Maintaining Canada’s CP-140 Aurora Fleet
The CP-140 Aurora is a ‘Canadianized’ variant of the P-3 Orion aircraft used in the maritime surveillance role by the USA and many other countries. Like their fellow P-3s around the world, however, the Auroras have flown very long hours under very tough conditions. How to keep them flying at an affordable cost?
Canada’s CDN $1.67 billion Aurora Incremental Modernization Project began in 1998, and is an amalgamation of 23 individual projects grouped “into 4 chronologically consecutive block upgrades. Key upgrades underway under the AIMP to date have included navigation and flight instruments (CMC Electronics) under Block II, and new electro-optical and infrared sensors (L-3 Communications) under Block III. A program to give these aircraft battlefield surveillance capability has also begun.
OWSM? ‘E’s Just Fine, Thanks…
Hopefully, Canada’s Aurora Incremental Modernization Program will enjoy smoother implementation than Royal Australian Air Force’s recent “Project Air 5276” AP-3C modernization effort. AIMP, plus the Aurora fleet’s new long-term, performance-based maintenance program, was designed to keep Canada’s fleet flying until 2020. That has now been extended to 2030.
The CP-140s use a lot of Canadian equipment: acoustic systems from General Dynamics Canada; radars from MacDonald Dettweiler and Associates in Vancouver; electro-optical systems from L3 Wescam through Lockheed Martin Canada; Magnetic Anomaly Detection systems from CAE; systems integration by General Dynamics Canada; and installation work for both the modernization and life extension projects performed by IMP Aerospace.
Optimized Weapon System Management (OWSM) is a strategic program focused on increasing aircraft availability and reducing costs by bundling fleet maintenance and support services under broader-scoped, longer-term, performance-based contracts. This new approach in contract management allows aircraft to receive the highest possible levels of service efficiency, while providing industry with new opportunities to improve performance and operational readiness and reduce costs.
Canada may join the P-8A MMA program that aims to provide a long-range, long-endurance successor to the P-3, but it won’t be any time soon.
Canada’s Aurora Modernization Efforts
As noted earlier, Canada’s CDN $1.67 billion Aurora Incremental Modernization Project began in 1998, and is an amalgamation of 23 individual projects grouped into 4 chronologically consecutive block upgrades. Planes that complete it become CP-140Ms. The addition of improved surveillance radars is a late-stage upgrade, and was itself divided into phases:
Phase 1 of the MDA project featured high level design and the selection of a radar hardware supplier.
Phase 2 saw the completion of detailed design and the initial development and laboratory tests of 4 prototype systems.
Phase 3, valued at approximately CAD $78 million (currently about $66 million), completed the ground and flight testing of the 4 prototype systems, upgrade the prototypes to production standards, then manufacture, test and deliver 16 production systems. The prototype aircraft modifications were scheduled to begin in April 2007.
The radar MDA (now ATK) has developed for the CP-140 has been given the nomenclature AN/APS-508. The hardware and enhanced maritime surveillance modes are provided by Telephonics Corporation. The imaging resolution of the radar is less than 1m, and the GMTI uses 3-channels of Space Time Adaptive Processing (STAP) for improved target detection, localization, and jamming suppression. The radar is fully integrated with a new Identification Friend or Foe Interrogator (IFFI), the AN/UPX-505.
Contracts & Key Events
March 19/14: The Government of Canada will invest more than $2 billion to upgrade 4 more CP-140s with structural life extensions, and add new equipment to 10 of its 18 CP-140 Auroras. The patrol planes will now remain in service until 2030, instead of 2020. Work will be conducted under the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project, the Aurora Structural Life Extension Project, and the Aurora Extension Proposal (AEP).
Life extension work using extensive replacement structures is still in progress. So far, just 2 aircraft have been life-extended and fully modernized under the 2008 contract. The rest are due to finish by 2016.
In 2014, the government intends to issue a competitive (?) life-extension solicitation for 4 more CP-140s, bringing the total to 14. That will be Phase 1. Phase 2 will add a Link 16 Datalink, a Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS – satellite) communications system, and a Self-Defence Suite to all 14 aircraft that will continue serving in the fleet. That work is expected to be done by 2021. Sources: Government of canada Backgrounder: “Expanding the CP-140 Modernized Aurora Fleet”.
May 2012: A briefing for the Vice-Chief of Staff determines that buying enough new aircraft to replace Canada’s 18 P-3s were “unachievable due to fiscal and marketplace challenges… The Boeing estimate for the P-8 acquisition is $3.1 billion, our rough estimate is much closer to [C$] 5 billion.” Sources: Postmedia News, “Surveillance aircraft deemed not affordable”.
