing it. The aerial SAR role was dumped into the Air Force's lap 60 years ago because the RCAF had lots of
planes and war-experienced aircrew with too few roles to fill.
In the immediate post-WWII period, the Canadian govern- ment found it cheaper to refit
Cansos and Lancasters for the SAR role than to create a special agency for aerial SAR (the Canadian
Coast Guard did not yet exist). The situation is now reversed. In the absense of idle aircrews or surplus
airplanes, funding a military-operated aerial SAR fleet has suddenly become a very expensive option.
As the adage goes: "When in a hole, stop digging".
The goal of the FWSAR Project is to replace both existing West Coast-based CC-115 Buffalos and the larger, 4-engined CC-130H Hercules. Both aircraft are tactical transports adapted to the aerial SAR role
in an ad hoc fashion. Why? In the Buffalo's case, its original role was eliminated while the
Herc was simple available. Not really the basis for buying an entirely new aircraft type.
From the outset, the FWSAR Project has been contentious for Canadian industry. Having become used to tactical
transport's loading ramps, two FWSAR submissions by Bombardier were quickly eliminated – the amphibious
415MP and the turboprop Q400. Viking proposed restarting
Buffalo production. That too was rejected, despite having a ramp. Finally, EADS' C-295 was ejected for
not being able to quickly fly 3500 km to the Arctic. The conclusion drawn was that the FWSAR requirement
was written to favour one candidate.
DND's Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project and Maintaining that Good Yuppie
None of the above rejected FWSAR candidates was capable of carrying a complete replacement
propeller in its cabin. Bizarre as it seems, that's the unifying factor for all these aircraft types having
been rejected by DND. This hasn't prevented our allies from operating these types, so why can't the Canadian
Forces? The answer, according to our Air Force is that, in the event of mechanical failure in the Arctic, a
complete propeller may have to be flown North. Putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Air Force plans most assuredly do not include sophisticated maintenance facilities in any of the Arctic
airfields they may need to fly into – hence the fully-assembled propellers. Nor is there the slightest
intention of establishing permanent airbases in the Arctic. Instead, southern-based Canadian fighters require
inflight refuelling to reach their Forward Operating Locations and any new FWSAR aircraft must be fast-flying,
long-ranged, and capable of carrying its own replace- ment parts. Apparently, our Air Force regards
anywhere north of Cold Lake as a hardship post.
The sole survivor in DND's FWSAR contest was the Italian C-27J Spartan tactical transport. Some
argue that the tubby Spartan was the only aircraft ever being considered. Why? Because it is a real
military aircraft – in that bigger-is-better sense. The question arises: what reason is there other than
expensive habit to have the Air Force perform aerial SAR?
Fast-Tracking the Military's FWSAR Project While Carefully Avoiding Civilian Alternatives
The crust of the biscuit on Canada signing the Arctic Council's SAR Treaty is finding a reason to buy
the C-27J Spartan for the Air Force. During the Federal Election, all eyes were on buying F-35 fighters. But,
soon after those election results were known, the Chief of Air Staff and MND announced that FWSAR was back up at
the top of the procurement priority list. Quelle suprise.
If the FWSAR Project procurement has been 'in the program' so long, what is the Government's problem? As
always, the trouble is money. In Oct 2010, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty promised to erase Canada's deficit
and cap borrowing over 5 years. This promise was based on the March 2010 budget which, it was claimed, used
'below consensus' economic growth forecasts. But the Parliamentary Budget Office begs to differ. If the
PBO analysis is correct, the Flaherty estimates for 2012 growth is off by 6 points, 2013 by 4. So, how to
juggle that shortfall and buy FWSAR?
In DND's May 2009 internal audit for FWSAR, Project costs were estimated at $1.55B (up from a previous estimate of
$1.3B). And, of course, FSWAR is but one of the many major procurement projects by DND that Flaherty must
accommodate within a likely-reduced economic growth rate.
What's a Government to do? The Harper Conservatives make a fetish of keeping their promises. Not a bad trait
– even if their original goal was simply to distinguish themselves from preceding Liberal governments.
