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?
The question became even more urgent after Canada looked at the expected price tag to replace their 18-plane Aurora fleet with the 737-based P-8A Poseidon. Canada has the world’s longest coastline, and persistent issues with both economic zone enforcement and human smuggling by sea. Clearly, something had to be done…
Canada’s Aurora Extension & Modernization Efforts
The CP-140s use a lot of unique 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 that tries to improve aircraft availability and reduce costs by bundling multiple fleet maintenance and support services under broader-scoped, longer-term, performance-based contracts. This new approach in contract management can allows aircraft to receive higher levels of service efficiency, provide industry with new opportunities to improve performance and operational readiness, and thereby reduce costs.
Canada’s CDN $1.67 billion Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP) began in 1998, and is an amalgamation of 23 individual projects grouped into 4 chronologically consecutive block upgrades. Key upgrades underway under the AIMP 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.
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 $66 million), completed the ground and flight testing of the 4 prototype systems, upgrade the prototypes to production standards, then manufacture, test and deliver 16 production systems. The prototype aircraft modifications were scheduled to begin in April 2007.
The radar MDA (now ATK) has developed for the CP-140 has been given the nomenclature AN/APS-508. The hardware and enhanced maritime surveillance modes are provided by Telephonics Corporation. The imaging resolution of the radar is less than 1m, and the GMTI uses 3-channels of Space Time Adaptive Processing (STAP) for improved target detection, localization, and jamming suppression. The radar is fully integrated with a new Identification Friend or Foe Interrogator (IFFI), the AN/UPX-505.
Overall, Canada’s Aurora Incremental Modernization Program to create CP-140Ms seems to have been less ambitious, slower, and smoother than the Royal Australian Air Force’s “Project Air 5276” AP-3C modernization effort.
AIMP, plus the Aurora fleet’s new long-term, performance-based maintenance program, was designed to keep Canada’s fleet flying until 2020. That has now been extended to 2030.
Beyond 2014, the Canadian government intends to continue life-extension work until 2016, eventually delivering at least 10 planes that can last beyond 2020. The patrol planes will now remain in service until 2030. Further equipment upgrades will add a Link 16 Datalink, a Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS – satellite) communications system, and a Self-Defence Suite. That work is expected to be done by 2021, and Work will be conducted under the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP), the Aurora Structural Life Extension Project (ASLEP), and the Aurora Extension Proposal (AEP).
Beyond the Aurora
There was some talk that Canada might join the P-8A MMA program, which aims to provide a long-range, long-endurance 737-based successor to the P-3. Canadian studies placed the fleet replacement cost around C$ 5 billion, and the government wasn’t willing to commit that much to maritime patrol. That led to the most recent CP-140 modernization effort, but another option exists.
Boeing is targeting P-3 operators with a Bombardier Challenger MSA, which would use the same mission systems as the P-8. Base MSA equipment will include Selex ES Seaspray 7300 maritime surveillance radar, and FLIR Systems Star Safire 380 day/night surveillance turret. That creates a high-end product for Coast Guards as well as a mid-range surveillance product for militaries. Boeing’s Canadian partner Field Aviation is touting future options including SATCOM, side looking airborne radar, and even weapons on wing hardpoints.
The decision to keep the Auroras flying until 2030 would appear to cut into the Challenger MSA’s market potential in Canada. With that said, shifts in government, unexpected structural issues with the CP-140’s older airframe, or a perceived need to expand surveillance beyond the reduced 10-plane CP-140 fleet, could open up an early opportunity.
Contracts & Key Events
2011 – 2014
Canada rejects P-8, decides on another round of modernizations & life extension; ASLEP deliveries begin; LAIRCM defensive suite ordered.
Aug 12/14: Defensive suite. The US DSCA announces Canada’s official export request for AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) self-defense suite and associated equipment, in order to equip their CP-140 Aurora fleet. LAIRCM is used to defeat infrared-guided missiles, which are generally shoulder-fired. That’s very useful if an aircraft is doing battlefield surveillance below 15,000 feet, and even maritime patrol over key strategic areas may become risky if portable anti-aircraft missiles continue to proliferate.
Canada is ordering 22 T-2465 AN/AAQ-24(V) Guardian Laser Transmitter Assemblies (GLTA), 52 R-2675 AN/AAQ-24(V) Next Generation Missile Approach Warning Sensors (MAWS), and 16 CP-2793 AN/AAQ-24(V) LAIRCM System Processors. The order also includes the usual spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of support. The estimated cost is $225 million.
Canada already has AN/AAQ-24(V) systems mounted on its C-17 fleet, will have no difficulty absorbing these additional systems. The contractor isn’t mentioned, but LAIRCM is a Northrop Grumman product. Sources: DSCA #14-40, “Canada – AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) Systems”.
Aug 7/14: The Toronto Star newspaper, whose record in military matters is poor, reports that:
“The Department of National Defence notified military contractors on Tuesday that Ottawa is no longer considering purchasing the  new planes, citing “security and technical feasibility”…. Rather than purchase the new planes, the department said it anticipates buying “some elements” in a competitive bidding process, and others directly from the United States government.”
This account seems to clash with past reports regarding the program’s intent (q.v. March 19/14), which involved in-depth refurbishment of 4 more planes than they had previously planned. What it seems to mean, is that Canada’s fleet will shrink from 18 to 10 planes, all of which will be upgraded. Sources: The Toronto Star, “Federal government scraps plans to buy four new spy planes”.
March 19/14: LEX & Modernization. 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 (AIMP), the Aurora Structural Life Extension Project (ASLEP), 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: No P-8s. 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”.
P-8s too expensive
Dec 9/11: Delivery. IMP Aerospace delivers CP-140 Aircraft 112, after it completed the 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”.
ASLEP deliveries begin
July 19/11: Radar. Sentient announces that the Canadian Forces (CF) are currently conducting an operational evaluation of Kestrel’s automated target detection capabilities on board the CP-140 Aurora. To improve the aircraft’s operational capabilities (in line with the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project) the CF Maritime Proving and Evaluation Unit (MPEU) has purchased a Kestrel Land and Kestrel Maritime license for evaluation purposes.
Kestrel is plug and play automated target detection software for real-time processing of imagery from the CP-140’s full motion day/night video sensors, automatically detecting small, moving targets such as vehicles, fishing vessels and dismounts on the ground. This represents the first sale of Kestrel into Canada. Sources: Kestrel, “Kestrel Automated Detection Software being evaluated by Canadian Forces”.
2005 – 2010
OWSM contracts; Phase 3 modernization; ATK buys MDA division.
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: M&A. 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: Phase 3 restarted. 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: Phase 3 upgrades. 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 $127.2 million) development and production contract with Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND). As prime contractor, they will deliver the new AN/APS-508 airborne radar surveillance solution for Canada’s fleet of CP-140 Aurora (a localized P-3 Orion) maritime patrol aircraft that will give Canada’s fleet the ability able to detect, track, and image objects moving on land as well as at sea.
American Orions have found themselves in demand over Bosnia and Afghanistan, as well as over the world’s seas, because of their capabilities in this area. They have shared the skies with Britain’s Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft, who have been pressed into similar roles. With its soldiers committed on the ground in Afghanistan, this kind of surveillance capability makes sense for Canada as well. See “Canada’s Auroras Getting Land Surveillance Capabilities” for more details re: the systems being installed.
Phase 3 upgrades
Nov 9/05: OWSM Support. Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) has awarded two long-term contracts totaling C$ 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.”
OWSM 10-year support