Dec 9/11: IMP Aerospace delivers CP-140 Aircraft 112, after its completed set of structural upgrades through the Aurora Structural Life Extension Project (ASLEP). ASLEP is a C$ 280 million program, and builds on the long-standing C$ 1.2 billion AIMP modernization program, which has been going on since 1998. Sources: Government of Canada, “National Defence Minister marks completion of first structural upgrades on Aurora”.
Sept 6/08: Canada’s Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay announces further intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance additions to the Aurora fleet, via a C$ 20 million contract for integration services and unspecified “commercially available off-the-shelf components, to which minor modifications for CF use will be made.”
L-3 will perform its systems engineering and integration through an amendment to Canada’s existing 10-year Optimized Weapons System Support (OWSS) contract. This portion is valued at approximately C$10 million, or about half of the contract. The remaining portion of the project will be acquired through Foreign Military Sales with the U.S. Navy.
Jan 8/08: US firm Alliant Tech Systems (ATK) acquires MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.’s Information Systems business, which includes the Aurora APS-508 radar project. ATK release | MDA release.
Dec 18/07: The Canadian DND announces a commitment to keep its CP-140 Aurora fleet flying until 2020, which is likely to include “upgrading the structure on the majority of the fleet.” These kinds of deep refurbishments are not uncommon – Norway, for instance, is re-winging its P-3 fleet in order to keep it viable. To date, 3 aircraft have been delivered under Phase II of the fleet modernization program, and 3 are undergoing these communication and navigation upgrades. The prototype aircraft for the Phase III is in for a 2-year modification and testing period, and is expected to fly in early 2009. The department release adds:
“As part of its reexamination of long-term projects, the Department has rescinded a work suspension and moved forward with the next phase of Aurora modernization which will incorporate radar, computer and other systems on Aurora aircraft. Core structural upgrades will also be carried out to ensure the longevity and safe operation of these 10 aircraft.”
Jan 26/07: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) announces a go-ahead to begin Phase 3 of a January 2003, 3-phase, CDN $200 million (then about $127.2 million) development and production contract with Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND). As prime contractor, they will deliver the new AN/APS-508 airborne radar surveillance solution for Canada’s fleet of CP-140 Aurora (a localized P-3 Orion) maritime patrol aircraft that will give Canada’s fleet the ability able to detect, track, and image objects moving on land as well as at sea.
American Orions have found themselves in demand over Bosnia and Afghanistan, as well as over the world’s seas, because of their capabilities in this area. They have shared the skies with Britain’s Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft, who have been pressed into similar roles. With its soldiers committed on the ground in Afghanistan, this kind of surveillance capability makes sense for Canada as well. See “Canada’s Auroras Getting Land Surveillance Capabilities” for more details re: the systems being installed.
Nov 9/05: Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) has awarded two long-term contracts totaling C$ 961.1 million (USD $801.5 million at current conversion) for Optimized Weapon System Management (OWSM) of its CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft over the next 10 years. The 2 Canadian OWSM contracts will be phased-in over a 3-year period, and at the end of the transition period each prime contractor will be evaluated on their ability to meet the requirements set out in the contract. That year, and each year thereafter, the companies will be assessed on their performance. Based on the results, the DND will exercise further 1-2 year options. Option years may even be exercised prior to contract expiration at DND’s discretion, providing the contractors with the opportunity to develop long-term plans and stronger relationships with suppliers.
IMP Group Limited in Enfield, Nova Scotia was awarded a C$ 566.4 million contract (USD $477.6 million at current conversion) to provide in-service support for the CP-140 Aurora airframes. IMP Group Limited, which has supported the Aurora fleet since its introduction in the early 1980′s, will provide engineering services, integrated logistics support, equipment repair and overhaul services, and major third line inspection and repair for the aircraft structure and its ancillary systems.
L-3 Electronic Systems in Enfield, Nova Scotia was awarded a contract valued at up to C$ 394.7 million (USD $332.9 million at current conversion) to provide in-service support for the CP-140 Aurora avionics systems. L-3 Electronic Systems (formerly Northrop Grumman Canada Corp.) has also provided support since the fleet’s introduction into service. Under OWSM, L-3 Electronic Systems will provide engineering services, integrated logistics support, and equipment repair and overhaul services for the fleet’s many avionics and mission systems including systems being modernized under the Aurora Incremental Modernization Program.
Of course, the view of militaries as a jobs program is hardly specific to any one country:
“These contracts will provide tremendous economic benefits to our region,” said Fisheries and Oceans Minister Geoff Regan. “Over 300 jobs in Atlantic Canada’s aerospace industry will be maintained through these long-term contracts.”