Still, in major defence procurement especially, results also count. There's a tendency for politicians to get caught
up in the macho swagger of the military. A danger is then to mistake willfulness for principle (and
effectiveness). The question is will it deliver the goods?
Huge Saving on FWSAR Operation & Maintenance Costs Over 30 Years – Trust Us on That
DND claims that a new FWSAR fleet will result in substantial savings
in operation and maintenance
costs. But all comparative O&M costs are redacted in the DND internal audit document on FWSAR
 as are the correction of earlier overstatements of projected O&M savings. In the meantime, the only
mention of investigating an 'Alternative Service Delivery' arrangement for contracted aerial search-and-rescue is
a lone, cryptic comment at the tail end of a Mar 2011 Senate Committee report on Arctic sovereignty.
We know the sort of game that is in play. But how are the players being arranged ? The Harper
Conservatives have the majority they always wanted. But the Government must decide between promises made to the
taxpayers of Canada about deficit reduction versus the military purchases promised to distinguish the Tories from
the Liberals of old. The conspiracy theorist view is that the Government was eager to sign a binding Arctic SAR
Treaty to 'force' the FWSAR purchase.
"We are so very 'umble" – the Tory Cabinet and the Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Project
Signing a binding treaty on Arctic search and rescue does indeed force the Government's hand. Certainly Peter MacKay
and Chief of the Air Staff, LGen André Deschamps, would love us to think that their
top priority FWSAR Project is in the bag. But assuming a FWSAR fait accompli ignores the other players –
both rival bureaucrats and, more importantly, other members of the Conservative Caucus. That Caucus met for the
first time today (1 June 2011). They talked about extending the Libya bombing campaign and they talked about possible
reforms to the Canadian Senate. No mention of that FWSAR Project. There's more than a hint of
déjà vu going on here.
Previous CAS have announced FWSAR as a top priority. Peter MacKay and earlier MNDs have confidently placed a proposed
FWSAR purchase in front of their Cabinet colleagues. It always amounts to nothing. We may get lucky yet again.
But NDHQ ensures a zombie-like survival for unsuccessful Project Management Offices, spending tens of millions
a year maintaining a PMO.
If the new Conservative Cabinet puts Canada's economic well-being at the top of their priority
list, Peter MacKay's assumed slam-dunk on the FWSAR Project will be deflected. But, this time, the MND has back-up in
the form of new Associate Minister of Defence, Julian Fantino, whose specific brief is procurement. It's been
suggested that Ontario MP, Fantino, was selected for his post to avoid accusations of favouritism aimed at
Peter MacKay should new Navy ship orders be awarded to Nova Scotia shipyards. True or not, it raises a point about
whether it is politically wise to assign a $1.55B purchase of an Italian-made airplane to an Italian-Canadian.
The ethnic or national origins of an MP shouldn't be an issue but they have been made to be so in the past.
So, Mr. Harper's Cabinet have a tough choice to make on Arctic search and rescue. Pushing the FWSAR Project
looks like the 'Easy button'. But is it? If Canada's economic edge is dwindling, handing $1.55B to Italy –
a nation Canada has a long-standing and growing trade deficit with – doesn't look all that
fiscally wise. On the other hand, close examination of a civilian-contracted aerial search and rescue alternative
might be appealing. Not only is private contracting a closer match with Conservative Party ideology,
Alternative Service Delivery is also the policy at DND.
This should pose the question to Caucus members: who's been stalling examination of FWSAR alternative. If, as the Air
Force has claimed, the FWSAR Project represents larger (albeit heavily redacted ) cost savings, where is the harm in
looking at ASD? On the other hand, a look at ASD aerial SAR options may just uncover unexpected financial
benefits for the Canadian taxpayers.
 The four 440 Sqn CC-138 Twin Otters share their
Yellowknife hangar with Transport Canada. Similarly, those CF-18 fighter FOLs are the Canadian Arctic's handful of
paved civilian airports.
 See the May 2009 CRS/CSEx: Audit of the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) Project.
 SCONSAD's Sovereignty and Security in Canada's Arctic PDF, is temporarily
CASR | Arctic Futures | Background | Modest Proposal
| In Detail | Editorials